Page last updated at 21:26 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 22:26 UK

Marcel Marceau debt auction ends


A selection of Marcel Marceau's items on show before the auction

A controversial auction of mime artist Marcel Marceau's belongings has raised almost 500,000 euros (£439,500).

The proceeds of the two-day Paris sale are being used to clear the debts Marceau accrued funding his show in the years before he died in 2007.

Among more than 900 lots auctioned were Marceau's trademark white sailor-suit and battered silk opera hat.

Some items were bought by a group of fans who wanted his belongings put in a museum to preserve his legacy.

Marcel Marceau in 2005
Marceau rose to prominence after World War II

A petition in support of their project gathered more than 3,000 signatures, including those of many entertainment personalities.

But art expert Morgane Communal told the BBC that Marceau fans had nothing to worry about.

"It's not really a shame about the sale because the French state has bought some of the works, and people who can't afford to buy anything will be able to see his stuff in museums," he said.

"He won't be forgotten - quite the contrary."

A top hat and its single red flower worn by Marceau sold for 3,201 euros, while his white sailor-suit with striped shirt and jacket fetched 5,700 euros.

'Surreal' mind

Marceau, who was 84 when he died, is credited with reviving the art of mime with a cast of characters including Bip the Clown.

His career began after World War II, when he toured his mime act all over Europe and the US.

Marcel Marceau as Bip in 2005
His paintings reflect for me the madness of his mind
Yvan Boascher
Friend of Marceau

But towards the end of his life he racked up steep debts to finance his show.

His family say that auctioning off all his possessions was the only way they could pay back the money he owed.

Auctioneer Rodolphe Tessier said nothing was done about his debts during his lifetime so the sale was brought about by a court order.

"It's not the usual auction here that would have been requested by his heirs," he said.

"That's why, exceptionally, we have the entire collection of Mr Marceau's belongings. So at the same time it is unfortunate and exceptionally rare."

As well as his costumes, Marceau's paintings are also up for auction.

Yvan Boascher, a friend of Marceau, says his drawings reveal how his off-stage personality was very similar how he appeared on stage.

"His paintings reflect for me the madness of his mind, whatever was going on in his head was not classical. He was surreal," he said.

The two-day sale is due to end on Wednesday.

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