"Inside Yves Saint Laurent's Art Collection"
February 4, 2009
At an unprecedented auction in Paris, a Matisse masterpiece stands out in a sale that could fetch $390 million. When iconic designer Yves Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in June last year at the age of 71, he left behind a rich fashion legacy: He popularized the women's pantsuit, see-through blouses and the safari jacket. But he also left behind one of the world's greatest art collections.
Assembled over 50 years with his lover and business partner Pierre Bergé, the 700-plus works will go on the block tonight in a three-day auction that art-world aficionados are referring to as the sale of the century. The collection spans a range of styles and eras, including old master paintings and drawings, rare works by impressionist greats, African art and more. Christie's International, which is running the sale at Paris' Grand Palais, is estimating a total take as high as $390 million.
Since the financial markets started collapsing in the fall, auctions have struggled, and auction houses have limited the number of lots for sale. Sotheby's
(nyse: BID - news- people ) Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on Feb. 3 in London fetched just $46 million including commissions, compared with the $230 million the sale hauled in a year ago. But Christie's--and the benefactors--hope that the greatness of the Saint Laurent collection will defy the downward trend.
Christie's has invested heavily in the sale, reportedly making a $60 million loan to Bergé's charitable foundation and putting out a boxed set of five auction catalogues that it sold for $290 each. The house also had to field a last-minute legal challenge from a group called the Association to Protect Chinese Art in Europe, which sued in French court in an effort to block the sale of two Chinese bronzes in the collection, a rat's head and a rabbit's head worth up to $12.7 million each.
Among the works in the painting portion of the sale, which takes place tonight, is a 1911 canvas by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), "Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose," which Christie's head of impressionist and modern art, Thomas Seydoux, says defines Saint Laurent's approach to design.
"This picture by Matisse is all about juxtaposition and defined balance between color and motif," observes Seydoux. "That's what Saint Laurent was all about: finding balance in his clothes between color and motif."
The still life depicts a blue-and-white vase holding a tight bouquet of yellow flowers atop a tablecloth of deep blue and pink. The swirling designs on the fabric are reminiscent of the famous 1910 Matisse depiction of dancing figures, "The Dance," which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In "Les coucous," a vibrant light blue wall serves as the backdrop to the flowers, and a diminutive painting of a painting by fellow fauvist Albert Marquet hangs just to the right of the vase.