Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Yves St Laurent sale defies the credit crunch

Yves St Laurent sale, Christie's Paris
SALE TOTAL: 373,935,500 (EUR) Prices include buyer's premium

A string of world auction records tumbled as the Yves St Laurent-Pierre BergĂ© collection of art and antiques sold for astonishing prices at Christie’s in Paris this week. The three-day sale realised a total of €373.9m making it the most valuable private collection ever sold at auction.

Monday’s first sale, of impressionist and modern art, took €206m and saw record prices paid at auction for works by Matisse, Brancusi, Mondrian, de Chirico, Duchamp, Klee and Ensor.

Tuesday’s sale of 20th-century decorative art and design saw another 12 world records. The highest price, €21.9m, was paid for an art deco masterpiece, Eileen Gray’s “Dragons” armchair of around 1917-1919. In the sale of silverware, every one of the 111 lots sold for a total price of €19.9m, a record for a silver sale.

The top lots in Wednesday's sale of Asian art, ceramics, furniture, Islamic art and antiquities were a pair of 18th-century Chinese bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit made for the zodiac fountain at Emperor Qianlong's summer palace in Beijing, which sold for €15.8m each. Earlier in the week a French judge had rejected an attempt to block the sale on grounds that the bronzes were looted by French and British soldiers during the 19th century.

Chinese dealer, Cai Mingchao who bided for the two bronze heads has since reveled that he had submitted the winning $40-million bid as a patriotic gesture to block the sale. He was acting on behalf of a non-government agency dedicated to repatriating Chinese artworks.

The auction house Christie's has not disclosed what action it will take against the dealer. Art experts have warned that Cai could be subject to civil and even criminal charges for submitting a fraudulent bid in the auction, which was conducted anonymously by telephone. However, Christie's might be loath to prosecute Cai, who has become overnight a Chinese national hero. Photographs of the 40-year-old art dealer graced the front pages of many Chinese newspapers, and an online poll in China found that most approved of his actions.

Cai, a well-known collector, owns an auction house in Fujian province. He made headlines in 2006 by paying $15 million for a Ming Dynasty Buddha. His background apparently allowed him to pass the strict screening process used by auction houses, which requires bidders to submit credit information in advance of bidding.

Above: These two heads come from the Zodiac Clock in Beijing’s Imperial Summer Palace. They were removed by French and British troops who looted the place in 1860. [pict from Telegraph]

The Art Newspaper


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