Feb 25, 2009
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Crisis-defying YSL art sale smashes new records

Feb 25, 2009

PARIS, Feb 25, 2009 (AFP) - Art dealers and the very rich snapped up 100 million euros in Art Deco treasures, paintings and antiques from Yves Saint Laurent's stunning collection Tuesday, defying the credit crunch to smash art world records for a second day running.

Photo : Patrick Kovarik/AFP

As the three-day "sale of the century" wound up for its finale, hundreds of well-heeled bidders packed in the spectacular glass-domed Grand Palais exhibition hall sent prices rocketing, pushing many pieces gathered by the late fashion icon and his partner Pierre Berge to up to 10 times their estimated value.

Highlight of the day was Irish designer Eileen Gray's exquisite Dragons armchair, whose arms feature sculptured dragon's heads, which at 21.9 million euros (28.2 million dollar) broke a record for 20th century furniture -- becoming the second most expensive item of furniture ever sold.

The Dragons chair was bought by specialist Parisian art gallery Robert and Cheska Vallois, on behalf of "an extraordinary collector."

"It's the price of desire," quipped Cheska Vallois as the couple swept out of the Grand Palais, flushed from their winning bid.

The shine could dim for the last chapter of the mammoth sale of 700 works on Wednesday when a dispute with China over the fate of prized cultural relics takes centre stage.

But Tuesday's sale was gripped by frenzied bidding among 1,200 seated buyers and from 100 telephone lines, for the art and furnishings that graced the elegant homes of the iconic couple.

"Owning a YSL piece is like owning a Cezanne," said a French entrepreneur who walked off with a pair of Art Deco lampshades for 80,000 euros.

With 300 pieces still left to go, bids totalling 101 million euros (130.9 million dollars) lifted the tally for the sale -- already the biggest private collector's auction in history -- to 307 million euros over two days.

Philippe Segalot, who is a buyer and consultant for billionaire business leader Francois Pinault, took away a Gray chest for four million euros.

"This is what I came for. It's for a man who already has an extensive Art Deco collection," he told AFP.

With bids flying high, others who flew in to Paris for the event were less fortunate.

"The prices are too high for a small museum, it's very disappointing," said Birgit Hahn-Woernle from Esslingen near Stuttgart, who had hoped to buy rare 17th century gilt silverware.

Christie's said works by old masters and 19th-century artists, as well as the silver antiques, fetched a combined total of 42.1 million euros (53.7 million dollars), while the Art Deco soared to 59.1 million euros.

Apart from Art Deco items that smashed several records, a 19th century oil by Theodore Gericault also sold for a record as did works by Ingres.

In a twist of history, that work was acquired by the man who initially sold it 25 years ago to Saint Laurent and Berge -- celebrated dealer Alain Tarica, who also purchased another work, both on behalf of clients.

"These works have found a home now," he told AFP. "They'll continue to live and to be cherished in a warm environment."

Asked whether the sale marked a turning-point for the flagging global art market, Tarica said, "that remains to be seen."

"Everything here is exceptional", he said. "That is not the case unfortunately on the market."

On the opening night, the auction broke seven world records for contemporary artists -- including Matisse, Mondrian, Klee and Brancusi -- and smashed the world record for a private art sale with 206 million euros (261 million dollars) worth of bids.

The Matisse went for 35.9 million euros (46.5 million dollars), the highest price on Monday.

Berge, who decided to sell the pair's collection after the designer's death last June, told reporters after the first round of the sale that "Yves would have been very happy" over the results.

By Emma Charlton

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