Crowds throng to see Saint Laurent art treasures

By James Mackenzie

June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 21, 2009 at 11:10 AM EDT

PARIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Crowds stretching around the block
lined up on Saturday for a look at the huge art and furniture
collection of the late Yves Saint Laurent before it is sold next
week in the biggest auction Paris has seen in years.

The collection, created over five decades by the designer
and his business partner and companion Pierre Berge and housed
in their sumptuous Paris apartments, has been described as one
of the most important in private hands.

More than 700 pieces range from paintings by artists
including Picasso, Matisse and Degas to 17th century German
silverware, ancient Roman sculptures, Chinese bronzes, Art
Nouveau furniture and 18th century cameo brooches.

"I've rarely seen a such a varied and diverse collection of
objects which nonetheless make up such a coherent ensemble,
that's what's so exceptional," said Francois Du Vivier from
Brussels, who said he was considering bidding in the sale.

On display in the Grand Palais museum on the Champs Elysees,
the collection is to be sold by auctioneers Christie's over
three days next week, with the estimated proceeds of up to 300
million euros ($377.3 million) going to medical research.

The shy and reclusive Saint Laurent, whose clothing designs
revolutionised women's fashion, died at the age of 71 last year
and left his share of the collection to the charitable
foundation he set up with Berge.

The two men were avid buyers, seeking out works that were
often little known at the time and which their own interest and
influence helped to promote.

"One relives that period in the '60s and '70s when all that
was being rediscovered and was also fuel for Saint Laurent's own
creativity," said Philippe Garner, a specialist in 20th century
art and design at Christie's.


The financial crisis which has hit many rich investors has
made the result of the sale difficult to estimate although
Christie's and Berge remain publicly confident that it will be a
success given the interest generated in the sale.

"There are still plenty of collectors at different levels
who are going to be competing, in some instances very
aggressively," said Garner.

The event has certainly been massively promoted, with lavish
magazine spreads and television specials which may boost
interest as a similar wave of publicity did when the estate of
the late Andy Warhol was sold in 1988.

"These celebrity auctions can lead to certain prices being
paid for sentimental value that they might not get ordinarily,"
said one veteran collector who declined to be named. "I've had
that experience myself and paid the cost."

A controversy over the fate of two Chinese bronze
sculptures, taken during the Opium Wars of the 19th century and
which Beijing has said should be handed back, broke out earlier
this month but Berge has dismissed the claim.

"I acquired them and I am completely protected by the law,
so what the Chinese are saying is a bit ridiculous," he told
Reuters, adding that he would be prepared to return them if
China allowed the Dalai Lama back from exile into Tibet.

Whatever the result, Berge has said he has no regrets about
breaking up the collection.

"So goes the life of works of art: they pass from hand to
hand, from house to house from one continent to another. That is
their destiny," he said in the exhibition guide.

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