The Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé Sale Lights Up the Press
Back before the art market became a regular arena for eight-figure items, the glitz, drama and impact came from the big sales of a noted celebrity’s estate. The sales of property owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jackie Onassis and Andy Warhol were spectacles that drew both kinds of crowds, those with the money to buy and those who just wanted to look. For those who wanted to buy, no price was too great for the mundane objects on offer. Jackie O.’s auction was seen as the opportunity of a life time. “I saw Halley’s comet,” the comedienne Joan Rivers said. “I was at Malcolm Forbes’s birthday party, and now I was at Jackie O’s auction. I can die happy. And when they bury me, they can put my little painting in with me.” Rivers had just spent more than 10 times the high estimate on a painting because it had been owned by the former First Lady.
Christie’s sale of the extraordinary collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé has the potential to combine that kind of star power with something infinitely more valuable: a varied and eclectic collection of extraordinary works. At the Onassis sale, the 1300 lots were valued at a little more than $4 million. The sale itself brought in $34 million leaving a nice round $30 million in 1996 dollars as the value of Jackie O.’s fame.
What’s the price of Saint Laurent’s legendary taste? Estimates begin at €200 million but the potential goes much higher. The world’s financial situation is drastically different but this sale is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Each piece carries the YSL provenance but also a long line of earlier impeccable names too. Sarah Thornton reports in the Economist that there has already been one attempted pre-emptive offer from the Gulf States:
The collection is so renowned, and the works combine so well, that it is not surprising that Abu Dhabi tried to pre-empt the auction by buying it all. Mr Bergé acknowledges that a dealer approached him on behalf of someone in the Middle East, but was unwilling to elaborate. Mr Bergé, however, is set on dismantling the collection for emotional as well as financial reasons. The auction is a spectacular homage and final goodbye to an intimate collaboration.
Thornton’s story is worth reading for a better understanding of the art world machinations and the bitter recriminations from the sale of YSL to Pinault. For a better understanding of the depth of the collection, read Meredith Etherington-Smith’s Telegraph story:
Formed over 50 years by the shared and rigorous taste of two men, neither of whom had inherited a single painting, bibelot or chair, the collection includes rare works by Brancusi, Léger, Braque, Matisse and Picasso. There is, too, extraordinary art deco furniture, Old Master pictures and drawings, including portraits by Frans Hals and Ingres, 19th-century paintings, Renaissance bronzes, jewelled cameos and crucifixes, princely German silver, l8th-century gold boxes and Roman antiquities. It is the fruit of a collaboration between one of the world’s great modern designers and the French industrialist who, with Yves Saint Laurent, founded the fashion house that became an empire.
Unlike most great 20th-century collections, which are usually highly accessible, only close friends of Saint Laurent and Bergé who visited the apartment they shared at rue de Babylone or later at Bergé’s apartment in rue Bonaparte ever knew what they owned. Very few photographs were taken of the rooms filled with treasures, even those that were did not fully reveal the extent of what these towering personalities had acquired.
The Telegraph also has a wonderful slideshow of the collection in situ, which is a reminder that the two were trying to achieve something very difficult, according to Etherington-Smith:
‘We were very influenced by the collection of the Vicomtesse de Noailles,’ Bergé explained. ‘It was she who taught us to mix styles, eras and continents. As you know, she had a large living-room decorated for her by Frank with parchment panels and a great collection of art deco.’
Scattered to the Winds (Economist)
Sale of the Century (Telegraph)
The Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection to be sold by Christie’s (Telegraph Slideshow)