BEHIND an unassuming courtyard door off the rue de Babylone on the rive gauche in Paris, an art-and-design collection like no other awaits dispersal. Yves Saint Laurent, a French fashion designer who died last June at the age of 71, and Pierre Berge, his business and personal partner, assembled the collection together over 50 years. At the end of February at the Grand Palais, Christie's will bring the hammer down on 733 objects. This is the biggest single-owner sale in auction history and, potentially, a coup for the Paris art market, which recently suffered the humiliation of being overtaken, in auction turnover, by Hong Kong (New York and London still rank first and second).
Saint Laurent's grand salon lies at the end of a grand lacquered hallway. A glance to one side of the long rectangular room takes in a large cubist Picasso, a delicate painting of a countess by Jean August Dominique Ingres, tiffany on sale an iconic mechanical nude by Fernand Leger, an odd portrait of two children by Theodore Gericault, and a rare wooden primitivist sculpture by Constantin Brancusi that was once in Leger's own collection. In the mirror behind the Brancusi are reflected three more Leger paintings and a splendid Giorgio de Chirico (pictured below). The combined low estimate for these nine pieces is EUR 73m ($94.2m).
These works hang above a covetable array of furniture by first-rate designers from the Art Deco period (Gustav Miklos, Pierre Legrain, Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand), as well as small 17th-century statues of muscular Greek gods and Tiffany Bangles rampant animals and other significant objets d'art. Almost every piece boasts a stellar cast of previous owners. The only unsightly thing in the room is Moujik IV, Saint Laurent's pet bulldog, who greets visiting collectors with an indolent sniff.
From the grand salon, the visitor passes through the music room, lined with mirrors by Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne that Saint Laurent and Mr Berge commissioned in 1974, then down the stairs past both an Egyptian sarcophagus flanked by early 16th-century depictions of John the Baptist and a room of curiosities, including cameos, chalices, crosses and Medusa heads. Then comes Saint Tiffany Bracelets aurent's personal library--a light, airy room containing, among other things, three magnificent Mondrian canvases dating from 1918, 1920, and 1922. The overall effect is one of profound glamour and intelligent luxury--just as expected from the team that married high art and fashion.
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 Berge acknowledges that a dealer approached him on behalf of someone Tiffany Pendants in the Middle East, but was unwilling to elaborate. Mr Berge, 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.
Additionally, Mr Berge may not want it to overshadow the collection of 5,000 haute couture outfits and 15,000 accessories, sketches and related objects whose preservation and promotion are the raison d'etre of the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation. In fact, half of the auction proceeds will go the Foundation (the other half will go to Mr Berge, and to funding a variety of charity projects including scientific research into AIDS).
Almost as intriguing as the pieces themselves are the machinations involved in bringing them to market. Many dealers assumed that the collection would be consigned to Sotheby's, which sold the contents of Mr Berge's Pierre Hotel apartment in New York in 2004. Moreover, Mr Berge is not enamoured of Francois Pinault, Christie's owner, who also happens to own the Gucci Group, which bought the YSL brand in 1999 and assigned Tom Ford as creative director--an unhappy experience for Saint Laurent.