Auction Block for YSL's Personal Art Collection

The collection's proceeds of up to $380 million will go to AIDS research.

ByABC News
February 23, 2009, 11:06 AM

PARIS, Feb. 23, 2009— -- It has been described as the sale of the century.

The personal art collection of the late French fashion legend Yves Saint-Laurent and his longtime life partner Pierre Bergé is going under the hammer today at Christie's in Paris.

Assembled over 50 years, the works of art found in their respective apartments at the Rue de Babylone and the Rue de Bonaparte in Paris have been brought together to become one of the most important private collections ever to come onto the market. More than 700 rare and one-of-a-kind art pieces, ranging from impressionist and modern paintings (Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse) to ancient Roman sculptures to art nouveau furniture will be auctioned during the next three days at the Paris Grand Palais.

More than 1,200 of the world's greatest art collectors have gathered for this historic moment. Huge crowds lined up all weekend to catch a glimpse of the collection before it went on sale.

Highlights of the sale include a Picasso painting, "Instruments de musique sur un guéridon," estimated at $32-$38 million, a wooden sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, "Madame L.R", the first art work acquired by Saint-Laurent and Bergé, expected to fetch $19 million to $37 million, and an Eileen Gray armchair, the "Dragons," which could go for $2.5 million to $4 million.

Bergé said he made the decision to sell the collection after Saint-Laurent's death in June, because without him, "it has lost the greater part of its significance," he wrote in the sale's catalog. "I cannot imagine pursuing my passion as a collector without Yves. I do so without regret, without nostalgia.

David Oliver, an exhibition visitor from London, said, "It's actually very sad that it's all being broken up. At the same time, it's a great opportunity for so many beautiful things to be shared with so many other people who would appreciate them."

A pair of 18th century bronze animal heads that disappeared from a Beijing palace in 1860 is the subject of a dispute between China and Christie's. The Chinese have launched a legal action to have the statues withdrawn from the sale and returned to China.

Bergé has said that the statues were acquired legally through an established Paris antique dealer. A French court is due to examine China's request before the statues are go on sale Wednesday.