Pierre Bergé sale – the big event of the year

[08 Feb 2009]


For at least six months, the sale of the Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent collection has been the focus of much media attention, described as the “sale of the century”. At a time when The Art Market Confidence Index (AMCI) is firmly in the red, the means allocated to the sale of some 691 lots are commensurate with the works being presented: exceptional.

Pierre Bergé has chosen Christie’s to officiate and the Grand Palais de Paris as the stage for this prestigious sale. Under the monumental glass dome, this auction marathon will last three days (from 23 to 25 February 2009) with pieces from the Far-East, others dating back to Antiquity, numerous sculptures and works of art, works in gold and silver, enamels from the 16th century, drawings from the 19th century, works signed by the major names in Art Deco and numerous Old and Modern masterpieces. Some signatures seldom seen at public auctions will be offered including Ingres, Franz Hals, Jacques-Louis David and Géricault. Among the five Théodore GÉRICAULT works on offer is one of the most famous double portraits in the entire history of painting: that of Alfred and Elisabeth Dedreux. Christie’s is expecting €6m for this work, a figure that would refresh the previous Géricault record held since 1989 by Portrait de Laure Bro, née de Comères which fetched €4.9m at Sotheby’s in Monaco.

In the Modern Art category, there is a whole series of star names: Giacometti, Juan Gris, Vuillard, Paul Klee, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Edward Munch, Odilon Redon, the Douanier Rousseau, Seurat, Manet, Gustav Klimt, and more. The collection contains some truly historic pieces including an oak wood sculpture by Constantin BRANCUSI entitled Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.). This rarity could well fetch more than Brancusi’s current record for Oiseau dans l’espace ($24.5m in 2005 at Christie’s) if it reaches its high estimate of €20m. Before it joined the Bergé / Saint Laurent collection (where Pierre Bergé like to show it alongside a Sénoufo sculpture), Madame L.R. belonged to Fernand Léger. Apart from its artistic qualities, the ownership background of this piece is an undoubted bonus. No less than six works by Fernand LÉGER will be offered for sale, including the impressive painting La tasse de thé, a hymn to 1921 modernity. Should the work reach its €15m target, it will be among the artist’s four most expensive hammer prices.The art market, which rarely sees Piet MONDRIAAN paintings at auctions nowadays, will be offered three “neoplastic” Compositions by the artist on the same day (estimated at between €5m and €10m). The paintings are large formats. Nothing larger than 50 cm has been seen at auction for five years. The most recently sold large format Mondrian painting, New York, Boogie Woogie (95.2 x 92 cm) fetched $18.75m (€14.6m) at Sotheby’s NY in 2004. Christie’s expects to generate even more from a superb cubist work by Pablo PICASSO, Musical Instruments on a Pedestal Table (estimated at €25m to €30m).

Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent did not collect works of contemporary art, preferring to focus on historical works that represent the opening of the 20th century to contemporary art. One such work is Belle haleine – Eau de voilette, a ready-made bottle on which Marcel DUCHAMP appears dressed up as Rrose Sélavy from a photograph by Man Ray. This emblematic work is estimated at €1m to 1.5m.

In this turbulent period for the art market in which auctioneers have adopted prudent sales strategies at the major sales since the beginning of 2009 by minimising the number of lots offered, this sale represents a clear exception: the superb works on offer – with the cachet of their prestigious origin – will reach peak prices. As long as pieces are considered “major”, the crisis does not appear to be preventing new records from being set. This was the case, for example, of Petite danseuse de quatorze ans by Edgar DEGAS, which fetched £11.8m on 3 February 2009 at Sotheby’s (€13.2m), setting a new record for a sculpture by that artist.