The world may be sinking into a recession, but lovers of modern art outdid themselves in bidding for artworks from the collection of late couturier Yves Saint Laurent, which went on the auction block on Monday in Paris.
A French court rejected a petition to block the sale of two Chinese bronzes
The auction broke the world record for the sale of a private collection, fetching some 206 million euros ($262 million) on the very first day of the three-day event, the online edition of the daily Le Figaro reported.
The previous record, set in 1997 in New York City, was 163 million euros for the collection of Victor and Sally Ganz.
The first day of the sale was dedicated to modern art and saw a painting by Henri Matisse fetch a record for the artist, while works by Piet Mondrian and Marcel Duchamp easily brought in more than their estimates.
The YSL art collection turned out to be a crowd magnet
Matisse's 1911 painting of a vase of cowslips on red and blue and pink tablecloth went for about 31.6 million, not counting the buyer's fee of 12 percent. The estimate for the work by Christie's auction house, which is holding the sale, had been 12 million to 18 million euros.
"Quality pieces of modern art, works that live, in a good state of conservation, can get record prices," said Thomas Seydoux, head of modern art at Christie's. "These are unique opportunities and people know they won't come up again."
Mondrian's 1922 work "Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black," which had inspired the designer's groundbreaking 1965 day dress, fetched 19 million euros, nearly double its top estimate.
Duchamp's 1921 piece of "found art" -- a bottle of breath freshener -- sold for 8.9 million euros, almost six times its estimated price.
YSL reworked the rules of fashion
The collection was amassed by Saint Laurent and his long-time partner Pierre Berge over 50 years.
Crowds lined up for hours at the weekend to view the collection under the glass and cast iron vaults of the Grand Palais exhibition hall on the banks of the Seine. Berge said he had been "profoundly touched" by the wide public interest in the sale.
"I think Yves would've been very happy," he told the press.
Part of the proceeds are to go to an association that bankrolls AIDS research.
Surprisingly, the work considered the auction's central piece, a 1914 Cubist painting by Picasso titled Musical Instruments on a Table, estimated at 25 million to 30 million euros, went unsold after failing to attract the minimum price.
"I'm very happy because now I can keep it," Berge said. "Not only did this sale attain an unexpected sum, but on top of that I won a Picasso."
Saint Laurent designed Mondrian-inspired dresses in 1965
The sale scored a legal victory earlier on Monday when a French judge rejected a petition to block the sale of two Chinese bronze animal heads.
The Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe had tried to prevent Christie's from selling the two 18th century Qing dynasty bronzes because they were allegedly looted from China by British and French troops 150 years ago.
Berge approved the judge's decision and reiterated an offer to trade the relics with China, if the country becomes more democratic.
"I'm absolutely ready to give the two heads to China," he said. "The only thing I ask is for China to give human rights, liberty to Tibet and to welcome the Dalai Lama."
Saint Laurent died in June 2008 of a brain tumor.