One of the most anticipated art sale events this year so far was the week long viewing exhibition and auction of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé. This stunning collection of antiquities, modern and decorative arts, interior designs, sculptures and everything in between and beyond was collected by the two men during a period of 50 years and now auctioned off by Christie’s and Pierre Bergé Associates in Paris. This Legendary Collection – as Pierre Bergé said – is a piece of art itself. Yves Saint Laurent noted – “Pierre Bergé and I wished for our selection to reflect our favourite pieces and for it to evolve with them, quality being the only criterion to guide us.”
The auction raised a total of €373,935,500 ($483,835,144), which is the world record sum for a private collection sold at auction. The nearly half a billion dollars will benefit the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and a new foundation with the purpose of supporting scientific research and the fight against AIDS. Many blogs and news outlets covered the record breaking sales and some of the controversies, so we decided to include some of the lots with million-dollar hammer prices, categorized according to Christie’s lots.
Impressionist & modern paintings, drawings & sculpture
“Jeune fille en chapeau d’été” by Edouard Manet – €721,000 ($929,459)
Decorative arts of the 20th century
A Circular Occasional Table by Armand Albert Rateau – €1,129,000 ($1,455,422)
Old master paintings & drawings
“Portrait of André-Benoît Barreau” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – €913,000 ($1,176,971)
European furniture and works of art
European sculptures and works of art from the renaissance
Chronos supporting an armillary sphere – Jakob Mannlich – €781,000 ($1,010,501)
Roman Marble Minotaur – €913,000 ($1,176,971)
“The Legandary Collection” and the history behind – from Christie’s press release (PDF) by François de Ricqlès:
“There is no doubt that Christie’s sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection will be a milestone in the history of great auctions. It is also the reflection of a whole era and its lifestyle. A lifestyle shaped by the creative intuition and talent of a few personalities such as Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
When Christian Dior died in 1957, one could read in the newspapers the name of the great couturier’s successor: ‘Yves Saint Laurent, 21’.
From that day, and for almost half a century, encouraged and faithfully supported by Pierre Bergé, the brilliant designer’s three initials, YSL, became the symbol of French elegance throughout the world. Supremely chic, sober and revolutionary, giving women a new freedom, his style has not yet been surpassed. In 1983, at the height of his career, the designer became part of the art world when Diana Vreeland, the queen of fashion, organised a retrospective of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Pierre Bergé, who created the fashion house with Yves Saint Laurent and accompanied him throughout all his life, is much more than just the well known tycoon. A refined literary figure (he was a friend of Jean Giono and Jean Cocteau), a renowned expert in music, he also discovered the talent of Bernard Buffet at the very start of his career. He was, and still is, one of the great patrons of our time; an active donor to major humanitarian causes. The Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, the National Gallery in London and many other important institutions owe M. Bergé a great deal, as do Covent Garden and the Paris Opera, of which he is President.
Highly sought-after and acquainted with all those who set the ‘tone’ of the social, political and cultural life of Paris, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé guarded their incredible collection of works of art, as if it were their secret garden. The dazzling nature of their collection is shaped by a single principle: each piece was purchased for the simple satisfaction of the two collectors looking for
Indifferent to trends, their main reference was the large mansion in Paris of Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles, where they were frequent guests in their youth. This rich, aristocratic and eccentric couple had inherited masterpieces and major pieces of furniture
from their ancestors, which they combined with works bought from their artist friends, Picasso, Giacometti, Balthus, Tanguy, Dalí and many others. In a stunning room covered in vellum by Jean-Michel Frank, antique pieces and modern art were audaciously and gracefully mixed. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé would never forget this lesson: the search for perfection, an insatiable curiosity and
freedom of taste. It suited them perfectly.
In 1972, when they moved into the flat on rue de Babylone, formerly occupied by Marie Cuttoli, herself a great patron of the arts, they followed the same path with their own strong personalities. They recreated the atmosphere which had fascinated them and which was described as a ‘sublime hotchpotch of works of art’ by Philippe Jullian, who understood everything about taste. The creative bond that united Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé enabled them to assemble a collection where each period and artist is represented at the highest level. To paraphrase Proust, whom Saint Laurent revered, they ‘built a cathedral which they defended valiantly’. In the 1960s they were among the first collectors, along with Andy Warhol and Ileana Sonnabend, to acquire furniture and objects from the Art Deco period which was only just being rediscovered. Jacques Lejeune, Jacques Denoël, Stéphane Deschamps, Félix Marcilhac, Bob and Cheska
Vallois, Alain Blondel, Maria de Beyrie as well as Anne-Sophie Duval and her mother Yvette Barran were some of the dealers they frequented. At this time, they were able to buy pieces from the Jacques Doucet collection and works by Jean- Michel Frank, who had been completely forgotten. They ended up building up one of the world’s most important collections of decorative arts from
the twenties and thirties.
At the same time they commissioned François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne to create some of their first big sculptures. Their international reputation has not stopped growing ever since. Later on, the immense success of the House of Saint Laurent allowed them to acquire
masterpieces for their collection: the portrait of a child by Goya, four major works by Léger, a cubist Picasso from the best period, a monumental Burne-Jones, a rare portrait by Ingres, one of the most beautiful works by Géricault, five Mondrian and three Matisse. Of all those many wonderful pieces, the extraordinary wooden sculpture by Brancusi, Madame L.R., is for me one of the most
striking pieces. The artist swapped it for a work by Fernand Léger the year the two men met.
The collection of Art Deco furniture and masterpieces, which is worthy of the best-known museums, sits alongside objects from every civilisation and all five continents: African pieces, antiquities and Renaissance sculptures as well as antique furniture. The subtle décor created by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, in the rue de Babylone became the most extraordinary living and artistic space, immediately taking any visitor’s breath away. The oak panels in the main drawing room are hung from floor to ceiling with paintings, watching over an enchanted world of bronzes, vases and various works of art. In the library, opposite the Burne-Jones, a Mondrian provides a contrast with its bold geometry. Fifteen floral bronze mirrors and wall sconces by Claude Lalanne adorn the walls of the music room. A tiny room with glass cabinets houses a collection of the rarest cameos from Antiquity and the Renaissance. Everywhere, light is
filtered through the dense vegetation of the garden from which emerges a fearless Roman marble Minotaur, embodying the spirit of this place.
In 1992, Pierre Bergé moved to his own apartment in rue Bonaparte. At first glance, the beautiful flat looks lavishly traditional, but a second look enables you to realise that the same eclectic taste reigns there. Le désespoir de Pierrot, a poignant masterpiece by Ensor, paintings by Mondrian, Degas, de Hooch, Manet and Géricault are mixed with a Weisweiler table and spectacular bronzes from the Summer Palace in Beijing.
Most outstanding of all, is the group of German ceremonial silverware, enamels from Limoges and Venice, bronzes, rock crystal and ivory objects. A real Wunderkammer. It is one of the most fabulous treasure troves one could ever imagine being in private hands.
Pierre Bergé always highlights the fact that, apart from the Art Deco collection, he owes a lot to dealers like Alain Tarica for the paintings, and for the works of art, to Nicolas and Alexis Kugel, worthy heirs to their father Jacques Kugel, the legendary antiques dealer.
It is very unlikely, almost impossible, that such a collection could be assembled today. None of the pieces was inherited. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé built it up over the course of 50 years. It is the result of their quest, their eye, their knowledge, their strong will and, above all, their pursuit of perfection.
We feel very privileged to offer this wonderful collection for auction. The word ‘collection’ which is so over-used today, should be written here with a capital C, providing its full historic meaning: each piece has its own intrinsic value as a work of art, which gives the entire collection a universal and timeless quality.
In February 2009, the whole Collection will be exhibited in the prestigious setting of the Grand Palais in Paris.
Five catalogues, which will in turn become ‘collectors’ items’, will be produced. It is important to know that the proceeds of the sale will benefit the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and will enable Bergé to create a new medical foundation dedicated principally to scientific research and the fight against AIDS.
The Collection will be sold over three days in the city where it was assembled, offering every art lover the opportunity to acquire a piece bearing the legendary provenance of the ‘Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection’.”
See the photo slideshow of the event courtesy of Christie’s ( see more on Flickr):