We invite you on an extraordinary visit around the magnificent apartment of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé to discover the spectacular masterpieces up for auction in the forthcoming sale at Christie's next February.
Let us take you on a privileged tour of the magnificent apartment of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. It's an opportunity to discover the exceptional artworks that Christie's is auctioning at the Grand Palais in Paris next February in the sale of the twenty-first century.
A few months after Yves Saint Laurent's death in June, Pierre Bergé has made a brave, irrevocable decision. He has decided to sell the astonishing art collection the two of them cherished and lived with in their splendid apartment on the rue de Babylone on Paris's left bank. With the millions raised, Bergé will create a new AIDS foundation.
"This collection had only two destinies," Bergé says. "Either it would be sheltered in a museum or it would be subjected to the auction game. I strongly believe in the circulation of artworks, and I also believe in sharing. But selling this collection is like a divorce. You can divorce someone and still continue to love each other. These objects and paintings, even after they've left, they won't leave [my heart]."
The collection reflects a lifelong, shared passion for art, and how the grand couturier, together with his once lover and business partner, carefully selected every single piece in their collection to create the utmost splendor in their home. Every inch of space was furnished with impeccable taste and the finest works. Rare treasures and masterpieces from different artistic eras – taking in Art Deco, Modern Art, Old Masters, the Renaissance, Baroque, Asian art and antiquities – were effortlessly and harmoniously juxtaposed. Paintings by artists such as Ingres, Léger, Klee, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso and Munch adorned the walls in the main drawing room. Beneath them were Art Deco creations by Eileen Gray, while gold and silver objects from the Renaissance and the eighteenth century sat on Jean-Michel Frank's coffee tables. Indeed, Baudelaire's words – "Everything is only order and beauty; luxury, calmness and voluptuousness" – comes to mind when looking at the photographs of Saint Laurent and Bergé's sumptuous apartment.
Bergé says that it is thanks to the Viscount and Viscountess of Noailles that he and Saint Laurent learned how to furnish their home with such aplomb. "They have been indispensable to the making of me," he says. "It was they who taught us to mix styles, eras and continents." Yet Bergé thought their world-class collection, which also included artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Mondrian, Ensor, Degas and Duchamp, was incomplete. "It misses Rothko, Bacon, Hockney and Barnett Newman," he notes.
Surrounding himself with the most marvelous pieces from various artistic periods was much more than a pleasure for Saint Laurent. It was a necessity. "For Yves Saint Laurent, art was a vital need, indispensable for his inspiration, like water to survive," says the antique dealer Alexis Kugel, who had a close relationship with Saint Laurent and Bergé.
And, certainly, for such a perfectionist, only the best would do. "We waited to have what's called money to touch art with a capital 'A,'" says Bergé. "It's better to have an empty wall than a mediocre painting. If I am proud of anything in this collection, it's about how demanding it is, and how we were always taken by the charm of this painting or the charm of that object."
But now, Bergé is turning the page, and he will – for the first time in well over four decades – be living without their extraordinary collection. "I got used to the idea a long time ago," he admits. "I don't have many worries. But I won't be furnishing my apartment with Ikea or Habitat." All he is keeping is the first piece that he and Laurent ever bought, which is an African sculpture of a mythical bird, and the multi-screen portrait of Yves painted by their friend Andy Warhol.
In his will, Saint Laurent bequeathed his joint share of the collection to the Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris. Left with sole responsibility, Bergé has chosen to sell all of it and use the funds – expected to be between €200-500 million – to set up a new foundation dedicated primarily to scientific research and the fight against AIDS.
Bergé has entrusted Christie's in Paris to organize the sale in association with his own company, Pierre Bergé & Associates. There will be five auctions, with over 700 lots going under the hammer on February 23, 24 and 25, 2009. Suitably, the chosen venue is the prestigious Grand Palais.
Professionals are unanimously calling it the sale of the twenty-first century. The collection is superlative in every single way: in terms of historic magnitude, quality, condition and diversity. There have been other great sales from private provenance, but none other has offered such huge scope. For instance, there was Jacques Doucet's sale in 1972, where Bergé and Saint Laurent acquired some pieces of 1930s furniture, but it was primarily Art Deco. Hubert de Givenchy's sale in 1995 mostly consisted of eighteenth-century works, just as the sale of Breton's collection in 2003 mostly consisted of Surrealism.
Many of the works are indeed outstanding. The icons include a Duchamp readymade of a "Rigaud" perfume bottle and a very rare Picasso dating from 1914, a Cubist masterpiece that depicts musical instruments on a pedestal. "If you're looking for one, don't look elsewhere," enthuses Thomas Seydoux, international head of Christie's Impressionist and modern art department. "It's the last Cubist painting of this quality on the market. The other nine that were painted on this scale are in museums today. It is truly exceptional and there are also some absolutely exceptional Matisses that define each of the artist's periods. 'Les Coucous, tapis bleu et rose' from 1911 is absolutely magnificent and when you think of the balance of color and motifs, and how Yves Saint Laurent was the master of balance, you really find the work remarkable."
Another masterpiece is the Brancusi sculpture "Madame L.R.," which is sculpted from a single piece of wood and inspired by statues in Gabon. "The Brancusi is an absolutely unique piece that is impossible to find today on the market," says the art dealer Alain Tarica. "Brancusi swapped it with Léger in exchange for one of his paintings and then it belonged to his widow. She regularly needed money for Léger's museum, the Musée National Fernand Léger – she paid for the building and the land, and the collection was given by her – and that's why the Brancusi sculpture came [from her collection]." Tarica bought the work directly from Léger's widow on behalf of Yves Saint Laurent and Bergé, so this marks the first time it is appearing on the art market.
Indeed, Tarica was instrumental in helping Saint Laurent and Bergé conceive their collection. As Bergé says, "We wouldn't have been able to assemble this collection without the help of several dealers who have become friends: Alexis and Nicolas Kugel, for the art objects, and Alain Tarica for the paintings, were incomparable accomplices."
Predictably, Christie's is already being inundated with enquiries from around the world. The sales in February will mark the end of an era, when Saint Laurent and Bergé's extraordinary collection will be dispersed into hundreds of new hands.
"Artworks are only with you in transit," says Bergé. "I hope they will take flight and meet other owners, and I hope they will love them as much as Yves Saint Laurent and I have loved them."
The auctions of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé's collections are being held on February 23, 24 and 25, 2009, at the Grand Palais in Paris. The collection is being exhibited from February 21 to 25, 2009.
The collection previews at Christie's New York from November 6 to 8, 2008, at Christie's London from January 31 to February 3, 2009, and at Pierre Bergé & Associés in Brussels from February 7 to 11, 2008.
For more information:
La Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent
5 avenue Marceau
T. +33 (0)1 44 31 64 00