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Second day of Yves Saint Laurent 'sale of the century'

The second day of the record-breaking auction of French designer Yves Saint-Laurent's art collection spotlighted the Old Masters, as well as Art Deco. But a much-anticipated Picasso work failed to find a buyer.


AFP - Art dealers and museums from across the globe joined the super-rich Tuesday for day two of the record-breaking sale of Yves Saint Laurent's stunning collection, with Old Masters and Art Deco gems set to pull in millions.

Held in the spectacular glass-roofed and cast-iron vaulted Grand Palais exhibition hall, the historic auction on opening Monday smashed the world record for a private art sale with 206 million euros (261 million dollars) worth of bids.

Barely minutes into the second day of frenzied buying by hundreds of seated bidders and through 100 telephone operators, a 17th century oil by Dutch artist Frans Hals fetched almost three times its top estimate, going for 3.1 million dollars.

A star piece on the block, an early 19th century Theodore Gericault portrait of a young brother and sister, also went above estimate at eight million euros.

On the first day alone, the three-day auction dubbed the "sale of the century" broke seven world records for contemporary artists.

The shine may wear off for the finale however when a political dispute with China over the fate of prized cultural relics take the spotlight.

Despite protests from Beijing and a legal bid to block the auction in France, two disputed 18th-century Qing dynasty bronze go on the block late Wednesday.

Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's companion and business partner, on Monday reiterated an offer to trade the bronzes, worth millions of dollars each, with Beijing in return for human rights.

China's termed Berge's suggestion "ridiculous" and again demanded the return of the relics, part of a collection looted 150 years ago by British and French troops from the imperial Summer Palace.

Berge, who decided to sell the pair's 50-year-long collection after the designer's death last June, told reporters after the first round of the sale that "Yves would have been very happy" over the results.



After Matisse, Mondrian and Klee, whose masterpieces all hit world records Monday, Tuesday's spotlight was on past masters, with paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Hals and Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Later in the day, Art Deco buffs will be offered a lavish selection of Art Deco furniture that graced the couple's homes, including a chest and armchair by Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray, estimated at three to five million and two to three million euros respectively.

Among other highlights are a pair of palmwood leopard-skinned benches with red lacquered bronze designed by Hungarian Gustave Miklos, estimated at up to three million euros.

Bidders will also be offered a vast selection of German-crafted silver and gold pieces, from the 16th to the 19th century.

A crowd of well-heeled international connoisseurs in furs and evening-wear snapped up 1,200 seats at the opening round of the auction, with phone bids raining in from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US.

Auctioneers Christie's said 30 percent of buyers were from the US and 70 percent from Europe, with 12 percent of them French.

Top price went for a Matisse oil, "Cuckoos on a blue and pink carpet", which amid a hushed silence as bids increased sold at a record for the artist of 35.9 million euros (46.5 million dollars) including fees, smashing a pre-sale estimate of 18 million euros.

Works by the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and French innovator Marcel Duchamp, also earned record sums, well above estimates.

By contrast, a much anticipated Pablo Picasso work "Musical Instruments on a Table" flopped. Bidding fell short of the 25 million euro guide price, the highest in the collection, and the piece was withdrawn unsold.

Berge told reporters he was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the Picasso -- "one of our favourite works -- but insisted he was not upset.

"I am 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."

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