PARIS – A painting by Henri Matisse sold Monday for $41.1 million – a record auction price for a work by the artist – at an art sale from the estate of Yves Saint Laurent, Christie’s auction house said.
The sale came at the start of a three-day Paris auction of art from the collection of the late French fashion designer that some are calling “the sale of the century.”
Sales reached $263.6 million in the auction’s first day – marked by six world record prices for works by individual artists at auction, Christie’s said. Fierce bidding in the cavernous, glass-topped Grand Palais museum hall quieted concerns that the global financial crisis might damage the auction’s prospects.
Matisse’s 1911 oil painting “Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose,” (The Cowslips, Blue and Rose Fabric) sold for nearly $46 million, including the buyer’s premium, Christie’s said.
Mondrian’s 1922 painting “Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black,” with rectangles of saturated colors that had inspired Saint Laurent’s 1965 shift dress, sold for $24.6 million, or about twice the pre-auction estimate. A wood sculpture by Constantin Brancusi titled “Madame L.R.” went for $33.3 million. Those prices exclude the buyer’s premium.
Christie’s officials said they were still working on confirming the identities of the buyers, who mostly came from North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The sale came as the auction sidestepped a legal controversy earlier Monday. A French judge refused to halt the sale of disputed Chinese bronze fountainheads due for sale later during the three-day auction.
The bronze heads – of a rabbit and a rat – disappeared from the summer Imperial Palace on the outskirts of Beijing when French and British forces sacked it at the close of the second Opium War in 1860. The dispute had cast a shadow over the auction of 733 works collected over half a century by Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, his longtime companion. The Chinese artifacts are to be sold later in the auction. News reports say they are expected to fetch $13 million each.
A portion of the auction proceeds will go to support AIDS research.
Saint Laurent died in June at age 71 of brain cancer.