China haunts the sale of the century

Beijing today threatened to chill Franco-Chinese relations unless Paris removed two bronze animal heads from the final day of a record-breaking sale of the art collection of the late fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

The warning cast a diplomatic shadow over the three-day "sale of the century", which has defied the global financial crisis and established half-a-dozen new art market records.

China claims that the two bronze heads, a rat and a rabbit, valued at €10m each, were pillaged from the Summer Palace in Beijing by French and British troops during the Second Opium War in 1860. A French court rejected an attempt to halt their sale yesterday.

Beijing said yesterday that the auction of the heads - due to take place in Paris tomorrow afternoon - would break international law and "seriously harm... the national feelings of the Chinese people". M. Saint Laurent's former boyfriend, business manager and heir, Pierre Bergé - who is selling their joint art collection - said earlier that he would return the bronze sculptures to China under certain conditions.

"All that I ask," he said "is that China respects human rights, gives Tibet its freedom and agrees to the return of the Dalai Lama." M. Bergé's statement was angrily dismissed by Beijing as "ridiculous".

In a couple of hours last night, the auction of the eclectic Saint Laurent-Bergé collection smashed the previous world record for the dispersal of privately-owned works of art. More than Euros 206m were raised on the first evening, including new records for works by Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp, James Ensor and Piet Mondrian.

However, the great surprise of the first day of the sale was the failure of the supposed pièce de résistance of the Saint Laurent collection - Pablo Picasso's "Instruments de musiques sur un guéridon" - to reach its Euros 25m reserve price.

M. Bergé, who is to give the entire proceeds of the sale to AIDS research and other charities, said that he would now keep the painting. "You might think that I was disappointed," he said. "Not a bit of it. I have had an extraordinary auction and, what's more, I have gained a Picasso."

Interest in the sale has been so great that it has been installed by Christies in one of the largest exhibition spaces in Paris, Le Grand Palais, just off the Champs Elysées. Over 30,000 people queued during the weekend to view the 730 works, ranging from Roman antiquities to paintings by Andy Warhol.

Art dealers, art lovers and collectors from all over the world are attending the sale, including Bianca Jagger and Viscount Linley, son of Princess Margaret. Other bids are being made through 100 telephone lines installed for the occasion.

Despite the global financial crisis, the auction seems likely to exceed its total predicted value of Euros 300m. On the second day yesterday, a painting by the early 19th century French artist Théodore Géricault - "Portrait d'Alfred et Elisabeth Dedreux" - sold for Euros 8m, double its reserve price. A painting by Frans Hals (Dutch, early 17th century)- "Portrait d'homme tenant un livre - sold for Euros 3.1m, three times its expected price.

The greatest surprise so far has been the Euros 32m paid by an unknown private buyer for the Matisse painting "Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose." This smashed the previous record for works by the 20th century French post-impressionist.

A wooden sculpture by the 20th century Romanian artist, Constantin Brancusi, "Madame L.R", sold for Euros 26m. An ordinary bottle of perfume still in its box - a piece of "ready-made" art sanctified by the 20th centrury French surrealist Marcel Duchamp - sold for €7.9m.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn