PARIS (AP) – A French judge has ruled against halting the sale of disputed Chinese bronze fountainheads heading for Christie’s auction block as part of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate.
The judge has also ordered the association that sought to prevent the sale to pay euro1,000 ($1,275) in fines each to the auction house and to the firm of Pierre Berge, the collection’s consignor and longtime partner of the late French fashion icon.
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 issue has cast a shadow over a three-day auction, starting Monday, of 733 works of art collected over half a century by Saint Laurent and Berge. It has not, however, deterred bidders. As reported in a separate Associated Press story appearing on Auction Central News, the Monday evening opening session of the auction has broken the existing record for a European auction, bringing in $266 million.
Lawyers for a China-linked group, APACE, sought to block the sale of the bronzes – not the entire auction. The group acknowledged that Saint Laurent acquired the bronzes legally, but said they should be returned to China or at least displayed in a museum.
Jean-Paul Chazal, a lawyer for Christie’s, said he was “entirely satisfied” by the ruling, and chastised APACE for straying from the rules it faces under French law.
He insisted that such an advocacy group has a role to defend its members “not to substitute itself for the Embassy of China, a state, or a government prosecutor.”
The fountainheads date to the early Qing Dynasty, established by invading Manchu tribesmen in 1644. The Christie’s catalog says they were made for the Zodiac fountain of the summer Imperial Palace.
The rat’s head sculpture is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) long. The rabbit is about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall and 14 inches (35 centimeters) long.
They are expected to sell for up to euro10 million ($13 million) each, according to news reports.
A defiant Berge said Friday he had no intention of “giving these heads to the Chinese government … Rather, I would recommend that the Chinese, instead of getting worked up over the heads, worry about human rights.”
Beyond the bronzes, the auction will be closely watched in the art world amid worries the financial crisis is cutting into the market.
Highlights include Piet Mondrian’s 1922 painting, Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, whose squares of saturated colors inspired Saint Laurent’s renowned 1965 shift dress, and a wooden sculpture by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi expected to sell for euro15 million-euro20 million ($19 million-$25 million).
The highest price is expected to go to a 1914-1915 Picasso painting called Instruments de musique sur un gueridon, (Musical Instruments on a Table) from his Cubist period. The canvas is the last large-format painting from the period still in private hands, Christie’s said.
The Picasso’s estimated worth is euro25 million-euro30 million ($32 million-$38 million).
Other lots include sculptures from ancient Egypt and Rome, ivory crucifixes and silver German beer steins that covered every available surface of Saint Laurent’s homes. Also on sale is his Art Deco furniture and his bed.
The sale is expected to gross euro200 million-euro300 million ($250 million-$380 million). A portion of the proceeds will go to support AIDS research.
Saint Laurent died in June at age 71 of brain cancer.
Auction Central News will continue to provide updates on this series of sales that has captured the world’s attention.
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