Sale of the Bergé – YSL collection: Paris moves up the global art market ladder



The Bergé -YSL sale was a historical sale in more than one sense: the €373.5m total for the three-day auction is the world record for a private collection and the European record for an art sale of any sort.Moreover, the collection’s Fine Art generated a sum equivalent to 66.7% of total 2008 art auction sales in Paris and 53.2% of total French art auction revenue in 2008. Indeed, this total of €206m ($264.9m) for art works (excluding antiques, furniture and objects) could well modify the 2009 global auction revenue ranking by allowing France to recover the third place it has lost to China since 2007.

The first session of Christie’s Bergé – YSL sale opened on 23 February just as Wall Street posted its lowest level for 12 years (S&P 500 at 743.33 points). Despite the economic and financial alarm bells, Artprice’s AMCI suggested strong buy intentions from art market players (70.8% of respondents). These intentions were confirmed on the first day of Impressionist and Modern art sales which generated a total of €182m, a figure substantially higher than the previous world record for a private collection sale: €163,6m from the Victor and Sally Ganz collection in 1997 at Christie’s New York.

By the end of the evening on Monday 23 February, Christie’s had generated a number of new records for works by the grand masters of Modern art. These included €32m for Henri MATISSE’s Les Coucous, €26m (€6m above its estimate) for Constantin BRANCUSI’s sculpture Madame L.R., €7.9m (pulverising its “under-estimate” of €1.5m) for Marcel DUCHAMP’s historic ready-made Belle haleine-Eau de voilette, €19.2m for Piet MONDRIAAN’s Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir and €4.4m for James ENSOR’s Le Désespoir de Pierrot.

However, the overall prestige of the sale and the ownership history of the works did not trigger a “buy at any price” mood and collectors remained highly selective. Pablo PICASSO’s cubist painting, over-estimated at €25m, and four paintings by Théodore GÉRICAULT with high reservation prices remained unsold. Another Géricault masterpiece, Portrait d’Alfred et d’Elisabeth Dedreux, set a new record for the artist at €8m, refreshing a previous record dating back to 1989 when Portrait de Laure Bro, née de Comères fetched the equivalent of €4.9m at Sotheby’s in Monaco.

The exceptional quality of the collection attracted the attention of the French State which exercised its pre-emption rights three times on the first day, acquiring Giorgio DE CHIRICO’s Ritornante for the Centre Pompidou, Édouard VUILLARD’s Les Lilas and James ENSOR’s Au conservatoire for the Musée d’Orsay. Total bill: €10.6m, excluding fees. Over the following two days, it intervened twice acquiring a miniature portrait of Louis XIV by Petitot and some XVI century wall plates in Limoges enamel for the Louvre.

This sale suggests that the art market is showing remarkable resistance to the financial crisis and the global economic recession… as long as the works offered are of exceptional quality.