PARIS — The first day of the sale of Yves Saint Laurent’s and Pierre Bergé’s art collection got off to a strong start at Christie’s here, with many major works blowing through their high estimates.

With Christie’s owner François Pinault sitting in the front row — and many of Saint Laurent’s friends and admirers in the room — the bidding started to take off with the 17th lot, James Ensor’s painting “Le Desespoir de Pierrot,” which hung in Bergé’s house in Rue Babylone. The painting sold for 4.4 million euros, or $5.6 million, excluding commission, well above its high estimate of 3 million euros, or $3.8 million.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The next spectacular sale was Constantin Brancusi’s wood sculpture “Madame L.R.,” which sold for 26 million euros, or $32.8 million, well above its high estimate of 20 million euros, or $25.2 million. Then Duchamp’s rare work “Belle Haleine Eau de Voilette” sold for 7.9 million euros, or $9.9 million, versus a high estimate of 1.5 million euros, or $1.9 million.

Other works selling for well above their estimates included Mondrian’s “Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir,” which sold for 14.2 million euros, or $17.9 million, versus an estimate of 10 million euros, or $12.6 million; Léger’s “Profile Noir,” which went for 3.1 million euros, or $3.9 million, versus an estimated 1.5 million euros, or $1.9 million; Matisse’s “Les Coucous, Tapis bleu et rose,” which sold for 32 million euros, or $40.4 million, versus an estimated $22.7 million euros, and Paul Klee’s “Gartenfigur,” also from Bergé’s house, which sold for 3.5 million euros, or $4.4 million, versus an estimate of 900,000 euros, or $1.1 million.

Not all of the lots beat their estimates, however. Picasso’s “Instruments de Musique Sur un Guéridon” was estimated to sell for up to 30 million euros, or $37.8 million, but in the end the bidding reached only 21 million euros, or $26.5 million.

The sale, one of the most anticipated auctions in years because of the quality of the artworks, continues today and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a French court on Monday rejected a request that sought to prevent Christie’s from selling two bronze animal sculptures, part of the auction of 700 pieces of art belonging to Bergé and the late Saint Laurent. The request was made by the Association for the Protection of the Arts of China in Europe (APACE), which argued the rat and the rabbit heads, among 12 taken from the Summer Palace of the Emperor Qianlong in Beijing during the Opium Wars, should be returned to China. Laws regarding the repatriation of stolen art works, however, aren’t retroactive. Under Monday’s ruling, the court ordered APACE to pay Christie’s and Pierre Bergé & Associates 1,000 euros, or around $1,280 each.

It’s estimated the fountainheads, which go under the hammer on Wednesday evening, could fetch between 8 and 10 million euros, or $10.1 and $12.7 million.

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