PARIS — Thousands of people visited the Grand Palais here Sunday morning to view up close a collection of 700 pieces of art that once filled the apartments of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé.

A line had formed by 7.30 a.m. and ultimately snaked around the building for the free exhibition. Auction house Christie’s estimates 30,000 visitors this past weekend ahead of the auction, which begins today.

There were also queues Friday night as more than 2,000 friends, former couture staff and prospective buyers thronged a VIP preview. “It’s only now I realize how lucky I was to live among such beauty,” said Betty Catroux, adding she’ll accompany Bergé through “every minute” of the three-day sale. “We are a close family, you know. We never leave each other’s side.”

This story first appeared in the February 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The exhibit, where different works and eras are mixed in replica rooms of Saint Laurent’s Rue de Babylone apartment, allowed visitors within arm’s reach of the objects. “That’s because they’re still part of life, they’re not in a museum yet,” explained scenographer Nathalie Crinière, who directed a team of 250 people who worked on the installation around the clock for a week.

“It’s on the scale he deserves: He would have been happy to see it this way,” said the Baroness Hélène de Ludinghausen, Saint Laurent’s former couture director, who will attend Monday’s sale of Impressionist and Modern Art as a spectator only. “My heart is set on everything, but my pocket isn’t. My wallet’s saying, ‘No, no, no.’ I’ll be afraid to scratch my nose,” she joked.

As designer Agnès Troublé studied the Roman minotaur sculpture at the entrance, Bianca Jagger swept by on the arm of gallery owner Thaddaeus Ropac, who said he plans to bid on some of the chairs. “This is a great thing for the art world, but this time I’m after some pieces of furniture for my home,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful homage but it’s very sad, I saw these pieces several times in Yves Saint Laurent’s homes,” mused Hubert de Givenchy, leaning on his cane in a queue for the first salons. The retired designer said he once owned some of the Limoges enamel pieces on display.

As well as works by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and Degas, the show includes pieces that won’t go under the hammer this week, namely Goya’s “Potrait de Don Luis Maria de Cistué,” which Bergé has donated to the Louvre, and Andy Warhol’s portraits of Saint Laurent, among the few pieces Bergé is holding on to.

Meanwhile, in China’s ongoing battle to prevent the sale of two bronze animal fountainheads, taken from the Emperor Qianlong’s summer palace in Beijing during the Opium Wars, the Association for the Protection of the Arts of China in Europe has reportedly filed an injunction request to Paris’ Tribunal de Grande Instance, to be heard in court today. Bergé told WWD earlier this week the Chinese would be better to look after human rights than trying to recover the rat and the rabbit, which go under the hammer Wednesday. Christie’s maintains the sale is legal.

Bergé, meanwhile, confirmed that another sale, that of the couple’s Château Gabriel in Deauville, has been completed. The buyer is said to be a Russian businessman. Furniture and works of art from the château, where each room was named after a Proustian character, will be auctioned by Christie’s and Pierre Bergé & Associés from Nov. 17 to 19.

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