PARIS — From Art Deco furniture by Eileen Gray to bronze animal heads that once adorned the fountain at the palace of China’s Emperor Qianlong, the private art collection of the late Yves Saint Laurent and his former partner, Pierre Bergé, is bound to attract wide interest when it is auctioned off in February.

The 700-piece auction, to be held by Christie’s in association with Pierre Bergé and Associates, is estimated to net between 200 million, or $290 million at current exchange, and 300 million euros, or $440 million. “The entire world is waiting for this sale,” asserted François de Riqlès, vice president of Christie’s, at a press conference here Friday.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The pieces, acquired by Saint Laurent and Bergé over five decades, fall into nine specialist areas: modern art; Art Deco; European sculptures and Renaissance art; European furniture and art; silver; antiquities; Old Master and 19th-century paintings; Old Master and 19th-century drawings, and Asian art.

Among the highlights are a wooden sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, a portrait of the Comtesse de Larue by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a Picasso thought to be worth up to 40 million euros, or $59 million, and three paintings by Matisse. Goya’s famous “Don Luis Maria de Cistue y Martinez” is not included in the sale, but will likely be donated to the Louvre.

Christie’s experts said the collection pays tribute to Bergé and Saint Laurent’s exceptionally demanding standards.

For Bergé, juxtaposing the works, which filled Saint Laurent’s Rue de Babylone apartment and Bergé’s house on the Rue Bonaparte, was key. “It’s like a dinner, where there are guests you invite, but also those you don’t invite,” he said.

Antique dealer Alexis Kugel who, with his brother, Nicolas, supplied many pieces for the collection, recalled Saint Laurent arriving at the gallery in a highly strung state two days before his last couture show, in order to enjoy some quiet time. “He left with one or two things in his hand,” Kugel said.

While he had never discussed the possibility of an auction with Saint Laurent, who died in June at the age of 71, Bergé said he faced two choices — putting the entire collection in a museum or a sale. “I believe in circulating works of art,” he said.

Although Bergé acknowledged that France is not the best market for such a collection, he chose to hold the sale in Paris because the works belong to two Frenchmen, who made their fortunes in France.

International viewing will be held at Christie’s in New York from Nov. 5 to 7, Christie’s in London from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and at Pierre Bergé and Associates in Brussels from Feb. 7 to 10. The exhibition will open at the Grand Palais on Feb. 21 and the auction will take place from Feb. 23 to 25. Proceeds will go to the Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and to a new foundation Bergé has created to fund scientific and medical research to fight AIDS.

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