Saint Laurent Record Challenged by $82 Million Castle Clear-Out

A black lacquer "Tardieu" desk created by the Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann sold for 2.3 million euros at Christie's International's three-day Paris auction of the Gourdon Collection of 20th-century design. The desk was estimated to sell for between 2 million euros and 3 million euros. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

French collector Laurent Negro may raise a record 60 million euros ($82 million) at the auction of everything in his private museum.

Negro, 39, whose father started temporary employment company Bis SA, is clearing out his medieval Chateau de Gourdon, near Grasse, Provence, to make more living space, Christie’s International said. The three-day sale in Paris, starting today, is led by 20th-century design works by Eileen Gray and Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann.

The 860 lots at the Palais de Tokyo have a minimum estimate of 40 million euros. The total may exceed the 59.2 million euros of modern decorative art sold in 2009 for the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. At that event, a Gray armchair fetched a record 21.9 million euros.

“The Gourdon collection was put together with passion and with the investment upside in mind,” Rabih Hage, founder of DeTnk Collectible Design Market Report, said in an interview. “It’s in tune with the way collectors are now buying. They’re looking for pieces with a pedigree and a precise provenance.”

DeTnk this month published its overview of the market for modern and contemporary design. Auctions raised 142.6 million pounds ($228 million) in 2010, a 0.5 percent increase on the previous year, when the total was bloated by the success of Christie’s YSL sale, DeTnk said. French Art Deco designer Ruhlmann was the top auction performer in 2010, with sales of 6.4 million pounds ($10.3 million). The Gourdon sale has 34 Ruhlmann items, valued at more than 10 million euros.

Negro has been buying Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernist design, photographs and books since the 1990s.

Ruhlmann’s Desk

A black-lacquer Ruhlmann desk and chaise longue both date from 1929 and have high estimates of 3 million euros.

Jan and Joel Martel’s 1931 aluminum Art Deco sculpture of an express train, “Locomotive en marche,” was bought by Negro for $386,500 at Sotheby’s, New York, in 2008. Christie’s will re-offer it with an estimate of 200,000 euros to 300,000 euros.

“He paid more than the low estimate for the collection,” Jonathan Rendell, Christie’s New York-based deputy chairman, said in an interview. “He’s selling everything. He needs to live in the castle. He’ll go and collect something else, though. It’s in his DNA. He hasn’t told us what it is yet.”

Specialist dealers, such as Galerie Doria in Paris, supplied pieces by Irish-born Gray. Her 1920s black lacquer “Brick” screen is estimated at as much as 1.5 million euros. It was originally owned by the designer herself. Her canvas “Transat” chair is valued at 600,000 euros to 800,000 euros.

A unique games table designed by Jean Dunand in 1930 for the couturier Madeleine Vionnet is this evening’s most highly estimated lot, at 3 million euros to 5 million euros. A 1929 modernist carpet by Francis Bacon -- who worked as a designer before devoting himself to painting -- is priced at 20,000 euros to 30,000 euros.

Negro’s father, also called Laurent, died in 1997. His company was taken over by Vendex International NV.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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