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Art auction billed 'sale of the century'

FROM the Picassos that graced his walls to historic artifacts and hundreds of sculptures, the artwork that inspired late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent went on display on Saturday, three days before it is auctioned.

Billed as "the sale of the century," the auction of the 733-piece collection will disperse in three days a collection that took Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge half a century to amass.

Highlights include Piet Mondrian's 1922 painting "Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black," whose squares of saturated colors inspired Saint Laurent's legendary 1965 shift dress; a wooden sculpture by Romanian Constantin Brancusi that is expected to sell for US$19 million to US$25 million; and a pair of bronze animal heads that were looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860 and that China now wants removed from the auction and returned.

The lot that's expected to fetch the highest price is a 1914-1915 Picasso painting of a guitar, "Instruments de musique sur un gueridon," (Musical Instruments on a Table), from the Spanish artist's cubist period.

The canvas features angular splotches of red, green and mustard yellow against a somber gray background and is the last large-format painting from the period still in private hands, auction house Christie's said. It is estimated at US$32 million to US$38 million.

Other lots include sculptures from ancient Egypt and Rome and 17th century Italy, ivory crucifixes and silver German beer steins that covered every available surface of Saint Laurent's homes, as well as his Art Deco furniture.

The sale is expected to gross US$250 million to US$380 million. A large portion of the proceeds is to go to support AIDS research.

Saint Laurent died in June at age 71 after a battle with brain cancer.

"In 30 years in the auction business, I've never seen anything as good as this," said Jonathan Rendell, vice president of Christie's America.


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