China Should Buy Yves Saint Laurent Artworks from Christie’s

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on February 19, 2009

The sale of art treasures amassed by French couturier Yves Saint Laurent by auction house Christie’s in Paris Feb. 23-25 has been deemed “the Sale of the Century”, comprising some extraordinary pieces by Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian. But while the art cognoscenti are aquiver with anticipation, the Chinese government is determined to spoil the party. The problem, you see, is that Saint Laurent’s fine eye also led him to the purchase of two 18th Century Qing Dynasty bronzes that were looted from the Imperial Summer Palace more than 150 years ago. Beijing has demanded that the pieces, bronze heads of a rabbit and a rat believed to be part of a collection inspired by the 12 signs of the zodiac, be withdrawn from the auction. Christie’s has refused to bow to the pressure.

“Auctioning cultural objects looted in war time not only offends the Chinese people and undermines their cultural rights, but also violates relevant international conventions,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, according to AFP. Unfortunately for China, international conventions regarding looted art don’t extend back 150 years. So here is a simple piece of advice to Beijing: attend the auction and purchase the treasures yourself. After all, China has shelled out huge sums in recent years to purchase stakes in foreign banks [Fortis and Morgan Stanley come to mind] only to lose billions on their purchases. The suggested price for the two bronzes is less than $13 million apiece, hardly enough to break the bank for a country with nearly $2 trillion in foreign reserves. What’s more, the government-linked National Treasures Fund has pulled out its checkbook in the past. Five other heads from the zodiac collection now on display in China were purchased at auction in recent years.

Speaking of recent history, let us not forget that China’s marauding Red Guards smashed thousands of precious works of art during the Cultural Revolution. This is understandably still a sensitive topic for the Chinese, so much so that last summer Beijing reneged on a promise to lend examples of Chinese Communist Revolutionary Art to the Asia Society in New York.

But let’s face it, the two bronzes on sale by Christie’s are pretty tiny in the grand scheme of things, and Beijing should perhaps keep its eye on the bigger prize. Departing Nationalists left mainland China for Taiwan with more than three thousand crates of art works, many of them on display in the magnificent National Palace Museum in Taipei. Beijing’s demand that these works be repatriated to China has long been a source of consternation for Taiwan, but improving ties across the Taiwan Strait are now extending even to the realm of art. On Valentine’s Day, the director of the National Palace Museum traveled to Beijing to discuss the possibility of lending part of its collection to China for display at the Palace Museum in Beijing. That’s a very encouraging first step at least. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for full repatriation. Greece is still waiting for the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles, and London, New York and Paris each have a version of Cleopatra’s Needle that rightfully should be sweltering along the shores of the Nile in Egypt.

Reader Comments

gregorylent

February 19, 2009 7:34 AM

give them back, played nicely, the win will be huge

Steven

February 19, 2009 8:36 PM

China can simply declare that any items that was stolen by westerners during opium war are illegal and China has the rights to size them. The owners of the items will be prosecuted as long as China can catch them. The auction houses who help sell the items are also against China's law and should be prosecuted.

Steven

February 19, 2009 8:38 PM

I don' know if it is reasonable to ask the person who was robbed to pay for the items that was robbed of him.

steven

February 19, 2009 10:53 PM

In my country (United States), possessing
stolen goods is a crime (even if it is passed down from your ancestors), I don't know where Mr. Frederik Balfour resides.

steven

February 19, 2009 11:03 PM

I think Christie should keep its eye on bigger prize, do they really want to continue to operate in Hong Kong? As for the French government, do they want China to buy more Airbuses or Boeings? As for Mr. Frederik Balfour: How do you know that
Yves Saint Laurent actually "purchase" these two items?

rabin a.k.a. steven

February 19, 2009 11:06 PM

Jews and Jewish Americans are actively pursuing Nazi-era loots, but Chinese are strongly discouraged by Businessweek to forget about it, is that double standard or what?

tjefferson a.k.a. steven

February 19, 2009 11:18 PM

The evils of western colonialism are still lingering in major western museums, the worst of them is British Museum: Elgin marbles, Egyptian antiquities, Chinese Dunhuang collection, Mesopotamia (Iraqi) collection, etc. Is that a violation of human rights or not? Western nations should be ashamed of themselves with all these stolen goods.

steven

February 19, 2009 11:30 PM

maybe China should not buy the two nuclear reactors from France,http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/05/business/nuke.php
until they return the two items, China can always buy more from Westinghouse.

steven

February 19, 2009 11:35 PM

Carrefour SA Group can certainly afford 26
million dollars to buy the two items and return to the Chinese people as a good gesture of doing business in China.

steven

February 19, 2009 11:44 PM

Mr Frederik Balfour is advocating keeping stolen goods, is that the best you can teach to your children (if any)? Sorry, George Washington!

jcage

February 20, 2009 1:24 AM

I know that this economic situation are affecting newspaper and magazine due to massive reduction in advertisement. Let's hope that BusinessWeek goes bankrupt and people like the author of this blog end up on the street!!!
Loot is loot not matter who does it!!

blue

February 20, 2009 1:37 AM

Shame on the Yves Saint Laurent , they hold the posession of something that don't actually belong to them.they should feel honored to return these to China as a grant gesture if they had a moral sense,or they could choose this way which to hold these pieces and but being blamed by Chinese people.No, I don't think Chinese people should buy them, it's our acient achievements, We have the rights to recall them.

Author- Frederik Balfour

February 20, 2009 2:27 AM

For a very thorough treatment of the ethics of stolen art and museums, Colin Renfrew has written a book called "Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership". Renfrew regularly rails against the New York Metropolitan Museum and the Getty Museum for their acquisition policies.

Steve King

February 20, 2009 4:59 PM

"Departing Nationalists left mainland China for Taiwan with more than three thousand crates of art works, many of them on display in the magnificent National Palace Museum in Taipei. Beijing’s demand that these works be repatriated to China has long been a source of consternation for Taiwan, but improving ties across the Taiwan Strait are now extending even to the realm of art. On Valentine’s Day"
You got this all wrong. When Chen was President of Taiwan, he offered to return those items to China because he says Taiwan is not part of China and he does not want it. Guess what? China refused the offer because that is the only link culturally that bounds Taiwan with Mainland. Keeping those pieces in a province of China-Taiwan, is not the same as being held in foreign country.

SimpleSolution

February 20, 2009 6:35 PM

Tit for tat, Chinese government should send troops to France and Britain, maybe not today, possibly in the future, burn down British Museum and French Louvre and rob everything back to China. Well, that will give Frederik a lot to write.

Remember Yuan Ming Yuan, not only its sheer size (4.5 times of the current Forbidden City), and supreme excellency in artistry and treasure collection.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Summer_Palace

DeeDangDee

February 20, 2009 6:53 PM

Jcage, you don't have to hope. It will happen. People like Frederik, Bruce and other BussinessWeek "contributors" will sooner or later ended up in the street. The day will come when people realize they and BusinessWeek provide no real "business" values, only political slanders.
The #1 rated radio host, 97.1 Tom Leykis can go unemployed (surprise to me). Then why not these no-name no-value authors?

Jan

February 20, 2009 10:02 PM

No wonder Mr Frederik Balfour seems so peppy about stolen items. The whole of America were stolten from others. If somehow Frederik Balfour grows a tiny little bit of conscience, he might feel the urge to kill himself for being so heartless. God bless you. God bless you meet your heartless fate soon

Brad

February 20, 2009 10:30 PM

A thief who stole your belonging and ask you pay, so he can return it back, where is the morality of Yves Saint Laurent

blue

February 21, 2009 10:23 AM

if these artworks were bought by Yves Saint Laurent and not stolen, that would be make a huge difference.

living in china

February 21, 2009 8:27 PM

previous posts are biased and most likely written by people living (or raised) in a country known for brainwashing it's youth and employing bloggers to comment on posts like this to improve china's image. For the rest of you, google "china's paid bloggers" to learn more.

Jan

February 22, 2009 1:17 AM

y westerners are all racists. I know a lot of foreigners. They all act like they are open-minded and such a stickler for hunman rights. Truth is none of them really are. y can see it from a lot of the little things they do and little habits they exibit. Now I know why. They've already been brainwashed by the narrow-minded western media right from the beginning

sad wm

February 22, 2009 10:40 AM

read Frederik Balfour's articles and you can see that he and the rest of the "eye on asia" so called columnist are racist as hell with their china bashing and trying to insight rivalry between china and india.

99% of their articles are negative. why is that? china is never in the right and the west is always in the right.

what is wrong with insecure white men.

Panda@war

February 22, 2009 4:25 PM


China should buy from Christie's what belongs to her?? What sort of French humor is that?

How about China send PLA to loot Louvre Musium next month and put all the stuff there on Christie's too. And let France buy them back??

Panda At War

February 22, 2009 4:26 PM


China should buy from Christie's what belongs to her?? What sort of French humor is that?

How about China send PLA to loot Louvre Musium next month and put all the stuff there on Christie's too. And let France buy them back??

@ Sad Wm

February 23, 2009 5:12 AM

Well said! I couldn't agree more!

Stanley

February 23, 2009 1:40 PM

The Chinese government can do to YSL establishment in HongKong or China the same thing that the US government has done to UBS: slap them with a $700 million fine and take them to court, otherwise stop doing business in their territory. China should also support the independence of Guadelope and Martinique and other French territories that were colonized by France during the slave trades.

jcage

February 23, 2009 9:29 PM

Stanley

You got the right approach to punish YSL.
If YSL think that it can use this issue to force China concerning Tibet or any Chinese policy, then China should banned YSL from China and from HK as well! Fine them and when they are losing market and money, YSL and other companies might think twice about dictating other countries policy!
Banned YSL from China and boycott YSL products!

yoyoparents

February 23, 2009 10:30 PM

So Mr. Fvcking Balfour, it's totally legal if I stole or rob something valuable from your house with a gun pointing at your head and later on keep or even trade it for money, isn't it?

frederik balfour

February 24, 2009 12:25 AM

Many commenters on my blog pointed out that my suggestion China should bid for the artworks itself if it wishes to repatriate the bronzes was a bad idea, and over the weekend I came up with another suggestion that could be win-win for all parties concerned: The Chinese, the French, Christies's and the estate of Yves Saint Laurent. Why not let the French government purchase the bronzes at auction, then make them as a present to Beijing? This would be an enormous diplomatic coup for the French, and mighthelp thaw the often-frosty relations with Beijing.

FOR more on this see my Feb 23 blog:


http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/blog/eyeonasia/archives/2009/02/update_on_yves.html

@Steve King

February 24, 2009 5:19 AM

An outright lie. Chen never made such offer and in fact Chen was ridiculed by Li Ao because he would not return the treasury to mainland China.

Panda@war

February 24, 2009 7:56 AM

Frederik,

It is another bad idea of yours. You miss the whole point of exercise! Too much cognac over the weekend? On what legal basis that the treasures are put on sale at Christie’s? What about other treasures then? Does it (putting on auction) set a bad precedence?

In your logic, French govt should also pay ransom (auction-alike) to whoever kidnaps someone in France or elsewhere, in order to make everyone involved happy, right?

They are stolen national treasures therefore should be returned immediately to whom they belong to. Furthermore YSL and Christie's should be fined, for illegally possess and trade on stolen treasures.

@ Frederik Balfour

February 24, 2009 9:59 AM

Is this your way to compensate for writing garbage?

To Frederik Balfour

February 24, 2009 6:47 PM

Do you have one ounce of moral left in you to suggest China buys the stolen relics back? Do you want to reward a thief who robs you? A stolen article will always remain a stolen article no matter how many times it has exchanged hands.

To Frederik Balfour

February 24, 2009 7:00 PM

Do you want to reward thief that robs you? Do you want to encourage or even finance looting? If not, why should China pay for the bronze relic which was rightfully hers? A stolen item will always remain an illegal article no matter how many times it has exchanged hands. YSL should be slapped with a 700 million fine for facilating such sale.

a Bannerman

February 26, 2009 7:25 AM

Dear Mr. Balfour, let us look at this hypothetical case : Your grandfather's house was rob and partially burnt down to conceal the crime a long time ago. Some years later, an object has turned up for sale, there is no doubt in anyone's mind in the whole world that this "for sale" object was created by your grandfather's hands. Now, you go to the "sale" and try to claim that it belongs to your family and block the sale. And someone (a certain Mr.Balfour) termed you "determined to spoil the party".
Now, step back, tell me which "party" are you a member of? I would suggest a "party of thieves"
Regarding the "buy back" theory, tell me what you will do for your grandfather and his family?

louis

February 26, 2009 1:21 PM

If you do not know what's right or wrong Mr. (to be polite) Frederik Balfour, why don't you just shut up instead of playing ignorance.

Panda@war

February 26, 2009 3:00 PM

Enough is enough! After a successful Shanghai Noon, time now to release Jackie Chan and Jet Li to shoot a Paris Midnight together next to the backdoor of Rouvre Museum, and see what can they get from there!

Sensible person

February 26, 2009 10:36 PM

To Frederik Balfour,

I think you are a nice man. Can you please tell me where you live ? I guess it is ok for me to rob all your belongings. No worry, i am willing to return your treasures if you can send your wife to me.

Wake up !!!

I love F Balfour

February 28, 2009 11:57 AM

We should let Balfour keep whinning because this is how he gets fed. See, there are jobs where morality is absolutely not necessary, like this one working for BusinessWeek. I'm sure that Mr. Balfour will tell his children, if any, that hey buddie your friend at school has really cool stuff, go grab it we will put it on eBay. Grow up Balfour, you don't have to trade your principle for money, yet. By the way, I'm not a paid BLOGGER.

Sherwood

February 28, 2009 11:59 AM

China had no problems losing tens of thousands of their country's artifacts (relics) under billions of gallons of water in the name of a new dam, but want to throw a hissy fit over two bronze sculptures...give us a break. Further, they could already have the sculptures back, but they want to buy them ON THE CHEAP. Good for Christies, we need more people, companies and nations standing up to China and their whacked out President Hu...talk about a red eggs and ham moment.

Christie

March 3, 2009 3:50 AM

Mr.Frederik Balfour probably would buy back his belongs if his home was broken in and robbed instead of sending the thief into the Police Station. Thiefs and robbers, u do have a very nice target.

frederik balfour

March 3, 2009 5:21 AM

I am just back from holiday, and very intrigued in the new turn this saga has taken. Cai Mingchao, the Chinese antique collector who successfully bid $40 million for the two vases, has stiffed Christie's. Here is a link from blogger DANWEI which gives a good discussion on this latest development. http://www.danwei.org/front_page_of_the_day/bidder_says_he_wouldnt_pay.php
This certainly won't help Beijing get the bronzes back, [and could hurt the standing of legitimate Chinese art dealers globally] though a legitimate buyer interested in becoming a modern Chinese hero could purchase them directly from the estate of Yves Saint Laurent and make a gift to China. By the way, it is interesting to note that the bronzes were actually believed to be made by an Italian Jesuit named Giuseppe Castiglione [which sounds Italian, not Chinese]. Check out this Bloomberg story for more details. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601089&sid=aRyk4VX37cZM&refer=china

Christie

March 3, 2009 9:05 PM

What a coincidence!I just found the Louvre Pyramid was designed by a Chinese-born American. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louvre_Pyramid
Mr. Frederik Balfour, if,from your point of view, the looted bronzes made by Italian commissioned by the Chinese imperial family belonged to Italy, then the Louvre pyramid should go back to America or China?

Frederik Balfour

March 5, 2009 1:19 AM

Here's something else for you to consider, Christie. The Chinese-born American you refer to is I.M. Pei. If you check your recent history, you will see that the architect tried, unsuccessfully to prevent the destruction of his family's former colonial era home in the heart of Shanghai which was raised in the name of urban renewal. Here is a link to a story on this issue: http://www.movius.us/articles/chinanow/peihouse.html

jcage

March 5, 2009 1:29 AM

"The Chinese-born American you refer to is I.M. Pei. If you check your recent history, you will see that the architect tried, unsuccessfully to prevent the destruction of his family's former colonial era home in the heart of Shanghai which was raised in the name of urban renewal."
What is your point? What is has anything to do with looted good during colonial time?

Verona

April 21, 2009 2:07 PM

Fredrik Balfour says:
"The Chinese-born American you refer to is I.M. Pei. If you check your recent history, you will see that the architect tried, unsuccessfully to prevent the destruction of his family's former colonial era home in the heart of Shanghai which was raised in the name of urban renewal."

I cannot for the life of me comprehend either what that has to do with the topic at hand.

frederik balfour

April 21, 2009 11:47 PM

I mention I.M. Pei because reader named "CHRISTIE" mentioned a Chinese-born architect who designed the Louvre.

I mentioned the razing of his house to illustrate that China's planners don't usually mind destroying architectural treasures such as Pei's beautiful family home when it suits the government.


What a coincidence!I just found the I


Louvre Pyramid was designed by a Chinese-born American. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louvre_Pyramid
Mr. Frederik Balfour, if,from your point of view, the looted bronzes made by Italian commissioned by the Chinese imperial family belonged to Italy, then the Louvre pyramid should go back to America or China?

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