Death threats for YSL's partner over Chinese bronzes

PARIS (Reuters) - Yves Saint Laurent’s former partner, who infuriated China by auctioning two bronze sculptures claimed by the country, said he had received death threats over the historic statuettes.

Christie's auctions a bronze rat head made for the Zodiac fountain of the Emperor Qianlong's Summer Palace in China from the private art collection of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris in this February 25, 2009 file photo.REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Files

“I was the subject of many attacks, I was threatened -- even with death,” Pierre Berge told RTL radio on Monday.

“The police told me during the sale ... that I should have bodyguards follow me, which I did for a few days,” said Berge, also Saint Laurent’s former business partner.

China says the two Qing dynasty bronzes, of a rat and a rabbit head, were seized illegally in 1860 from Beijing’s Summer Palace when it was razed by invading French and British forces.

Berge, who rejects China’s claim, had sold the pieces for 15 million euros (22 million pounds) in February, but the Chinese bidders dropped out.

They have since been sitting in a safe room in a Christie’s auction house, and Berge said he had considered donating them to a museum either in France or Taiwan.

However, he said neither country wanted to exacerbate tensions with China, and added that in the end he would probably find a “brave” buyer.

“... In any case it is certain that I will not offer them to China,” said Berge.

Berge has said he would return the pieces if the country guaranteed human rights and allowed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to return home.

Berge and Saint Laurent built up one of the world’s biggest private art collections over five decades but Berge decided to sell it all after Saint Laurent died last year.

A second auction of the art works is planned for November.

Reporting by Sophie Taylor