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French mogul sells books for AIDs research

AFP · 12 Dec 2015, 10:30

Published: 12 Dec 2015 10:30 GMT+01:00

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The French philanthropist told the AFP news agency he had raised nearly 11.7 million euros ($12.8 million) from the first of six sales of his collection of manuscripts and rare books, one of the most valuable in private hands. 

A small drawing by the French novelist Victor Hugo of a ruined gothic tower at dusk was sold for more than 400,000 euros, five times its estimated worth. 

Berge, the lover and business partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent, is putting almost his entire library up for auction in sales that could raise 40 million euros ($42 million) for the charitable foundation he founded with the designer. 

Berge sold the couple's art collection for 342 million euros ($361 million) in 2009 in what was dubbed "the sale of the century", then a record for a private sale.  

Most of the proceeds of the sales are going to HIV research, including to the Sidaction charity founded by Berge. 

The manuscript of Gustave Flaubert's "Sentimental Education" -- one of the most influential novels of the 19th century -- also went for a record price of 470,000 euros.  

"I am very happy. It's marvellous," said Berge after the three-hour sale, organised by Sotheby's. 

One of the biggest surprises was a first edition of Charles Baudelaire's "Fleurs du mal" (The Flowers of Evil) which sold for 225,000 euros, four times its valuation. 

However, one of the books closest to Berge's heart, a copy of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" dedicated by the writer to "the master" Victor Hugo, went for "only 368,000 euros", when experts thought it might make nearly double that. 

But almost all of the treasures of the library including the only pages of a lost erotic work by the notorious Marquis de Sade, "The Days of Florbelle", to have escaped the censor's flames, reached their estimates. 

The most valuable item on sale, the original manuscript of Andre Breton's surrealist masterpiece "Nadja" -- worth an estimated 3.5 million euros -- had already been snapped up by France's national library.  

Berge told AFP that when he bought the book in London "I felt that I had got hold of a fragment of the True Cross". 

The businessman began collecting rare books after arriving in Paris as a teenager, "buying a book on the banks of the Seine in the morning and with a bit of luck selling it to a book dealer in the afternoon." 

He later befriended members of the city's literati, including Breton and Jean Cocteau. 

Berge -- who is the godfather of Cocteau's son -- held back one of the writer's books dedicated to him from the sale. 

Another book by Jean Giono, who was something of a father figure to him, and who is best known outside France for the film of his novel "The Horsemen on the Roof", was also withheld. 

Berge said that he intended to "replace all the books in the library" with identical cheaper copies. "A lot will probably be more fun to read in paperback."  

"I came to love these books through reading, the collector part only came later," he said. 

"You have to know how to get rid of things," Berge, 85, had earlier told AFP in his library on Paris' Left Bank, saying he had been planning the clear-out for years and had even stipulated it in his will. 

Although known as a formidable deal-maker, Berge has been a lifelong supporter of left-wing causes.  

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