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French 18th-century group white-painted, carved-wood allegorical busts representing the four Continents, are seen screened behind the auctioneer Wednesday at the Grand Palais in Paris. ((Jacques Brinon/Associated Press))

Two rare bronze Chinese sculptures sold for the equivalent of $22.6 million Cdn each in Paris on Wednesday as part of an auction of art owned by late designer Yves Saint Laurent.

The sale of the sculptures of a rat and rabbit capped an auction that brought in more than $600 million Cdn in its first three days, exceeding Christie's expectations.

China lost a bid to regain ownership of the bronzes, which disappeared from the Summer Imperial Palace in Beijing in 1860, in a Paris court earlier this week.

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A Chinese bronze rabbit head, right, and bronze rat head, which are part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge art collection, are seen presented in this photo taken Saturday at the Grand Palais in Paris. ((Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press))

China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage also wrote to Christie's last week urging it to stop the auction and insisting that the sculptures are part of its heritage.

The fountainheads, which disappeared during the Opium War, date back to the Qing dynasty.

Christie's issued a statement Tuesday saying it "supports repatriation of cultural relics to their home country, and aids in the process where possible by sourcing and bringing works of art to the auction platform to give buyers a chance to bid for them."

Saint Laurent's partner, Pierre Berge, insisted the auction, involving 733 works, should go ahead as planned. The two had amassed a remarkable collection of artifacts since the 1970s.

An anonymous buyer bidding by phone ended up with the bronzes on Wednesday.

The high prices commanded by many objects cheered art market watchers, as there was little sign of the effects of the worldwide economic recession.

An armchair designed by Eileen Gray and embellished with snakes set a record for a piece of 20th-century furniture, selling at $35 million Cdn, Christie's said.

Saint Laurent collected many decorative items with snakes, including a vase with a serpent by Jean Dunand that sold for $432,670 Cdn, nine times its pre-auction estimate.

Portrait de la comtesse de La Rue (Portrait of the Countess of La Rue) by French neoclassical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres set a new record for the artist at $3.3 million Cdn.

Saint Laurent's enormous collection drew crowds when it was put on public view in New York and London before coming to Paris. The designer died last year at age 71.

A large portion of the proceeds is to go to a foundation to support AIDS research.

 

With files from the Associated Press