Auction giant Christie's has denied a possible private sale of two Chinese relics, saying that the auction will go on as scheduled despite criticism from China.
In an e-mail to Xinhua, Christie's responded to reports in Taiwan's Economic Daily newspaper and the European Journal, a television program, which said Christie's would conduct a private sale of the Yuanmingyuan rabbit and rat head sculptures.
The auction house said the reports "are not true".
The two items, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat head sculptures, will be auctioned by Christie's in Paris from Feb. 23 to 25.
The sculptures currently belong to the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) Foundation and were put up for auction by Pierre Berge. They were expected to fetch 8 million to 10 million euros (about 10.4 million to 13 million US dollars) each.
"The YSL collection holds firm legal title to the heads and so we respectfully believe the auction will proceed," the auction house said in the e-mail.
Stolen from Summer Palace
The two bronze head sculptures were housed in Yuanmingyuan, Beijing's Imperial Summer Palace. They were stolen when the palace was burned down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.
Christie's carried a detailed description of the two bronzes on its website, saying that the two formed part of the zodiacal clepsydra (water clock) that decorated the Calm Sea Pavilion in the Old Summer Palace of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795).
"Constructed between 1756 and 1759 under the supervision of the famous Jesuit priest Giuseppe Castiglione, the heads are characterized by a distinctly Western style," Mathilde Courteault, head of the company's Asian Department, was quoted by the website as saying.
Christie's announcement that it would auction the two relics aroused concern in China, with many online forums flooded with angry demands for the objects' return.
A team of 81 Chinese lawyers has written to Christie's in an effort to stop the sale.