More than 200 objects from the descendants of France’s royal family are up for auction at Sotheby's Paris from September 29-30, marking the final chapter in an inheritance dispute that followed the death of the Comte de Paris in 1999.
The 232 royal lots now on display at Sotheby’s showroom in Paris include numerous paintings as well as dining sets, furniture and even a child's drawing table, offering a rare glimpse into the daily life of a dynasty that reigned over France for nearly a thousand years.
Sotheby's took in €4 million for the royal assets in just an hour and a half when the first lots went under the hammer on Tuesday, Le Figaro reported, nearly double the auction house's own estimates.
Some 85 percent of the lots exceeded their highest estimated values, with a gilded and painted Sèvres porcelain lunch service from 1840 known as the Déjeuner des chasses diverses (Hunters' Lunch) sold for €495,000. Delivered to Queen Marie-Amélie on the orders of King Louis-Philippe, Sotheby’s had originally estimated the set's value at between €100,000 and €150,000.
One of the collection's most recognisable paintings, with its row of red-coated aristocrats facing away from the viewer, Les Gentilshommes du Duc d'Orléans dans l'habit de Saint Cloud (The Duke of Orléans' Gentlemen in the Riding Habits of Saint Cloud) fetched €531,000 – a record for artist Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle, according to Sotheby's.
Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié’s nursery scene Louis-Philippe, duc de Vallois, au berceau (Louis-Philippe, Duke of Vallois, in the cradle) also broke the artist’s previous records with a sale price of €231,000.
The two final lots go on offer on Wednesday.
The Sotheby’s auction marks the final chapter in a dispute over inheritance that broke out upon the death of the Comte de Paris, Prince Henri of Orléans (1908-1999), a pretender to the throne as a direct descendant of Louis XIII and the great-great-grandson of Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, France's last king.
The count had been estranged from his children for various reasons in the decades before his death, disinheriting his nine surviving heirs (of 11 children) and bequeathing his worldy possessions to the Saint-Louis Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving French history, as early as 1976.
Henri reportedly told his children: "I will leave you nothing but hate and tears to cry."
"This is a man who found it amusing to bequeath the last assets of his children to a foundation, which he had no right to do. Under the laws of the French Republic, you cannot disinherit your own children. Today his children demand these assets be returned in the name of the republic," said Olivier Baratelli, lawyer for siblings Jacques and Hélène d'Orléans, in comments to Britain's Telegraph in 2011.
After a long legal battle, Henri's children reclaimed their inheritance following a September 2013 ruling by the high court of Paris that found the donation to the Saint-Louis Foundation lacked the necessary notary authorisations. Moreover, the court ruled that Henri's possessions were "historical treasures and the property of the kings of France".
The sale of the artefacts has not been without its own controversy, with many worried about the ultimate fates of some of France's most important historical treasures.
“We are surprised that this sale is taking place," François, a 40-year-old manager, told FRANCE 24 ahead of the auction. "Those items had initially been given to a foundation for safekeeping because they are part of France’s history. It would be a pity to see an artefact like the Ordre du Saint-Esprit (Order of the Holy Spirit) necklace going who knows where?"
But the auction is not exactly a free-for-all. Three items have been deemed “national treasures” by the French culture ministry, a designation that prevents them from leaving the country: the book of accounts for Amboise Castle, a 17th-century portrait of Louis XIII by Philippe de Champaigne and another portrait of the Duchess of Orléans by celebrated French painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. The two portraits were pre-purchased by the Bank of France, according to Le Figaro, and will remain in French hands.
In pictures: treasures of French royal family to be auctioned off in Paris
Potential bidders look at works from the collections of the late Comte de Paris. Some 200 items will be auctioned off in Paris on September 29-30, 2015. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
This portrait of the Duchesse d'Orléans by famous French painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun has been declared a "national treasure" by the French Ministry of Culture. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
The Order of the Saint-Esprit necklace was worn by the Duc d'Orléans at the coronation of his cousin Charles X on 29 May 1825. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
Stuart and Sarah Glasser from Virginia in the US said that anyone interested in French history should visit the exhibition. Their favourite item was the dinner set. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
The Sèvres porcelain "Déjeuner des Chasses Diverses", which was delivered to Queen Marie-Amélie on the 21st of May 1840, is valued at between 100,000 and 150,000 euros. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
Visitors look at a portrait of French King Henri IV. The painting was restored after being damaged in a terrorist attack on the house of the late Comte de Paris in 1961. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
This carved gilt-wood Louis XVI sofa has been valued at between 100,000 and 200,000 euros. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
Jaap-Wieger Wiegersma, a Dutch national interested in the history of the French royal family, was surprised that the Comte de Paris's family managed to retrieve items that had been given to a foundation. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
Several watercolour paintings by François d'Orléans, the son of King Louis-Philippe, are for up sale. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
As a navy officer, François d'Orléans witnessed several historic battles during the colonial conquest of Algeria. He also painted scenes from his travels in the Middle East, such as this one in Beirut. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
The exhibition is open every day (except Sunday) between 10am and 6pm until September 29, 2015, the first day of the auction. © Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24
Date created : 2015-09-30