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France's royal treasures auctioned off by Sotheby's Paris

© Mehdi Chebil/France 24 | A Sèvres porcelain breakfast set dating from 1840 known as "Déjeuner des chasses diverses" (Hunters' Lunch).

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-09-30

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.

'Les Gentilshommes du Duc d'Orléans dans l'habit de Saint Cloud' sold for €531,000, a record for a work by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle. © Photo courtesy 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.

Battle royale

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.

Date created : 2015-09-30

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