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US billionaire Forbes’s Napoléon III collection goes under the hammer

Alain Jocard / AFP | A man looks at a sculpted bust during a press preview in Paris on February 23, 2016 of US billionaire and art collector Christopher Forbes's private collection of Napoléon III artefacts

A vast collection of artefacts from the life of French emperor Napoléon III owned by US billionaire and francophile Christopher Forbes went under the hammer in France this weekend, with a host of France’s biggest museums among the buyers.


"Ninety-nine percent" of the collection – which included some 1,300 letters and manuscripts, and more than 500 paintings – sold during the two-day auction, French auction house Osenat, which oversaw the sale, said Sunday.

A total of 40 lots were bought up by museums, including the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de la Légion d’honneur and the Archives Nationales, using the "right of pre-emption", which gives French government the right to purchase items that it deems should remain in France.

Among the biggest sellers was a painting of Napoléon III’s wife Empress Eugénie surrounded by her ladies in waiting, which sold for €161,400.

Two large portraits of Napoléon III and the empress by German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter went for €96,205.

The personal belongings of the imperial family were also up for auction, with court dress worn by Napoléon III selling for €9,756.

Bonaparte’s wedding certificate sells for €32,500

Napoléon III, the nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, ruled France between 1848 and 1870, making him the longest-serving French head of state since the French revolution.

He was the first president of France to be elected by a direct popular vote but, after being barred from running for a second term, he organised a coup d'état in 1851 and took the throne as emperor.

Also up for sale at the auction was the wedding certificate from Napoléon Bonaparte's secret religious wedding to Josephine in 1804, which sold for €32,500.

The document is signed and sealed by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, who presided over the clandestine wedding that took place at the behest of Pope Pius VII as a condition for his presence at Napoléon's grandiose coronation.

Forbes, a frequent presence at exclusive auctions, could have sold the collection in New York or London, but instead chose the Osenat auction house that specialises in France's First and Second Empires.

Osenat is based in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, the seat of French monarchs from  Louis VII to Napoleon III.

A total estimated value of the collection and individual items has not been given.

Forbes, who maintains a chateau in Normandy and founded the American Friends of the Louvre, developed his passion for Napoléon III after his father offered him a portrait of the emperor when he was 16.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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