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A French Aristocratic Collection of Vertu
The marriage of Charles Henri François Marie, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau (1840-1892) to Alix Eugénie Davida Laure de Choiseul-Praslin (1843-1878) in 1863 unified the illustrious houses of Mercy-Argenteau and Choiseul-Praslin.
The most famous bearer of the Mercy-Argenteau name was Florimond Claude, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau (1727-1794), an Austrian diplomat who served in Turin, St Petersburg, Paris and London. In 1766, he moved to Paris, where he worked to strengthen the alliance between France and Austria, which was recently cemented by the marriage of the future King, Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette in 1770. Through his associations with Marie-Antoinette and her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, the Count became one of the most powerful ministers at the court of Louis XVI. He used his position to influence Marie-Antoinette in favour of the Habsburg Dynasty and tried, often in vain, to control the young Queen's spending. During the French Revolution, his support was given to Loménie de Brienne and then to Necker. Originally in favour of a moderate course of action, the turbulence of the Revolutionary War caused the Count to eventually support Austria's actions against his former ally in the war. In 1792, as a result of his experience and political prowess, he ascended to the position of Emperor Joseph II's ambassador to the Austrian Netherlands. In 1794 he was appointed to the same position in England, an ambassadorship he served for only a few days before dying in London.
The Choiseul family name also features notably in French diplomatic history. The most illustrious historical figure associated with the family is Étienne-François de Choiseul, Comte de Stainville, later Duc de Choiseul, who served as ambassador, military officer and the Secretary of State to King Louis XV. He reformed the army and navy, developed the French colonies and acquired Lorraine and Corsica for France. Choiseul's home policies proved favourable to the philosphes and facilitated the publication of the Encyclopédie. He also obtained the favour of Madame de Pompadour by supplying her amorous letters written to his cousin Madame de Choiseul by King Louis XV. Following the death of Madame de Pompadour in 1764, Choiseul's controversial support of La Chalotais against the Jesuits caused his enemies, led by Madame du Barry and chancellor Maupeou, to rebel against him. He was ordered to retire to his estate at Chanteloup. Though no longer in a position of formal power, Choiseul's commanding personality and involvement in court intrigue ensured his continued popularity whilst in exile. He was permitted to return to Paris in 1774, where he died on 8 May 1785.
The Choiseul-Praslin line is traced most directly to Étienne-François de Choiseul's cousin, César-Gabriel de Choiseul, Duc de Praslin (1712-1785), who also served as a military officer, diplomat and statesman at the court of King Louis XV. In 1756, he was appointed ambassador to Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria and in 1766, he replaced his cousin as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Notable among his diplomatic achievements was the negotiation of peace that ended the Seven Years' War and his service as plenipotentiary for the Treaty of Paris, which he signed on 10 February 1763. As with his cousin, the death of Madame de Pompadour signalled Choiseul's fall from grace at the court of King Louis XV and he retired from public life in 1770. He was made a Knight of the Royal French Order of the St Esprit in 1762 and an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences in 1769. He bought the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1764, which remained in the family until 1870, and is still the Choiseul-Praslin burial place.