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Of all the wonderful works of art that the Private Collections department has had the privilege to handle this year, the object which holds most significance for me is the beautiful and very rare Louis XVI giltwood fauteuil en bergère — made for Queen Marie Antoinette — which was sold in July along with a small group of artworks from a private collection, all of incredible quality and with important provenance.
The magnificent armchair is the only known surviving fauteuil en bergère from the most expensive suite of seat furniture ever ordered by Marie Antoinette. Costing 20,000 livres, the set was made in 1780 for the circular salon of the Pavillon du Belvédère, one of her most personal retreats, in the Jardin Anglais of the Petit Trianon, Versailles. I find it fascinating to imagine her sitting in this chair after the suite was delivered in late 1781, when she was heavily pregnant with the dauphin, in a space that was intended purely for her and her closest confidantes.
Unsurprisingly, the chair garnered a huge amount of interest and attention in the lead-up to the auction, from international press, collectors and museums; on the day of the sale itself there were several bidders who chased the price up to what was eventually a world record figure (£1,762,500) for a single 18th-century chair. However, you can’t prepare for everything and, at a critical moment, the phone of the client with whom I was telephone-bidding cut out. After a few minutes of the auctioneer being very patient with me, I finally got him back on the line — which was lucky because the price rose by a further £1 million, with my client the underbidder!
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