Friday - 31 October 2014

Bidders lose their heads over French royal keepsakes

19 June 2003Written by ATG Reporter

FRANCE: Knitting was a great leveller in the 18th century, it seems. An ivory pair of knitting needles, said to have once belonged to Marie-Antoinette, sold for €26,000 at Piasa (17.94% buyer’s premium) sale or royal memorabilia in Paris on May 21.

Yet one of the last sounds to have reached the Queen’s ears may well have been the clicking of cackling Madame Lafarge’s knitting needles. What price those (presumably wooden) needles, being so much more iconic an image...?

A welter of buyers nostalgic for France’s regal past congregated at Drouot to see the 473-lot Alain Bancelle Collection of ‘Historic Souvenirs Linked to Louis XVII and the Royal Family’ come under Piasa’s hammer. The sale was 95 per cent sold by value en route to a hammer total of €647,800 (£463,000).

“Louis XVII” (1785-95) was the second son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette; he became heir after the death of his elder brother Louis-Joseph in 1789, but died mysteriously in captivity at the age of ten and was never crowned. Two undated quarto-sized sheets with his handwriting – a practice exercise on lined paper, one of the sheets with his names Louis Charles repeated six times – sold for €10,000 (£7140).

The sheets, a most poignant memento of the young prince, originally belonged to his writing tutor, Abbé Dumesnil de St-Cyr.

The white linen shirt worn by Louis XVI on the morning of his execution on 21 January 1793 claimed €10,500 (£7500) and a plain-looking iron key, 113/4in (29.5cm) long, from the Temple in north-east Paris where the royal family were imprisoned from August 1792, brought an astonishing €8200 (£5860).

Top price of the sale, €26,000 (£18,600), went to the framed pair of Marie-Antoinette’s ivory knitting-needles – accompanied by a note claiming they had followed her to the Temple from the Tuileries Palace.

A small portrait of Marie-Antoinette au Temple, 91/2 x 71/4in (24 x 18.5cm), attributed to Alexander Kucharsky (1741-1819), zoomed six times estimate to €24,000 (£17,140).

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