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The pre-sale estimate of a total in the region of £20m was not taken too seriously by anyone, but after a four-hour marathon evening session it was the consistently high level of bidding which was remarkable with all 224 lots sold, no fewer than 14 million pound lots and record prices galore.

The sale capped a very good year for the art market in Europe with a free-spending atmosphere in the room that has not been encountered for at least a decade. Everyone wanted a part of the Rothschild collection with even the cutlery soaring over estimate to make thousands.

The sale of one of the greatest 19th century European collections proved a triumph for the European market and after stepping down from the rostrum, Lord Hindlip, the man who sold Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, declared himself “thrilled” with business and revealed that European buying accounted for some £35m of the total, almost double the American contribution.

Both German and French bidders were very active and 37 British buyers spent £14.9m. The auctioneer also mentioned that there had been considerable sales to members of the various European branches of the Rothschild family.

The top prices were both record ones, the most notable being the telephone bid of £7.8m which won The Rothschild Prayerbook, c.1505, the highest price ever paid for an illuminated manuscript surpassing the £7.4m paid for the Gospel of Henry the Lion at Sotheby’s in December 1983.

A record for a piece of French furniture was established when a Louis XVI commode by Riesner competed for by two French telephone bidders realised £6.4m.

Christie’s revealed after the sale that the commode will return to the palace of Versailles with money raised by the French government and public, as well as a contribution from the wife of Christie’s owner François Pinault.

London dealer Clovis Whitfield established a record price for a Frans Hals painting with a bid of £7.5m for a portrait of Tieleman Roosterman and elsewhere record prices were achieved for Islamic glass and a carpet.