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Falling very much into this category in their April 14 sale was a collection of Venetian grotto furniture. These were fanciful concoctions of shells, scrolls, dolphins and other marine motifs in silvered and gilded wood dated to the late 19th century and notable, said Christie’s specialist Philip Duckworth, for their rich original colour.

There were ten lots in all, mostly chairs, but also occasional tables and a jardiniere formed as a large shell-shaped bowl held aloft by a reclining mer-boy. The latter failed to sell, bought in at £8200 against expectations of £10,000-15,000, as did a table and a conversation settee, but there was keen competition for the remaining seven which were all pursued beyond estimate. The most expensive was one of the occasional tables, a 2ft 111/2in (90cm) wide silvered shell-shaped rectangular top set on four dolphin supports united by an X-shaped stretcher which sold for £16,500 against predictions of £6000-8000, the top price of the 592-lot auction. It was followed at £13,000 by this settee estimated at the same amount, while three armchairs sold for £7800, £7800 and £6200 and two pairs of side chairs made £10,000 and £10,500.

The sale also included another four lots of grotto furniture from a different source employing similar shell and marine motifs. They were dated to the late 19th/early 20th century but had later overpainting, said
Mr Duckworth. Three of these found buyers: an armchair making £4000, a shell-topped occasional table on sea serpent supports at £3500 and a rocking chair at £3000.

Another of the sale’s best-sellers and a piece that again proved decidedly popular was the 6ft 9in (2.06m) wide, mirror topped centre table pictured here. Dated to the early 20th century, it is made from limed oak carved in Renaissance Revival style with caryatids, seahorses, masks and acanthine motifs and sold for what Philip Duckworth deemed “a fantastic price” of £14,000 against guidelines of £2500-4000.