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Expert Thierry Portier is renowned for his conservative estimates, but the price was way ahead of expectations, due mainly to speculation in the French press that the vases had an Imperial provenance, and may have been stolen from the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860. Portier felt that such allegations are almost impossible to prove; he said the vases were consigned by an “old French family” who had acquired them in England in the mid-1960s.

A pair of 18th century Chinese gilded copper and cloisonné enamel chimeras, 17in (44cm) long, were the other main contributors to a hammer total of €795,000 (£548,000).

Their price of €50,000 (£34,500) was eight times an estimate which, said Portier, reflected the fact that the chimeras lacked their bases. “It’s easy to sell good objects,” he commented after the sale, “but things consigned by the trade aren’t selling at all.”