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Five bronzes, presented in three lots, were consigned by Machault’s descendants, having remained in the Machault d’Arnouville family since the culture-vulture politico was in his wheeler-dealing heyday in the 1750s, amassing a collection of furniture, porcelain, sculpture and tapestries that was one of the wonders of his age.

Much of his collection took the form of ministerial ‘gifts’; the rest he acquired from top Paris dealers. Machault retained clout well after he retired; in 1783, when he was in his eighties, he was offered six giant tapestries by Louis XVI from the famous Gobelins’ Don Quixote series. Even in his nineties Machault retained an aura that impelled leaders of The Terror to have him arrested, and he died behind bars in 1794.

One of the Don Quixote tapestries, featuring Machault’s distinctive coat-of-arms of three severed ravens’ heads, hangs in the Château de Thoiry, 25 miles west of Paris; and a bronze plaque with his raven-head emblem once featured on Susini’s early 17th century Rape of Helen, was also housed at Thoiry before it was sold at Ader-Picard-Tajan back in April 1989 for a record Fr21m.

None of the bronzes available in the Beaussant-Lefèvre saleroom was quite in the Susini league, but all testified to Machault’s unerring eye for quality sculpture.

The Rape of Deianira, after a model by Giambologna, and The Rape of a Sabine, after Girardon, a pair of rearing horse groups, measuring respectively 20in and 16in (50cm and 46cm) tall, climbed to €480,000 (£331,000), five times the estimate. Each had an oval rococo gilt-bronze stand, marked with the crowned C, attributed to Jean-Claude Duplessis (c.1745).

A similar, albeit rectangular, stand also marked with the crowned C and attributed to Duplessis, supported the 2ft 3in (68cm) bronze figure of Apollo Slaying the Python (c.1700), inspired by a much larger 16th century marble group by Rustici, now in the Louvre. This sold at a quadruple-estimate €245,000 (£169,000).

Venus de’ Medici and Antinous of the Belvedere (c.1700) a pair of bronze nudes 15in (39cm) tall on square, laurel-swag stands (c.1770), copied from Italian originals, doubled estimate on €65,000 (£44,800).

Also double the estimate was the €14,500 (£10,000) bid for Machault d’Arnouville’s personal morocco briefcase, 14 x 21in (36 x 53cm), embroidered in silver and coloured thread with rococo patterning and Machault’s macabre raven-headed coat-of-arms, above the words Constantinople 1748. Apart from featuring on the Don Quixote tapestry series, Machault’s raven emblem remains sculpted on the facade of the Château de Thoiry.

The emblem fell into disuse after Machault’s line died out, but was resurrected in 1990 and adopted by the Château de Thoiry Cricket Club.

The Machault bronzes were major contributors to the 238-lot Beaussant-Lefèvre sale, which totalled €2.84m (£1.96m) hammer and saw an impressive 85 per cent sold by lot.

Other bronzes also featured strongly.

A casting after Susini’s famous bronze group of a Lion Attacking a Horse, 8 x 12in (21 x 30cm), attributed to a Susini pupil and thought indeed to date back to early 17th century Florence, sold over estimate at €90,000 (£62,000). A pair of bonneted Night Hunters in gilded (or silvered) bronze from Germany (c.1600), once owned by Chevalier de La Roque (1672-1744), and each 11in (28cm) tall on fancy scrolled bases, doubled hopes when they sold at €165,000 (£113,800). Both figures were holding a racquet; one figure was holding a lantern; the other’s lantern was missing, lending him an uncanny resemblance to a squash player about to serve.

A large, covered urn in mottled red Aswan granite, 22in (56cm) tall, with gilt-bronze handles in the form of Egyptian mermaids, probably made in Russia at the beginning of the 19th century, soared to €245,000 (£169,000).

The high price was influenced by the urn’s exotic pedigree: it originally belonged to Count Stroganov (1734-1811) at his Nevsky Prospekt palace in St Petersburg. The Stroganov collections were seized at the Revolution, and the urn was among items auctioned in Berlin by the cash-strapped Soviets in 1931.

A pair of ornamental-topped rectangular side tables from Florence (c.1700) also impressed when they sold at €310,000 (£214,000). Each had radiating patterned marble/pietra dura tops which, if joined together, formed a symmetrical octagon. The spectacular tops were borne on Louis XIV-style ebonised supports with four corner caryatids and X-shaped stretchers.

Pick of the Old Masters was a pair of battle scenes, each showing cavalry actions, by Joseph Parrocel (1646-1704).

Once owned by the Marquis de Castellane, the 2ft 7in x 4ft 6in (78cm x 1.37m) pair fetched a double-estimate €115,000 (£79,300).

Exchange rate: £1 = €1.45