This anonymous, late 19th century “English or American” canvas entitled Les Docks made €31,000 (£20,670) at Vitry la Ville.

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This was the case of the contents of the Château of Vitry-la-Ville, 110 miles (180km) east of Paris in the Marne Valley, south of Châlons-en-Champagne - the subject of a 258-lot sale on May 16, staged in situ by the colourful Paris-based auctioneer Christophe Joron-Derem (20% buyer's premium).

The steep-roofed, limestone château was built by Colbert's cousin Hugues Mathé in 1610, and further embellished in 1735 by Monsieur Morel, Mayor of Châlons. The château and contents emerged unscathed from the French Revolution and remained in the possession of Morel's descendants until 1993.

The promise of market-fresh items with a history ensured keen interest and the sale was 80 per cent sold by lot en route to a hammer total of €1.77m (£1.18m). Two lots stood out, one was a Boulle marquetry bureau-bookcase (c.1800) described as "German or English", standing 7ft 2in (2.18m) tall, at €130,000 (£86,765); and the other was a set of four French stone statues (three female, one male) representing The Seasons (c.1700), each around 10ft 2in (3.1m) tall including their square plinths, at €125,000 (£83,335). They were previously displayed at the nearby Château of Isle-sur-Marne. The catalogue did not say when they had been moved to Vitry-la-Ville.

Pick of the pictures was Hugues Merle's 1850 wine harvest with ox-drawn cart, Les Vendanges, 3ft 8in x 6ft 5in (1.11 x 1.96m), at a top-estimate €57,000 (£38,000). An anonymous late 19th century view speculatively entitled Les Docks and dubbed "English or American School", 3ft 11in, x 6ft 7in (1.2 x 2m), realised €31,000 (£20,670). No docks were in evidence in this murky riverscape portraying a railway bridge emerging from a glass-roofed station (Cannon Street?).

On the same day in Lille, Mercier et Cie (17.94% buyer's premium) sold the contents of a late 18th century château from neighbouring Belgium - a provenance that appeared to hold out similar market-fresh promise. The reality was different. The château's contents, ranging from furniture to ceramics, silver, lights, Old Masters and modern paintings, were largely acquired from the trade over the last 20 years. Auctioneer Grégoire Debuire would not disclose any information about the consignors or reveal the name of the château (the sale was staged at Mercier's premises in Lille). He also
wouldn't disclose the hammer total of his 700-lot sale.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the market reacted cautiously to Debuire's cat-and-mouse PR offensive, and many of the leading items failed to sell.

Phone bidding predominated, with French, Belgian and Swiss buyers to the fore. The sale's top price of €55,000 (£36,670) rewarded an unstamped, three-drawered Régence kingwood commode with sumptuous ormolu mounts, including Hercules masks to the sides, and twin-scrolled front feet. But furniture by ébénistes such as Delanois, Mondon, Dubois, Leleu, Schey and Jacob failed to impress a subdued saleroom.

A collection of brain-teasing works by Victor Vasarely (1908-97), currently the subject of an exhibition at the Palais Rihour in Lille, sold modestly; the intended highlight, a giant canvas called Kaglo, 8ft 6in x 8ft 6in (2.6 x 2.6m), went unsold. So did a number of Dutch and Flemish paintings, including an Allegory of Autumn by Jacob Grimer, and Shepherds by an Inn by David Teniers the Younger - although the latter was the target of after-sale interest.