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Sèvres vases, £650,000 at Sotheby’s on December 8.

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Their English and Continental Furniture auction on December 8, sub-titled "50 Important Lots", was an exercise in judicious pruning that concentrated on what they viewed as the best, each with its own titled entry in the catalogue, and left out the rest.

Did the new formula work?

Sotheby's Patrick Van Der Vorst and Fergus Lyons seemed to think so. "The sale .... proved to be a successful format. Our clients' enthusiasm for the catalogue carried through into the saleroom, where competitive bidding made for some strong results," they said. "Some" is a key word here for, while 38 lots got away, 13 did not (an extra entry had boosted the tally to 51). That said, in percentage terms a 74.5 take up by volume is regarded as encouraging these days and the £3.l6m total was no slouch either.

Leading the list was the pair of 16in (41cm) high mid-1780s ormolu mounted porcelain vases pictured here. Sèvres and Thomire, two of the best regarded names in their respective fields, combined with a Royal provenance and a stylish design in the new and fashionable Empire style of the day to propel them to the top of the tree and to a double estimate price of £650,000.
The yellow ground Sèvres vases with their central bands of classical biscuit decoration in low relief depicting The Triumph of Bacchus and and Procession of Silenus are framed with gilt bronze winged female term and acanthine mounts that are ascribed to Pierre Philippe Thomire. Although they are not stamped or marked for the factory or the foundeur-doreur, both were stamped TH with a fleur de lys, TU 9827 below a closed crown and TU 3971, inventory marks that were used at the Palais de Tuileries c.1820. They were offered for sale at Sotheby's by the Marquess of Lansdowne.

After research with the help of Tamara Preaud at Sèvres, the auctioneers believed they could identify the vases as a pair that were sold to the Comte D'Artois, brother of Louis XVI, in 1794 and were recorded in the depot of the Infantado of the Garde Meuble and sent to the Luxembourg Palace the following year. They then passed to Napoleon's wife Empress Josephine whence they acquired their Tuileries marks. Their later provenance to the Marquesses of Lansdowne is thought to have come via the Empress's friend the Comptesse de Flauhautand, the mistress of Talleyrand whose granddaughter married the 4th Marquess.