Known as préemption, it is often exercised by institutions for pieces that they deem important, sometimes items priced in the top echelons, and other pieces of middle-ranking value but of academic or historic significance.
Pictured here are four items from a larger selection of works that were subject to pre-emption by different French museums last month. All four were offered at the Drouot auction centre in Paris
1. Lace wedding veil
For centuries Alençon in Normandy has been one of the best-known lacemaking centres in France and this wedding veil is a particularly fine example, a tour de force of needlepoint lace.
Measuring 11ft 9in x 6ft 8in (3.6 x 2m) at its widest, it features wreathes and bouquets of garden flowers, foliage and berries. It is believed to have been commissioned for a wedding of high status from a talented workshop, perhaps that of Auguste Lefébure & Fils.
It was secured by the Musée des Beaux-Art de la Dentelle (Museum of Lacemaking) in Alençon in a sale of collectors’ lace, linen and embroideries held by Coutau-Bégarie at Drouot on October 24 for a hammer price of €65,000 (£57,520), almost double the estimate.
2. Gobelins Tapestry
This impressive tapestry woven at the royal factory in the Gobelins in Paris in the first half of the 18th century went under the hammer at Pierre Bergé & Associés’ sale of works from a country estate at Drouot on October 18.
The subject is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphosis - Vertumnus, the god of the seasons, with Pomona whom he seduced in the guise of an old woman.
The tapestry, in well-preserved bright colours, measuring 8ft 4in x 8ft 1in (2.55 x 2.47m) and featuring other motifs indicative of the four seasons, was secured by the Mobilier National at the Gobelins for €5500 (£4870).
3. Pierre Peyron drawing
This hitherto unpublished drawing by the French artist Pierre Peyron (1744-1814) features a classical subject from the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur: young Athenian men and women drawing lots to decide who will be delivered as sacrifices to the Minotaur.
The 18in x 2ft 9in (46 x 85cm) work, executed in pen, ink, wash and sanguine, features a parade of nude figures set against an architectural backdrop, an unusual feature in the artist’s oeuvre.
It came up for sale at Millon’s October 15 auction of Old Master and Modern drawings where it was pre-empted at a within-estimate price of €33,000 (£29,205) by the Louvre, which will be adding it to the extant body of works by the artist such as his Death of Alceste.
4. Vincennes porcelain dish
A Vincennes soft paste porcelain dish from Louis XV’s bleu celeste Versailles service featured among several lots of porcelain with royal provenances in the sale held at Peschetau-Badin on October 19.
The dish marked with an interlaced LL and the date letter A for 1754 measures 12.5in (32cm) in diameter and will be returning to the royal home having been pre-empted by the Palace of Versailles for a hammer price of €95,000 (£84,070).