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While famed as a novelist and critic, the celebrated author of the Rougon-Macquart saga had another string to his bow as an early adopter of the art of photography.

It was something he took up in the last eight years before his untimely death and he proved a keen and prodigious practitioner.

The archive, which had belonged to his grandson Dr Francois-Emile Zola and had remained with the family, featured albums, period prints, glass plates and photographic equipment.

As with his writing, Zola covered all aspects of life in his photographic endeavours – from Parisian landmarks and scenes to international trade fairs – but many were devoted to his family, often themed in groups or albums.

He was married to Alexandrine Melay with whom he lived in Meudon, but Zola had an alternative life in Verneuil through his liaison with Jeanne Rozerot.

His mistress bore him two children, Denise and Jacques, the father of François. Scenes from both sides of this double life are recorded in the archive.

The sale not surprisingly generated institutional interest. A number of lots were pre-empted by French museums both in Paris and Aix en Provence, Zola’s childhood home.

The top price of the collection, €38,000 (£34,545) against an estimate of €40,000-60,000, was for a vast collection of 1575 glass negatives covering a range of subjects. It was bought by the Mediathèque de l’Architecture et Patrimoine.

An album featuring 96 prints of his children spanning June-September 1897, titled Denise et Jacques, histoire vrai, was pre-empted by the Musée d’Orsay at €10,000 (£9090), somewhat below the €13,000-15,000 estimate.

But the highest price for the family photos was the paid by a European buyer for a group of eight portraits of Denise taken in 1898 or ‘99. Estimated at a modest €600- 800, it sailed past this guide to take €27,000 (£24,545).

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