The 2ft 1in (63.5cm) pair on polished slate bases combine the talents of two giants of late 19th century French decorative arts, the Parisian foundry of Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-92) and the pioneering furniture designer Édouard Lièvre (1828-86).
Typical of Lièvre’s love of the fantastical and Japanese style decoration in particular, vases of this kind adorned Barbedienne’s prize-winning stand at the 1878 Expo. An engraved image of a single vase was illustrated on page 153 of the Art Journal exhibition catalogue, The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris International Exhibition, 1878.
As the headline lot at Akiba Galleries, they had broad expectations of $20,000-80,000 but hammered at $210,000 (£170,100) on September 12.
Lièvre, who had begun life as an illustrator, first collaborated with Barbedienne at the 1878 Expo. After becoming disillusioned that his designs were often failing to be manufactured in sufficient quantities, he instead worked on a bespoke commission for Albert Vieillard (d.1895), the director of Bordeaux’s ceramics factory.
The neo-Japanese furniture he created includes the celebrated Cabinet Japonais now in the Musée d’Orsay.
In 2008, Bonhams set a record for 19th century furniture when another iteration of the cabinet (one of perhaps seven made, each with stylistic variants) took £1.8m. Two others have appeared for sale at German saleroom Lempertz in May 2006 and 2013, selling for €750,000 and €960,000 respectively.