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By contributing editor Paul Paradis, Art Historian, Specialist Consultant in French Furniture and Decorative Arts
Eclectic, did you say eclectic?
The recent series of long holiday week-ends in France (Ascension Thursday, Pentecost Monday etc.) had me thinking that the auction season was just about dead. Drouot closes for the three to four day bouts preventing pre-sale exhibits and limiting auction supply. I don’t mean to be Drouot-centric, as there are clearly other options with the mammoth international counterparts Christie’s and Sotheby’s, yet there is something undeniably charming about the Parisian institution with all of its quirks and eccentricities. Recently, things began to suddenly pick up, and I realized that part of the mystique of the institution is that it is forever full of surprises. During a frenzied visit through the 16 sale rooms with a friend visiting from the US, she excitedly exclaimed “How do they have time to sell all of this stuff?" The secret is still not clear to me, however the quantity and diversity of the objets d’art on display were quite unusual. The following is a non-chronological series of highlights from the last couple of weeks which struck me for various reasons--from pure visual impact to historical and anecdotal value.
This striking medusa-like head in white marble was presented by Fraysse et Associés on 8 June. The day of the pre-sale viewing she greeted me from atop a glass display case laden with curiosities and treasures in ivory and coral reminiscent of a Renaissance Kunstkammer. I could overhear the now-familiar and jovial voice of the auctioneer joking with clients about a particular object, and the contrast to the cold terrifying gaze of the Medusa was a wonderful Drouot moment. The catalogue presented a rather vague description as a neoclassical work after the Antique, with a modest estimate of €4 000 - 8 000. The day of the auction she raked in €46 000 hammer price, more than ten times the low estimate. Clearly the bidders were in on a secret. Or perhaps it was the fact that she had been featured on the cover of the catalogue? Another Drouot mystery.