Bonhams Smashes World Record For 19th Century Furniture With £2 Million French Cabinet

A French “Japonisant” cabinet sold at Bonhams on 4 December 2008 for a staggering £2,036,000, making a new world record price for a piece of 19th Century furniture. The cabinet, which dates to 1895, quadrupled its pre-sale estimate when it was bought by an anonymous buyer on the telephone.

french-cabinet.jpgDesigned by Edouard Lièvre, the rosewood and lacquer cabinet, shaped in the style of a pagoda, pays homage to the Far East. Similar pieces are housed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Francois Le Brun, Head of Bonhams Fine Continental Furniture Department, says: “We are delighted and honoured to have sold this extraordinary piece of furniture, one of only six of its kind whose companion pieces stand in the Hermitage and the Musee d’Orsay. It is a once in a lifetime sale which goes to the heart of the magic of auctioneering”.

The shape of the cabinet is an interpretation of a pagoda. Bronze lions and dragons wind their way around the columns flanking the cabinet, guarding the central cupboard, which acts as a sacred altar.

The central panel on the cabinet depicts Juroujin, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. According to Taoist beliefs Juroujin is the God of longevity and he is here represented as an old man with a long white beard. He clutches a fan and staff with a scroll on which is written the lifespan of all living things. A deer, also a symbol of longevity, accompanies him.

A similar cabinet, dated 1877, is in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris – it was designed by Lièvre for Albert Vieillard, Director of the Bordeaux manufacture of ceramics.

Another comparable cabinet, which was commissioned by the Grand Duc Vladimir of Russia, stood in the Antichkov Palace where Empress Maria Fedorovna lived. It is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

A third version of the cabinet recently sold at auction for €915,000.

The archives of the Parisian merchants, l’Escalier de Cristal, show that six similar, but not identical, examples of this cabinet were made. The six cabinets are all slightly different in dimensions and materials, some are decorated with a watercolour, others with a Japanese lacquer panel such as the one sold by Bonhams.

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