Auction records tumble as buyers flock back

(First Edition)

TWO HUNDRED years after the fall of the French monarchy, when the Revolutionary authorities auctioned off the Royal Collections, Christie's has auctioned off a pair of Chinese porcelain ewers made for Queen Marie Antoinette for her rooms at Versailles.

The ewers, decorated with goat's head handles, trailing vines and entwined serpents, were said to be among her most prized possessions. Yesterday's buyer clearly understood why, paying pounds 1.04m and breaking the world record for any French decorative object.

Christie's also broke the record for a carpet with a Savonnerie example featuring the arms of Louis XV: it fetched pounds 1.32m. Both the carpet and the ewers were expected to make only pounds 300,000 to pounds 500,000.

A dental set that belonged to Napoleon I sold for pounds 62,000, more than double the estimate. It included gold and steel scrapers and scalpels with which the Emperor once picked his teeth.

To say it has been a good week for the art trade would be an understatement. Dealers prepared to admit it has been barely worth turning up for work in the past two years have been doing a roaring trade at the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair.

Peter Schaffer, of A La Vieille Russie of New York, said that he had done more business in the first 24 hours than at the entire 1993 fair, which he had felt went well. From a long list of dealers selling works for five- and six-figure sums, Apter Fredericks had sold half his stand, including a rare Queen Anne secretaire chest, circa 1710, for around pounds 35,000, and a George II armchair, circa 1730, for around pounds 50,000; and S J Phillips sold a 19th-century peridot and diamond necklace and earrings from the Bulgarian crown jewels for more than pounds 100,000 each.

Buyers have been spoilt for choice. Among thousands of works of art are two stunning Venetian paintings by Guardi being offered by Agnew's for pounds 3.25m; and a pair of 1890s cut-glass chairs - dainty to look at and strong enough to sit on - for pounds 85,000 from Mallett.

The prize for the most eccentric piece must go to a 1795 ormulu automaton musical clock with a mechanical peacock that flaps its wings, a pagoda that rises the height of the clock to almost five feet, and glass canes that swivel round to simulate waterfalls: Asprey is selling it for pounds 825,000.

The fair continues until 18 June.

(Photograph omitted)