International Art Market: Designer's royal furnishings set 18m pounds landmark

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The Independent Online
HUBERT DE GIVENCHY, the couturier, sold the furnishings of his Paris apartment for pounds 18m in Monte Carlo on 4 December in a single evening sale, containing 95 lots, that will become a landmark in auction room history. He had collected French 18th-century furniture of royal quality and the world's richest private collectors vied with each other to take it off him.

Muhammed Mahdi al-Tajir, formerly United Arab Emirates ambassador in Britain, spent pounds 2.27m on one of a set of five silver chandeliers made for George II in 1736-37. They were brought to England by his son, George III, and hung in Windsor Castle from 1803- 1816, but were returned to Hanover and inherited by that line of the family. This is the first that has come to auction.

It is a monumental creation, with eight arms, shell motifs, female busts, a horse galloping round a globe and two babies holding up a crown at the top. The price paid is the highest for a single piece of silver.

The most expensive piece of furniture was a library table made from ebony, brass and tortoiseshell inlay and scrolling gilt-bronze mounts by Andre-Charles Boulle around 1700; it made pounds 2.14m, the second highest price on record for French furniture.

Bidders' respect for De Givenchy's taste was further underlined by the rise in price of pieces he had bought in the 1980s. A brass and tortoiseshell bookcase of the 1780s which had sold for pounds 130,625 in 1982 made pounds 1.26m.

The strength of the market for the very best French furniture was also underlined by a New York sale on 19 November in which two lots sold for just over pounds 1m - a Louis XVI commode and a pair of Boulle cabinets. In London, the pounds 4.8m sale of the Moller collection of English furniture demonstrated that the best English furniture can be nearly as expensive as French.

The glut of good furniture has contrasted with poor offerings in the picture field. There were only two stars in the major winter sales, a 1923 Kandinsky abstract, Im schwarzen Kreis (In the black Circle), which sold in Paris for Fr39.4m ( pounds 4.48m) and a Douanier Rousseau Portrait of Joseph Brummer sold at Christie's in London for pounds 2.97m.

Sotheby's most embarrassing success of the last four weeks was the dollars 354,500 ( pounds 238,000) paid in New York for a Chinese scroll painting - Two Deer in an Autumn Grove, by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688- 1768) - recently found in a cupboard in Scotland.

British export licences are required for watercolours worth more than pounds 39,600; Sotheby's exported the scroll not thinking it was worth that much. It was finally agreed that the work would be returned to Britain and an export licence applied for. British institutions will be given three months to match the sale price.