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International Art Market: Dish sale signals bonanza for ceramics

JUNE proved a bonanza for the ceramics market and for French works of art, in spite of falling stock markets and a weak dollar.

The successes of auctions in these two fields are thrown into relief by the indifferent results of picture sales, which are normally the market leaders.

Prices for Impressionist and modern pictures seem to have resumed their downward trend, although Sotheby's had a remarkable success with a Manet and a Monet last week, both of which topped the pounds 4m mark.

The same can be said for Victorian pictures, which had recently appeared a stronger market. Neither Sotheby's nor Christie's could move much more than half the Victorian pictures they had on offer.

Christie's claimed a new auction price record for Holman Hunt when a tender portrait of the artist's son, Master Hilary, sold for pounds 969,500, but the auctioneers had hoped it might go higher.

In ceramics, the Paris auction rooms flagged the new buoyancy of prices when a porcelain dish made in the Medici factory in Florence about 1570-80 sold for 8.8m francs ( pounds 1.07m) in May, the highest price ever recorded for European ceramics. It measures 37cm across and has a blue cameo decoration of arabesques.

Phillips, the London auctioneers, had the next great rarity, a London delftware marriage dish dated 1638 which soared to pounds 276,000. Sotheby's followed up with a pair of Dutch delft flower pyramids at pounds 287,500 compared to a pre-sale estimate of pounds 50,000- pounds 70,000. The Ceramics Fair, held at the Park Lane Hotel in the second week of June, proved exceptionally successful and put collectors and dealers in buying mood for the rest of the month.

Christie's offered a group of Sevres plates from a service decorated around 1820 with scenes of French industries. Prices multiplied pre-sale estimates two to three times; the top price for a single plate was pounds 33,350.

The enthusiasm for French works of art was underlined by a pair of Chinese porcelain vases with richly rococo French ormolu mounts which sold for pounds 1,046,500; they had belonged to Marie-Antoinette.

In the same sale Christie's sold a 19ft Savonnerie carpet emblazoned with the royal arms of France for pounds 1,321,500, the highest auction price on record for a carpet. Forecast prices for both were pounds 300,000- pounds 500,000.

A Chinese lacquer 'commode', or chest of drawers, made by two of the most famous 18th-century cabinet-makers, Lacroix and Leleu, was sold for 3.85m francs ( pounds 470,000) in Paris, while a Louis XV desk by Garnier made 6.2m francs ( pounds 745,000) at a Christie's sale in Monte Carlo.

(Photograph omitted)