Provenance is defined as the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature. Provenance can make a couple of wicker baskets valued at $150 sell at auction for $9,200—because they belonged to Jackie Onassis. Provenance is what high-profile antique dealers are interested in when they consider buying an item in the six or seven digits.
At this year’s Biennale des Antiquaires, the world's most luxe exhibition of antiques, art and jewelry staged by the French every other year since the 1950s, provenance ranged from despots to dukes to designers.
Napoleon. Depending on whether you want something from his days as premier consul or from his years in exile, two London dealers sharing a huge three-room booth at this year's Biennale seemed to have a corner on Bonapartian antiques. Partridge Fine Arts was offering a classical armchair (above left) that likely was made by Jacob Freres for the Palais des Tuileries in the early 1800s; the impeccably kept relic bears a printed label, a handwritten one and three stamps verifying its placement in the Tuileries. Pelham Galleries was in possession of a lantern made for Napoleon's house on St. Helena island.
Marie Antoinette. An 18th-century chair (left) from her toilette at the château de Compiègne was in the collection of Paris dealer Francois Léage. The stamp bears the name of France's cabinetmaker to the royalty, Georges Jacob.
August III, King of Poland. A pair of silver-gilt German candelabra and six candlesticks (below left), again offered by Patridge Fine Arts, not surprising since the 100-year-old London firm has the largest stock of French furniture from the 17th to 18th centuries outside of France. Though the six candleholders and candelabra pair are from the every day silver of the Royal Household, the price for the eight pieces is extraordinary: $1.35 million.