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Magazine    November 2002

For Collectors, Antiques with Provenance

Didier Aaron display at the Biennale des Antiquaires

Chair from Napoleon's private quarters, at Partridge

Chair from Marie Antoinette's toilette, at F. Leage

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.

1940s console designed for Helena Rubenstein's salon, at Olivier Watelet

Six royal candlesticks: $675,000 at Partridge

A 19th-century papier-mache clock at Ariane Dandois

Marquise de Popadour. The 240-year-old lanterns, that hung prominently in the booth of Didier Aaron (top), are from the apartments of the marquise de Pompadour at the Chateau de Versailles. What is unusual about them is their glass caps, which prevented the soot from the candles from darkening the ceiling, and that they survived as a pair, notes Hervé Aaron, who carries on the fine art and antiques business his father started decades ago. These types of lanterns were very stylish in the late 18th century, and French interiors maestro Jacques Grange placed them for great effect in Aaron Biennale booth, which he designed.

Helena Rubenstein. The famous French designer Louis Sue and architect Emilio Terry decorated her salon on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1946, and this gilt bronze and marble console table (above) was made for the luxe house of beauty. French 20th-century antiques dealer Olivier Watelet also had a pair of marble-topped commodes in walnut designed by Terry for the Rubenstein salon, Les Thermes.

Mr. and Mrs. Harding Lawrence. He was the founder of Braniff Airlines and she was a famous advertising executive who bought the Villa Fiorentina, a 90-year-old estate on Cap Ferrat that Architectural Digest and other publications have called the most beautiful house in the world. The celebrated American designer Billy Baldwin decorated the villa for the Lawrences, and most certainly bought the rare, early-19th-century papier-mache clock (left) made in the Palais Royal that Ariane Dandois had on view during the Biennale. Dandois can be counted on to have numerous pieces of precious antique furniture—chairs, candelabra, gilded picture frames, architectural ornaments—from Italian nobility.

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Olivier Watelet
11, rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris

Partridge Fine Arts
144-146 New Bond Street
London W1S 2PF

Francois Léage
178 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
75008 Paris

Pelham Galleries
24 & 25 Mount Street
London W1K 2RR

Didier Aaron
Paris 33-1-47-42-47-34
New York 212-988-5248
London 44-20-7839-4716

Galerie Ariane Dandois
Place Beauveau
92, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
75008 Paris

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