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Royal Mistress’s Desk in $32 Million Christie’s Auction

Royal Mistress's Desk
A Louis XV ormolu-mounted Japanese lacquer secretaire-à-abattant by Bernard II van Risenburgh. The piece is one of about 50 items of French 18th century furnishings from the collection of Djahanguir Riahi and his wife being sold by Christie's International in London on Dec. 5. The desk probably belonged to Louis XV's mistress, according to the catalog. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2012 via Bloomberg.

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- A desk once owned by a French king’s mistress is the top lot in a $32 million London sale.

The Louis XV Japanese lacquer secretaire, with a low estimate of 3 million pounds ($4.85 million), belonged to Madame de Pompadour, Christie’s International said today in an e-mail. It is among about 50 high-value pieces in the evening event on Dec. 6 with a total formal estimate of more than 20 million pounds.

Auction houses are trying to broaden the market for “masterpiece” objects as demand for other antiques declines.

“There’s a wider-than-ever gap between the best and the merely good,” said Alan Rubin, director of the London- and Paris-based French furniture dealers Pelham Galleries. “There are people around with large amounts of money who like the idea of buying the ultimate luxury objects. There aren’t so many who want to furnish their homes with lots of antiques.”

The sale of French 18th-century furnishings is titled “L’amour n’a pas de prix” (“Love has no price”). The items have been in the collection of a Paris-based Iranian businessman, Djahanguir Riahi and his wife, though Christie’s wouldn’t divulge the identity of the current owners.

Rubin identified the Riahis as being among Paris’s most prominent collectors of high-value 18th-century pieces, many bought at auction.

This will be the second sale Christie’s has held of rococo furniture and artworks collected by the couple. In 2000, it raised $40 million from a group of pieces that it bought outright from the Riahis. Christie’s said it has no financial interest in the material to be sold in London.

Price Rises

French 18th-century furniture by the most collectable cabinet makers has climbed in price. The Riahis’ Louis XV Japanese lacquer secretaire, signed by Bernard II van Risenburgh, has a high estimate of 5 million pounds. It was sold by Goodwood House, Sussex, at auction for 496,500 pounds including fees in 1993.

The sale includes a Louis XV Japanese lacquer and tulipwood bureau plat by Joseph Baumhauer, estimated at 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds, and a pair of Louis XVI ormolu-mounted Qianlong celadon porcelain vases, priced 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds.

The bronze furniture of Diego Giacometti, brother of the sculptor Alberto, has also acquired luxury status.

Furniture designed by both soared above estimate when Christie’s sold items from the estate of the late Bruno Giacometti (1907-2012), the youngest of the three brothers, in Zurich on Sept. 24. Prices were boosted by the guaranteed authenticity and prestige of the Giacometti provenance, dealers said.

A glass-topped “grecque rectangulaire” table by Diego led the furniture with a price of 576,000 Swiss francs ($612,000) against a low estimate of 120,000 Swiss francs.

All 36 lots sold, raising 5.4 million Swiss francs for the Dr. Beat Richner Foundation Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals in Cambodia.

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on arts, Jason Harper on cars, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and Laurie Muchnick on books.

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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