EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY AUCTION SALES

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ntil the middle of the eighteenth century, auction cata­logues did not categorize furniture as such. Only paintings, drawings, works of sculpture and intaglios were deemed worthy of coverage in a printed catalogue. In dispersals by execu­tors. second-hand furniture, which was judged to be of little value, was sold by auction without a catalogue, or by the upholsterers. There was no catalogue in 1741, 1751 or 1752 when Louis XV sold in the Louvre and Tuileries the finest cabinets made for his great­grandfather Louis XIV. The situation changed half-way through the century: old pieces, particularly Boulle’s, became collectors’ items, eagerly sought after by enthusiasts. From then on catalogues included a chapter usually entitled ’Meubles curieux’ or ‘Mcubles de Boulle’. Most of the sales were ordered by executors and followed probate inventories. Sometimes the catalogue even followed an inventory word for word. ‘Inventory’’ became synonymous with the public auction sale: ‘I bought these candelabra from M. Boucher’s inventory.’ wrote Marigny’s agent with regard to two pieces bought at the sale that followed the death of the painter Boucher in 1771. Sales could be freely organized and numerous dealers had recourse to this procedure in order to shift their stock. Cressent was the first important marchand-ebeniste to make use of auctions. Three times, in 1749, 1757 and 1765, he tried to sell his stock of furniture and gilt-bronze mounts. In 1777 Julliot, the well-known specialist in Boulle furniture, put his stock up for auction after the death of his wife. Here we find, amongst genuine pieces by Boulle. pastiches made by Levasseur and Montigny on Julliot $ initiative. The race was on. During the years that followed, numerous dealers put their businesses up for sale: Paillet in 1777, Lebrun in 1778 and in 1791. Dulac in 1778. Poismenu, a ’second-hand dealer’ in 1779, Mme Lenglier in 1778. Dubois, a ’marchand-joaillier’ in 1785 and again in 1788 following his bankruptcy, and Donjeux in 1793.

At the same time, several famous sales launched fine collections

of Boulle furniture onto the market: Jullienne in 1767. Blondel de Gagny in 1776. Randon de Boisset in 1777. the Comte du Luc in

1777. Vaudreuil in 1787. Calonne in 1788 and Choiseul-Praslin in 1793. During this period the price of Boulle furniture rose as much as that of Flemish paintings. The attitude towards old furniture had changed and the antique-furniture collector had been born. Presen­tation of catalogues was improved and descriptions were made more accurate. We can see from the catalogues of the 1780s. such as that for the Due d’Aumont’s sale, that all the modem auction house techniques were already in use: publicity, detailed descriptions, provenances, historical details, attributions to particular important ebenistes or bronziers. and even engraved illustrations of certain details. At the end of the eighteenth century the auction houses played a role in the art market comparable to that which they do today, even to the extent that dealers like Lebrun started their own salerooms alongside their galleries.