The princely family of Monaco, the Grimaldi Family, is parting with their collection of French Imperial Relics, once belonging to the illustrious Napoleon Bonaparte, over November 15-16. Approximately one thousand lots are to be up for sale, all from the collection of Louis II, great grandfather of Prince Albert II. Serving in World War I as a General, Louis II was known as the “soldier prince” and took a personal interest in Napoleon due to their shared military and family background – Napoleon is a distant relative to the princely family due to mutual Florentine connections. Louis II grew his collection until his death in 1949 and, by that time, he had gathered so much that a museum had been established at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
The auction is set to take place in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, and will be overseen by the French auction house, Osenat. Due to the unique and exceptional nature of the auction, the French Defence Ministry may attempt to intervene and confiscate some lots either before or after sale, declare the items a national treasure, in order to prevent the items from leaving the country of France.
As Paris auctioneer Alexandre Giquello, also a specialist of the Napoleonic era, stated: “The French Defence Ministry has a very bellicose approach to historical items, particularly manuscripts.”
Jean-Pierre Osenat, co-host to the auction with Mr Giquello, commented: “France is the only country where the state can pre-empt a lot after the sale. They don’t take part in the bidding, and only after the hammer has fallen do they play their hand.” It is this risk that has caused the Grimaldi Family to withdraw 30 manuscripts from the auction.
It is not only the French Government that is concerned where these items may end up after sale. “I regret that the contents of the museum are being dispersed,” Remembering Napoleon Society head Jean Etevenaux told the Agence France-Presse. “I suppose French museums will attempt to acquire some pieces, but will they have the means?”
This auction is extremely rare, not only due to its size and former owner, but because of its content. Pieces of interest that will be auctioned include: a black felt bicorn hat believed to have been worn by Napoleon in exile on Elba, which has a reserve price of €300,000 to €400,000; a ceremonial sword studded with diamonds is listed at €600,000 to €800,000; and a painted plate in Sèvres porcelain, from Napoleon’s dinner service used during his final imprisonment on the island of St Helena where he was exiled after being defeated at Waterloo, priced at €80,000 to €100,000. Also included in the auction are items that were presented to Napoleon’s family such as an elaborate burr elm cradle presented to Napoleon’s adopted step-daughter Stéphanie de Beauharnais, which is to be auctioned for €250,000 to €350,000, as well as souvenirs from the christening of Napoleon’s son, Napoleon François, as King of Rome in June 1811. To indicate the rarity of such an auction, the black felt bicorn hat that was worn by Napoleon is thought to be one of only 20 in the world, the last one being sold in 1969.
It is said that the Grimaldi Family decided to dispense with the relics in order to make room for a museum celebrating its own ruling dynasty.