François Pinault and his wife Maryvonne naturally prefer buying at auction rather than from antique dealers. But this often puts them at odds with the specialists at Drouot, the principal Parisian saleroom. This was the case on 14 December last year, when they made a bid of €1.23 million for a Louis XVI writing desk in Boulle marquetry, bearing the stamp of Charles Joseph Dufour. The sale had made the headlines as the pieces had a Rothschild provenance without being identified as such (see The Art Newspaper, No.122, February 2002, p.30). The massively under-estimated lots sold quickly, for sometimes crazy prices. Leading the hysteria was the Pinault’s table, which soared to 100 times its original estimate of €12,000. According to a number of furniture experts who were questioned after the sale, it was complete folly to have spent €1,230,000 (£755,000; $1.1 million) on a piece which had suffered “accidents and restoration”, as stated in the catalogue. Rumours that the table was not authentic began to gather momentum. The Pinaults challenged their purchase at once and refused payment. Maryvonne Pinault sought the advice of her cabinet maker, Michel Germond. who dismantled the table, and ô surprise, found a piece that had been completely made up: the leather inlay was of much later date, the feet were Napoleon III and the bronze had been regilded. The Pinaults lodged a request at the Paris court for the sale to be annulled. The opinion provided by Michel Germond at the request of the Pinaults was not deemed acceptable and the court therefore ordered a judiciary opinion on 26 July 2002. The cabinet maker Jean-Paul Jouan was appointed to carry out the examination and is to submit his report next month. “Everyone regarded the table as something extra special,” says the auctioneer Paul Renaud. “The most celebrated antique dealers underbid the object,” he emphasises.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘The Pinaults don’t want their table either...'