Interview with Pierre Branda and Geoffroy Ader - The secrets of the Napoléon auction

William Anthony
Watch with second centre, Late 18th century
Estimate: €12,000-€18,000

On 9 December, Artcurial will be auctioning part of the Fondation Napoléon’s private collections. For the occasion Pierre Branda – asset manager responsible for finances and the Fondation Napoléon Collection – and Geoffroy Ader – a watches expert at Artcurial – are here to take us behind the scenes at the event and share their favourite pieces.

What makes this auction such a big event?

Pierre Branda: It is a unique auction in that buyers can discover or rediscover pieces that were withdrawn from the market more than 50 years ago. Acquired by Martial Lapeyre from the 1960s to the 1980s, they were added to the Fondation Napoléon collection in 1984. Illustrating periods of the Ancien Régime, the Restoration, and the July Monarchy, they touch on themes not covered by the Fondation Napoléon in its exhibitions. As such, the pieces on sale have seldom been requested on loan to museums, and have remained in our reserves.

Geoffroy Ader: The auction is an event that has a resonance all of its own, thanks to the extraordinary breadth of the collection’s historic pieces and souvenirs which are first and foremost testament to the inspired collecting of Martial Lapeyre, who founded the Fondation Napoléon. Collectors make everything possible and without them, the international art market would not exist. This auction event includes rare and historical pieces, most of which have royal provenance. This is the case with this magnificent selection of enamel boxes of a rare quality, such as the famous “Du Duc de Penthièvre” box, or the “Marie Antoinette” reliquary.



Boîte en or
Louis Charonnat - École française
Boîte dite « du duc de Penthièvre » ornée d’une miniature sur ivoire « portrait de la duchesse d’Orléans », 1767
Estimation : 60 000 - 80 000 €

Which piece up for auction has the most historical value?

PB: That would without a doubt be the “Marie-Antoinette” reliquary (lot 134). It reveals the 18th century taste for snuffboxes made using luxury materials, like malachite and mother-of-pearl. This box, which dates from the Restoration, is decorated with a cameo of Marie-Antoinette. Engraved on the box is the note: “Gifted at the Tour du Temple, one hour before her death”. This piece, therefore, has both a historical and sentimental value, as it was given as a gift in the final moments of Marie-Antoinette’s life, before she was led to the guillotine. Inside is a lock of hair presumed to belong to Louis XVI. The box – which could be considered a reliquary – is an iconic souvenir of the Ancien Régime in every way.

GA: Many of the pieces have a historical value, especially in relation to the French monarchy, and the pieces on sale in this auction include one that is extremely symbolic: the Order of the Holy Spirit Collar that King Charles X awarded to Charles François Armand de Maillé de La Tour-Lambry (1770-1837), 2nd Duke of Maillé, French Peer, and the King’s Primary Aide du Camp, in its original case. It is a highly symbolic piece in this selection of items related to the French Monarchy. Founded in 1578 by Henri III, the Chivalric Order of the Holy Spirit was for centuries the most prestigious order under the monarchy, finding its echo in Napoleon Bonaparte’s renowned Legion of Honour, founded in 1802. In this sale we are witnessing part of the history of France pass before our eyes, and it is therefore an honour and a privilege to make my own modest contribution to this moment as a horology expert.


Ordre du Saint Esprit
Ouizille & Lemoine - Restoration era
Grand collar of the Order of the Holy Spirit, belonging to the Duke of Maillé Poinçons
Estimate: €30,000-€50,000

What is your favourite item in the auction?

PB: I really like the Collar of the Order of the Holy Spirit (lot 25), awarded to the Duke of Maillé. It is an example of extraordinary craftsmanship, made in the Ouzille & Lemoine workshops, and that is still presented in its original casing. It is also testament to the history of the Ancien Régime, as the Duke of Maillé was a close associate of Monsieur (the future King Louis XVIII), whom he accompanied into exile during the Revolution. In 1814, he lent his undying support to the King, earning him the title Peer of France. In 1825, he received this collar of the Chivalric Order of the Holy Spirit. When the July Monarchy came to power, this order was disbanded. It was therefore one of the last collars awarded as part of this order, and demonstrates the opulence of the French court during the Restoration.

GA: My favourite is of course the “watch”, because that has been my passion at the auctions ever since my first sale on 2 December 1995, a significant date for Napoleon, too. It is a collector’s item that is unique in its genre, much sought-after by Chinese collectors. It’s interesting to see how this selection of watches focuses on old French, Swiss, and English enamel watches from the late 18th to the mid-19th century, with a selection of rare pieces produced for the Chinese market. It’s an opportunity to showcase the art behind the collector’s item and pay tribute to China, which already had a love of watches during the reign of the Chinese imperial dynasties. Watches have always played a key role in history, but they also form the main connection between the monarchy and the First and Second Empire, and watchmakers have always sought out both the highest precision and aesthetic perfection. It is this legacy that we wish to share through the auction of items from the Fondation Napoléon.

What does the Fondation Napoléon do today?

PB: Ever since it was founded, the Fondation Napoléon has worked towards promoting recognition of First and Second Empire history and heritage. It is this mission that guides our everyday work through support for research and the publication of literature that helps to disseminate knowledge about these periods of history. Among the first to see the potential of the internet, we take pride in providing free access to the fruits of our labours to as wide an audience as possible, though our website and our Napoleonica. La Revue journal, and on social media. We also organise exhibitions where the public can view our Napoleonic collections. And our cultural service offering is completed by a library that is open to all without an appointment, and a programme of conferences, also free.


Discover a selection of pieces from the Fondation Napoléon auction by the journalist Sandrine Merle



Exhibition in Paris

3 December, 11am to 6pm
4 December, 11am to 6pm
5 December, 11am to 6pm
6 December, 11am to 6pm
7 December, 11am to 6pm
9 December, 11am to 5pm

Auction in Paris
Monday 9 December 2019 - 6:30pm


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