Henri d’Orleans, the Count of Paris and a former heir to the throne, donated his collection to a private foundation after falling out with several of his children over their marriages, looking to minimise their inheritance rights.
But since his death in 1999, his descendants — who are also descendants of Louis XIII — have won a legal battle to reclaim ownership of it.
In order to divide the inheritance among themselves, they have turned to Sotheby’s auction house.
“There are 10 children and one grandchild. It’s nearly impossible to share and divide these unique works of art,” Sotheby’s vice president in France, Pierre Mothes, told RFI. “Their potential is so huge at an auction that it would be, professionally for us auctioneers, nearly impossible for us to organise a division.
“We therefore need to go through the market. Of course, it gives the impression of scattering the collection, but in the same way, it’s an opportunity for collectors to acquire unique objects in the history of art.”
Sotheby’s estimates the value of the 232 items to be between 3 million and 5 million euros.
Most of the items will go to private collections, except a small handful that are listed as national heritage items.
These include two royal portraits and the collection’s oldest item, a ledger from the Chateau d’Amboise royal residence in the Loire valley, containing records of all transactions in 1495 and 1496 by attendants of Charles VIII.
These three objects are forbidden from leaving France, and could legally be acquired by public institutes or museums.
“Transactions are not finalised but they are in progress, so we have good reason to think these works will be acquired before the end of the year by public institutions,” says Mothes. “I think it will satisfy all of the people who are attached to national heritage — of course a majority of people in France.”
After being displayed in London and Monaco, the collection is being sold through Sotheby's auction house in Paris over two days, ending Wednesday.