A Painting Withdrawn from Auction Thanks to the French Ministry of Culture

Vincent Féraud (1800- ?)
Allegory of Justice, 1831
Oil on canvas - 278 x 223 cm
Conseil général de Côte-d’Or
Photo : SVV Sadde

1/4/14 - Deaccessioning - Semur-en-Auxois, former court - The Conseil Général de Côte-d’Or was about to sell a 19th century painting for a modest estimate between 2 to 3,000€ on 6 April in Dijon at Sadde auctioneers. The work used to hang on the wall of the courtroom at Semur-en-Auxois until it closed and the painting then turned over to the Conseil Général which owned the property.

The canvas is by Vincent Féraud, an artist from Marseilles who exhibited several times at the Salon and in fact, this Allegory of Justice was displayed there in 1831. According to the information provided by the director of the Archives de Côte-d’Or who researched the work, the painting was listed in the furniture inventory for the court, established on 4 February 1831 [1] . A label appears on the back with the following inscription : "P. Souty". The work is not listed nor registered as a historical monument. The archivist found two other documented references to the work : in 1858 with the unfinished mention "donated to the tribunal by..." and in another inventory dated 1866, the painting was still located in the courtroom.

When notified by a curator from the Louvre who had seen the auction announced in La Gazette Drouot [2], the department of La Conservation du patrimoine mobilier et instrumental at the French Ministry of Culture and the DRAC immediately opened an investigation concerning the status of the work. At the same time, we called the Société de Vente Volontaire who told us everything was above board, that the DRAC had been consulted and authorized the sale, which was false. We also made inquiries at the Conseil Général which claimed that the work was a purchase, equally false as proven by the documents.

Although the archives of works shipped by the State present many gaps before 1848 unfortunately, in this case all indications are that this was a donation made by the State (no doubt by King Louis-Philippe) to the court at Semur-en-Auxois. On the one hand, it would appear normal that the 1831 inventory, established in February, was only completed later since the Salon took place in May. The work was thus probably acquired by the king and then sent to the court. The presence of the mention "P. Souty" on the back of the frame confirms this theory since the Souty firm, according to a reference found on the website offering the correspondence of Eugène Delacroix, was "from 1842 until 1857, among others, the framer of the Ministry of the Interior for the paintings acquired by the management of Beaux-Arts." Many other works shipped by the State show a similar label.

Thus, it is highly probable that this painting was a deposit made by the State, a common practice in the 19th century, as it seems unlikely that a private individual would have made such a gift. As pointed out by the DRAC to the depositor, given the manner of acquisition and presentation the work belonged to the public domain (art. L2111-1 and art. L 21112-1 of the Code général de la propriété des personnes publiques, CG3P) and is therefore inalienable and cannot be deaccessioned.
Thanks to the speedy intervention of the Ministry of Culture, the painting was thus withdrawn from the auction. It will no doubt be covered by further protection (listing or registration) and a new location for its display is being considered such as, for instance, the Archives départementales housed in buildings some of which date back to the Monarchie de Juillet.

This affair is a good example of the risks facing the furnishings inside former public buildings which are sold, an ever growing number. These courtrooms, barracks, hospitals... often hold works belonging to the public domain and thus cannot be deaccessioned. Even if this were not the case, it is absolutely unacceptable to think that these institutions should do away with objects which make up part of their history and which, moreover, belong to the nation’s citizens.
The sale of buildings should require a precise inventory of the objects they contain in order to confirm their inalienable character (recurring notably to their protection as Monuments Historiques) and study the necessary conditions for presenting them to the public.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 1er avril 2014


[1] Archives départementales de la Côte d’Or, IV N IV/180.

[2] This point was also confirmed by the director of the Archives départementales.

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