The appeal by the Pinaults dismissed again

Writing table of Boulle inlay and ebony veneer
79 x 93 x 63 cm
Photo : Daguerre

25/9/10 – Art market – Paris – The affair of the writing table acquired by Maryvonne and François Pinault is back in the headlines, legal columns rather than art news. The couple’ s appeal for cancellation of the sale has once again been dismissed and they have been sentenced to pay for expenses.

Let us recall the facts : on 14 December 2001, in room 4 of Drouot, the Daguerre auction house, under Me Paul Renaud’s gavel, was selling a selection of “paintings, silver, furniture and art objects coming directly from a great European collection”. The mysterious source was soon identified as being the Rothschild family as some objects bore the mark “R”. To be more precise, as revealed by Libération in an article by Vincent Noce on 20/12/01, everything came from the Parisian villa of Salomon de Rothschild which had been bequeathed to the government in 1922 by his widow. The bids soared and far exceeded the estimates [1].

Lot n°120 included a writing table (ill.) of Boulle inlay and ebony veneer, described in the catalogue as “Louis XVI period. (accidents and restorations).”, estimated at 60/80.000 French francs and auctioned off finally for the colossal sum of 7.900.000 FF to Maryvonne Pinault. The written record moreover includes the warning made at the moment of the sale : “missing portions, as is”.
When the table was taking apart shortly afterwards by the buyer’s own specialist, Mme Pinault noticed that some elements, including the feet, were not original, and demanded that the sale be cancelled. On 13 October 2005, the Cour d’instance of Paris (Record of first instance) dimissed the Pinault’s suit and sentenced them to pay for court costs, a sentenced which was confirmed after appeal on 12 June 2007. However, on 30 October 2008, the Cour de cassation (Final court of appeal) cancelled the last sentence thus resulting in a new confrontation of both parties before the Cour d’appel (Court of appeal). The latter has just rendered its verdict sentencing the plaintiffs for court costs. They will most likely file a new appeal before the Cour de cassation for the final leg of this judicial marathon.

We are puzzled by this tenacity. The Court of appeals very clearly states in the reasons adduced “that the descriptive entry of the furniture carried the note ‘accidents and restorations”, sufficiently explicit, as was the expression ‘as is’ pronounced by the auctioneer at the auction” and “that the circumstances and modesty of the estimate corresponded to the possibility of a risk in the contractual obligations and enough to alert the attention of M. and Mme Pinault […]”. We might add that by paying 7.9 million FF for a table estimated at most at 80.000, Mme Pinault acted as an “enlightened amateur”, according to the terms used in a previous sentence, and carried out her own appraisal, attributing a much higher value to this piece of furniture than that claimed by the expert for the auction.

Didier Rykner, samedi 25 septembre 2010


[1] We point out also that in 2005, that is four years after the auction, the Direction des Musées de France identified 13 silver pieces from Augsbourg and Nuremburg as bequeathed to the Musée de la Renaissance in Ecouen in 1922 but never inventoried or recovered. They were finally restituted to the museum.

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