In the four decades of wielding the gavel at his auction house on the outskirts of Paris, Jean-Pierre Osenat had never seen anything like it. “This is a crazy story,” he said. “Quite extraordinary.”
The remarkable story began earlier this year when a French woman living abroad decided to sell furniture and various objects from her late mother’s home in Brittany. Having entrusted Osenat with the sale, one particular vase – which had belonged to her grandmother – was packed up, dispatched to Paris and put in a “furniture and works of art” auction of 200 lots, none of which was valued over €8,000.
Last Saturday, the vase, a Chinese tianqiuping – meaning “heavenly globe’” and denoting the round base and long neck – stood on a display table at the Osenat auction room. The catalogue described it as in “good condition”. The estimated price, between €1,500 and €2,000 ($1,460 to $1,945), reflected the expert’s view that it was a 20th-century decorative piece and not a rare artefact.
Osenat said his suspicions this might not be the case were raised when the catalogue went online and the pre-auction exhibition was swamped with 300 to 400 interested buyers 15 days before the sale.
“They came with lamps and magnifying glasses to look at it. Obviously they saw something,” he said. “There were so many registrations [to take part in the auction online] we had to stop them. At that point we understood something was happening.”
On the day of the auction, almost as soon as lot 36 came up, frantic bidding erupted. Osenat was conducting the sale of rapidly increasing bids – €100,000, €200,000, €500,000 – when someone shouted “Two million”. By the time bids reached €5m, 10 buyers were still competing; by €7m only two remained. When the gavel was finally brought down, to applause from the room, the final bid had reached €7.7m. With fees, the anonymous Chinese buyer will pay €9.12m ($8.86m).
Let's hope everyone is happy!