Jacques Tajan's much publicised sale in the Hotel George V on 7 December of medieval and Renaissance furniture and art works belonging to Burgundy dealer Bruno Perrier raised only FFr13.2 million (£1.55 million; $2.32 million) as compared to an overall estimate of between FFr17.4-22.9 million, with pieces worth FFr3 million bought in.
The sale flopped after a number of major dealers, who had planned to attend, stayed away following rumours about fakes which culminated in an unprecedented intervention by the French Syndicat national des antiquaires. With Tajan's permission the organisation vetted forty items in the 145-lot sale and ruled nine of them fakes before concluding, treacherously, that it could not answer for the authenticity of pieces it had not examined.
The Syndicat's action was motivated by anger at what they considered a basically dishonest sale - the auction of a dealer's rapidly accumulated stock, dressed up in Tajan's pre-sale propaganda as the collection of a intellectually restless aesthete. Professional fury was compounded by the imprecise catalogue descriptions and the uncertain authenticity of many lots. Fifteen had recently been bought at auction while others were familiar for having been left by Perrier for sale with specialist Paris dealers Jacqueline Boccador and Edouard Bresset.
Pieces which had featured at other recent auctions included some sold by Tajan himself: a pair of late sixteenth-century walnut sphinxes from the Paris region, auctioned for FFr320,000, and twelve mid-seventeenth-century Mazarin armchairs which had sold for FFr1.5 million at the sale of dealer Bernard Steinitz' Château de Cornillon stock in May 1992. In Paris on 7 December the sphinxes, estimated at FFr600-800,000, made FFr500,000 (£56,793) while the chairs, described as "mid-eighteenth-century" and with new covers (also described as eighteenth-century) reached only FFr1,350,000 (£153,348).
At the start of the sale, Tajan without mentioning the controversy defensively stresses that his expert for the sale, Michel Coquenpot, was "extremely competent". Bruno Perrier, who may now face disciplinary action from the Syndicat, said that opinions could diverge in matters of expertise.
There were of course lots of perfectly good quality items in the 7 December sale and lack of competition meant there were bargains for dealers - and curators - who did turn up. The Direction du Patrimoine pre-empted a mid-sixteenth-century Lyons walnut dresser for FFr35,000 (estimate FFr50,000) while the private Musée du Sarladais near Sarlat in the Dordogne bought no fewer than nine items, including a thirteenth-century Italian box bench, a fourteenth-century Spanish yew X-stool, many of them well below their low estimates, for a total of only FFr493,000.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Dealers snooker dealer's sale'