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Drouot to close for FFr40 million revamp

Fury at likely choice of railway warehouse as temporary replacement

Parisian auctioneers are moving to a converted railway warehouse in the unfashionable Batignolles district while their long-established saleroom in the rue Richelieu undergoes a FFr40 million (about £4 million) facelift.

Plans for the long-overdue renovation of Drouot, where most Parisian auctions are held, have been drawn up by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. He has been working with Jean-Jacques Fernier, the designer of the building: they will enlarge the present entrance hall and have the outside cleaned and restored.

Also planned are a ceremonial staircase to replace the present escalators, lifts, redecorated rooms, improved lighting throughout and a security overhaul to meet current regulations. Maître Rogeon, the president of Drouot, said that “the bulk of the work should have been carried out during the two summer months so that sales could start again in the autumn... however, with the dust and noise, plus a building site with more than 100 workmen, there were too many security risks. To carry on building at night and at the weekend would add too much to the final cost. It was essential to find a new temporary home from September [Drouot is always closed in August]”.

The French railways (SNCF) warehouse in rue Cardinet site will be remodelled to create 13 or 14 salerooms, and these may be retained later for the sales of domestic equipment, modern furniture and equipment which are currently held in Drouot Nord, rue de Doudeauville in the 18th arrondissement.”

Nothing is yet signed and sealed, however: "Negotiations with the SNCF have not been completed yet and we are open to any suggestions for premises measuring 2,500 square-metres in a central arrondissement in Paris", said Maître Rogeon.

Some French auctioneers were horrified when they learned of the move into such “downmarket premises” (the general view of the SNCF warehouse). Former Drouot president Hervé Chayette strongly opposed the plan, “that would so damage the company image,” and has suggested as an alternative selling Drouot and buying new premises with the proceeds.

Part of Drouot-Richelieu's attraction (it is visited by 6,000-8,000 visitors per day) is the area in which it is located—a quartier in which there are many dealers, specialised experts and auction rooms. “80% of the transactions carried out at Drouot are between professionals and these will be difficult to shift”, said expert Guillaume Dillée.

“Drouot-Cardinet”, as it will be called, should be quickly forgotten once the new Drouot opens early next year. It is whispered in Paris that the long-delayed opening of the French market might be delayed until then because the commissaires-priseurs are not at all keen for it to happen while they are ensconced in their temporary premises at Batignolles.