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Silver tureen owned by Marie Antoinette's sister dominates Bonhams £1.4m Silver Sale
The silver tureen doubled its pre-sale estimate, which was £200,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A spectacular and rare silver soup tureen - a survivor of the fabled Taschen-Saschen silver service given as a wedding present to Marie Antoinette’s estranged sister Maria - ’Mimi’ - Christina, exceeded all expectations when it sold for £433,250 at Bonhams this morning after a lengthy bidding war. The silver tureen doubled its pre-sale estimate, which was £200,000. A fine collection of the 7th Duke of Wellington’s boxes also performed well, fetching a total of £250,000. The sale overall secured in excess of £1.4m.

The striking soup tureen was a wedding gift from Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the mother of Maria Christina and Marie Antoinette, to Archduchess Maria Christina and her husband, Prince Albert Casimir. Weighing 27 pounds, the tureen is supported by entwined dolphins and the finial (cover) is topped by a crab nestling on a bed of seaweed, coral and shells. From its huge depths, steaming fish stews and bouillabaisse would have been served.

The innovative French Baroque design and quality of the tureen reflects the deep love Prince Albert and Maria Christina shared for craftsmanship and the arts. Prince Albert’s fortunate marriage to Maria Christina gave him the opportunity to realize his zeal for the arts, as they couple spent their lives collecting and promoting Austria's most important artists and goldsmiths. Their collection went on to form the Albertina Museum (named after Prince Albert), which now holds one of the largest collections of artworks in the world. The palace Prince Albert and Mimi created is now the seat of the Belgian Royal Family.

Michael Moorcroft, Director of Bonhams Silver Department, commented after the sale: “We are honoured to sell such a distinguished piece of historic silver. This beautiful 27 pounds of silver has emerged from the shadows of the past and carries with it an astonishing provenance, which patently assisted it in achieving the remarkable price that it did today’.

7th Duke of Wellington Boxes
The 7th Duke of Wellington’s remarkable collection of snuff boxes also featured strongly in the Silver sale, making a total of £250,000. The collection of 58 valuable hard stone and gold boxes was assembled by the 7th Duke during his time in Rome. He would scour the campagna with his wife, seeking out valuable objects. The Duke reflects: "We used to fill sacks with shining Porphyry, Verde Antico and Gioallo Antico”. To the annoyance of their nanny, the couple used their son's pram to transport the treasures, this early exposure to collecting ensured that the 8th Duke also became a keen collector of boxes and hard-stones.

The highlight lot from the collection was an 18th century Louis XV lapis lazuli and gold mounted snuff box, signed by Daniel Gouers, which sold for £55,000. A similar box can be found in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The design of the box is almost identical to those given by Louis XV as diplomatic gifts to Geneva.

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