The Grimaldis, Monaco’s royal family is selling off an unique collection of chattels belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte. The collection, the largest ever offered, will go under the hammer, in order to pay for restorations and a new display at the Royal palace.
Over a thousand items, mostly French imperial relics will be sold with some of the proceeds given to the creation of a museum devoted to the Monaco ruling dynasty. The auction, which is to take place in Fontainebleau outside of Paris. It is thought that the French government will either be key bidders in the sale or halt it altogether. “The French Defence Ministry has a very bellicose approach to historical items, particularly manuscripts,” said Paris auctioneer Alexandre Giquello, who is co-hosting the sale with Jean-Pierre Osenat, a specialist of the Napoleonic era. Mr Giquello said that because of the risk that the Defence Ministry would confiscate some lots without paying the vendor, he had advised the Grimaldi family to withdraw 30 manuscripts from the auction.
Included in the sale is Napoleon’s trademark black felt bicorn hat believed to have been worn by Napoleon in exile on Elba, which is to go on sale at the reserve price of €300,000 to €400,000. Such a sale is extremely rare: the hat is one of only about 20 in the world, mostly in museums, and the last one was sold in 1969. Of the 120 original hats, 19 have survived and this one is one of only two in private hands. Other important items include a diamonds encrusted ceremonial sword listed at €600,000 to €800,000. A painted plate in Sèvres porcelain, from Napoleon’s dinner service used during his final imprisonment on the island of St Helena where he was exiled after being defeated at Waterloo, is estimated at €80,000 to €100,000. Also for sale are dozens of medals, decorative keys, documents, a Russian caviar spoon and a bronze eagle that once perched atop a battle flag, complete with bullet holes. And an elaborate burr elm cradle presented to Napoleon’s adopted step-daughter Stéphanie de Beauharnais is to be auctioned for €250,000 to €350,000. Other personal mementoes include a shirt, gloves and stockings worn by the Emperor, as well as drinking cups.
This iconic collection of memorabilia, was put together by Louis II until his death in 1949, is expected to garner an intense interest from collectors and museums from all over the world. Jean-Pierre Osenat, head of the auction house in Fontainbleau, said: “It is an exceptional collection.”It was gathered at the beginning of past century by a passionate man, the prince Louis II. I think it is the first time that a real genuine collection is going under the hammer. We will never see such a collection ever. Mr Osenat said that the particularity of the Grimaldi collection was that it was put together by a single person over a long period. Louis II, who served as a general in the First World War and was known as the “soldier prince” took an interest in Napoleon because of a shared military background.