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Country Life Every Week - - ART MARKET -

Alexan­dre Lenoir (1761–1839) cast a long shadow, and re­ver­ber­a­tions from his con­tro­ver­sial ca­reer still rum­ble. As the pre­server of French his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments from Rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­dal­ism, he was the fa­ther of mod­ern-day con­ser­va­tion, but he was also (ac­cord­ing to Fran­cis Haskell) ‘Reck­less und un­schol­arly, boast­ful and in­fin­itely en­er­getic’. He saved Michelan­gelo’s Slaves and he re­cov­ered the French royal tombs from St De­nis to be dis­played in his Musée des mon­u­ments français. As some cu­ra­tors to­day, he favoured the dis­play of art in iso­la­tion, rather than in con­text.

At the Bour­bon Restora­tion, the con­tents of his mu­seum were mostly re­turned to pre­vi­ous own­ers, but Lenoir was put in charge of the re­con­sti­tuted St De­nis.

One of the great­est royal tombs had been that of Charles V (reigned 1364–80), with its mar­ble ef­figy by An­dré Beaun­eveu, who was said by Frois­sart to ‘have had no equal in any land’. It is also said to be the first por­trait of a king ad vivum.

Sculpted kings had lions at their feet sym­bol­is­ing courage and power (queens had dogs for fi­delity) but Charles’s ad­dorsed, or paired back to back, lions dis­ap­peared from Lenoir’s mu­seum, prob­a­bly dur­ing the 1802 Peace of Amiens, when he was very short of funds. They were bought from him by an English col­lec­tor, the fu­ture Sir Thomas Neave, Bt, and re­mained in that fam­ily un­til their ap­pear­ance in Christie’s Ex­cep­tional sale on July 6, when they sold to an Amer­i­can for £9,349,000.

Heaven knows what Charles V’s ef­figy might be worth.

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