Bonhams to sell part of dinner services commissioned by Russian empress Catherine the Great
Two silver vegetable dishes from dinner services used by an 18th-century Russian empress are expected to fetch between £30,000 and £50,000 when they are sold at auction.
The dishes were originally part of the 22 silver table services commissioned by Catherine the Great (1729-96) for local centres of government across Russia to avoid the need to transport silver during her tours of the country.
Their journey from 18th-century Russia to a Bonhams sale in London on 18th June has been an intrepid one.
The dishes may look perfectly matched but, in fact, the covers are from the service made for Moscow by celebrated silversmith Robert-Joseph Auguste, while the dishes themselves are from the Ekaterinoslav service made by one of his colleagues, Louis Lenhendrick.
The mix-up may have happened when Catherine's successor, Paul I, had all 22 services sent to Moscow after her death, resulting in covers becoming separated from their original dishes. Or it could have taken place during the 1920s-30s, when the Soviet regime raised foreign currency by selling former imperial possessions to collectors in the west.
Indeed, it is almost certain the dishes were bought in the 1920s by dealer Jacques Helft, who sold them to banker Count Moïse Nissim de Camondo in 1929. The Count sold them back to Helft the following year, who left his house and its contents to the French state on his death in 1935.