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    Magic Mirrors
by Brook S. Mason
The Frederick Victoria Mirrors
ca. 1790
The Frederick Victoria Mirrors
ca. 1790
The automaton figure
late 18th century
A pair of Italian polychrome mirrors sold for a world-record $1.3 million at Christie's New York on May 27. Edged with fretwork, topped with a pagoda and studded with Chinese figures, the unusual chinoiserie-style mirrors were illustrated on the catalogue cover for the sale of wares from Upper East Side dealer Frederick Victoria. The items were purchased by an anonymous American couple who are said to have homes both in New York and London.

"It was the classic bidding war with the buyer on the phone and the underbidder in the room," recalled Christie's specialist William Strafford. The buyer was previously unknown to the auction house.

Estimated at $250,000-$350,000, the mirrors are actually overdoor panels. They are said to have come from the Villa Favorita, built by the King of Naples in Palermo in the 1780s.

However, some experts scoffed at that attribution. "The mirrors certainly never looked that way in the late 18th century," said one dealer of French furniture, who opined that much of the decoration could have been applied considerably later. The outer portions of the mirror surface had been replaced, according to Christie's condition report.

"The buyers could have waltzed into Freddy Victoria's and bought the mirror for $250,000 only months ago," pointed out another dealer, Roger Prigent of Malmaison. Interestingly, the late Victoria purchased the mirrors in the 1950s in Paris.

The previous record for a mirror was a French Regency example making $750,000 at Christie's Hubert de Givenchy sale in Monaco in 1993. Another chinoiserie object purchased by the couple for a surprising price was an Italian automaton figure from the 18th century. The droll Chinese man sporting a pointed hat sold for $48,300 against a $20,000-$30,000 estimate.

Overall, the sale totaled $3.1 million over a presale estimate of $1.6 million-$2.5 million.

BROOK S. MASON writes on Old Masters and the decorative arts.