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This silver ewer and basin has been secured by the V&A for £840,000 in a private treaty sale brokered by auctioneers Christie’s.

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Last year, when the silver masterworks were accepted by the Government in lieu of tax owed by a descendant, the V&A were given until April 30, 2007 to raise the £840,000 to complete a private treaty sale brokered by auctioneers Christie's. The price was met following a national public appeal plus lion's share donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£400,000) and The Art Fund (£290,000).

The helmet-shaped ewer and dish, encrusted with foliage and classical medallions, are important for their historical connections, superb quality and rarity. Crafted in Lille by the celebrated silversmith Elie Pacot c.1711-12, they escaped the fate of much French silver (melted for bullion to fund war efforts) as they resided on a sideboard in the dining room at Blenheim Palace.

Very few other British patrons commissioned French silver from outside Paris, but the choice of Lille was perhaps significant for the Duke: it was there he secured one of his most famous victories, taking the city in the siege of 1708. The Pacot ewer and basin descended through the Marlborough family, passing later to the 2nd Duke of Bedford who replaced the Marlborough ducal arms in the centre of the basin with his own.

On view in South Kensington since 1996, both pieces are now permanent residents in the V&A's recently refurbished Whiteley Silver Gallery.