They were part of a huge haul of works from defunct manuscript investment scheme Aristophil.
Auction house Aguttes in France had planned to offer them in its first Aristophil auction on December 20 – the first of as many as 300 sales to follow in order to disperse the estimated 135,000 historic documents.
Aguttes said the French government has 30 months to make an offer at the “international market value price” during which an export bar is in place. This classification as a “trésor national” restricts the interest to French buyers, due to the export bar.
The original 39ft (11.9m)-long manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom had been estimated €4m-6m. The 18th-century pornographic novel was written on a scroll made from bits of parchment he had smuggled into prison in the Bastille. The scroll was nearly lost when the Paris prison was overrun at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. It was later discovered decades later but remained unpublished for more than a century.
Breton’s handwritten Manifeste du Surrealisme – his definition of the movement - was estimated at €4.5m-5.5m ahead of the auction.
Six years of auctions
The remaining objects due to be offered at the inaugural Aristophil auction, comprising around 190 lots on December 20 at Hôtel Drouot in Paris, include a 40-page first-hand account of the sinking of the Titanic by survivor Helen Churchill Candee and works by Proust, Balzac and Napoleon.
Aristophil and its subsidiaries were declared bankrupt in 2015. An investigation into a ‘pyramid’ scheme continues. Aguttes was appointed in October 2016 by the High Court to begin the resale process with the proceeds distributed to creditors.
Auctions will take place over the next six years to allow time for cataloguing and to avoid saturating the market.