Marble figure of Flora crouching by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, sold for €398,000 (£352,210) by Couteau-Begarie & Associés.

Image copyright: Coutau-Bégarie & Associés /Drouot

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In 1861 the French emperor Napoleon III appointed architect Hector Lefuel to rebuild the Pavillon de Flore of the Louvre.

Lefuel chose Jules Cavelier and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75) for the sculpture programme to decorate the façades.

Carpeaux was given the design and execution of two important groups, La France Impériale carrying light into the world and protecting science and agriculture, and a relief of Flore au milieu des génies du printemps et des jardins.

Relations between Carpeaux and Lefuel were strained and the sculptor refused to modify his project for the group of Flora which, according to the architect, did not fit properly into the alignment of the building.

However, when the emperor was invited to see Carpeaux’s group in situ, he declared: “It is really the triumph of Flora”, thus giving the work its current title.

Larger example

The Triumph of Flora was greatly admired by the sculptor’s contemporaries and Carpeaux went on to produce versions of the single figure of Flora crouching in marble, bronze and terracotta.

Small marble versions are relatively common but only four larger marble versions measuring 3ft 5in (1.05m) in height are known.

One of these larger examples appeared in the sale held by Coutau-Bégarie & Associés (28.8% buyer’s premium inc tax) at Drouot on March 28.

Offered for sale by descent from an aristocratic collection that, according to family tradition, acquired the work in the early years of the 20th century, the figure, which is signed JBte Carpeaux on the base, eclipsed its €60,000-80,000 estimate to finally sell for €398,000 (£352,210).