Police investigation prompts French auction house to postpone sale of Chandigarh furniture

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A sale in France of more than 40 items from the Indian city Chandigarh has been postponed amid reports of an ongoing police investigation.

The auction was due to take place at Osenat auction house, in Hotel Des Ventes du Château in Versailles, on 29 January. A spokesperson for the auction house confirmed that the sale “is suspended and postponed, so it is not cancelled”, but they were unable to provide further details.

Items on offer include furniture designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, who were both commissioned to support the design of the city [of Chandigarh] in the late 1940s and embraced a utopian vision for “a new capital state for Punjab”. In October last year, the city and its capitol complex won Unesco World Heritage status and there is widespread recognition of the project’s significance. Reports of thefts of heritage furniture items from UT administration buildings across the city, including the Punjab University, have risen over the past ten years.

“The investigation by French agencies into the auction of Chandigarh heritage articles in France, is a very satisfying beginning,” says Ajay Jagga, a lawyer and member of the Chandigarh Heritage Items Protection Cell, who has played a key role in raising awareness of protecting works from the city. He adds that: “This also shows and proves that the visit of a French delegation to Chandigarh in November 2022 was a great initiative. I am sure that this will further strengthen Indo-French relations.“

The auction is believed to have held a lower pre-sale estimate of just under £400,000. Reports by the Indian press suggest that the police investigation was prompted by concerns over import and export licences. Neither the Paris police nor Indian cultural ministry responded to our requests for information, while a spokesperson for Interpol said it was unable to comment on specific cases.

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