Candelabras cause a cross channel stir

Judgment is pending in a legal battle over a pair of candelabras which are said to form part of the artistic heritage of France. Mrs Justice Arden is currently pondering the ownership of the pieces.

Nicole de Preval, an 80-year-old aristocrat, claims that in 1986 the gilt bronze candelabras were stolen from her country chateau.

Her counsel, Michael Gattleson, told Mrs Justice Arden that the candelabras were the work of French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye and were made in around 1846 for Mme de Preval's great-grandfather, industrialist Emile Martin, and bear his initials EM. Gattleson argued that, although Barye was a great artist, his grasp of business was bad and he had been assisted by Martin who had entered into partnership with him.

The candelabras finally surfaced in a Sotheby's sale catalogue years after the theft, and Preval is suing the Brighton antique dealer, Adrian Alan, who put them up for sale, for their return. She estimates their value today at around £60,000.

Barye, who, among other things, was famous for his animal works, was regarded as a revolutionary sculptor and had been commissioned by various members of the French royal family, including one of the kings of France. Until the time the candelabras were stolen from Mme de Preval's country chateau their provenance is said to have been "rock-solid".

However, antique dealer Alan claims he purchased the candelabras legitimately in New York in 1984 – two years before they are said to have been stolen. He says he paid £5,000 to £6,000 for them. The solicitors acting for Mme de Preval are Malkins. Alan is represented by Christopher Coney instructed by Fuglers.