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World

A Paris Auction House For Everyone

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

When it comes to auctions most of us maybe get to bid on tickets to a baseball game or a weekend getaway to help our kid's school. Historic artworks - they're in another league altogether. But in Paris, there is an auction house where regular people have a chance to walk away with something special. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Drouot auction house opened in 1852 and says it's the world's largest public auction space. Some 500,000 items a year pass through Drouot - art, furniture, wine and curios from past centuries as well as more recent bargains. And some 5,000 people come in off the street every day from rue Drouot to browse and bid.

THIERRY ONFROY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Thierry Onfroy is in a room decorated with vintage posters. Onfroy says he's come to Drouot every single day for the last 30 years.

ONFROY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I've learned so much," he says pointing to some 17th century engravings of Paris. Onfroy calls them fascinating urbanism documents because some of these buildings aren't here anymore.

Each room holds a different collection of items. They're set up by the auctioneers and open for two days to the public so people can get a look before the bidding starts.

So you can just take a painting off a wall like that?

ROMAIN DE PONTAC: You may. You're allowed completely. There's no problem of taking a painting out of the wall and just touching it and even taking pictures.

BEARDSLEY: That's auctioneer Romain de Pontac. He says most of Drouot's objects and artworks come from people's houses. Someone dies, and the kids sell it all off. Didier Rykner is editor of Place Tribune De L’Art, an online magazine about art history and heritage.

DIDIER RYKNER: France is the attic of Europe, you know? Many - because of history, many important works of art are still hidden in houses everywhere.

BEARDSLEY: Like two 18th century paintings by Jean Honore Fragonard that were recently discovered in a French manor house. Rykner says what sets Drouot apart from auction houses like Sotheby's or Christie's is that Drouot offers sales that don't involve any catalogues or experts. He calls it the people's auction house.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: Xavier Merrant is looking for a coffee table for his living room. He says he decorates his kitchen at IKEA. But when he wants something special, he comes to Drouot.

XAVIER MERRANT: Because it is like a museum, permanent museum changing every day. And it is also a pleasure to come.

BEARDSLEY: Merrant says browsing at Drouot is a way to travel and to dream. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.