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MADRID (Reuters) - One of Europe's wealthiest aristocratic families is selling some of its ancestral furniture to fund the upkeep of palaces and support family projects, Spain's House of Alba said in a statement on the website of auction house Christie's.
The family of the 86-year-old Duchess of Alba, whose 2011 marriage to a civil servant 24 years her junior caused consternation amongst her children and the Spanish royal family, will offer furniture created by celebrated French Art Deco cabinet maker, Armand Albert Rateau for sale at an auction in Paris on May 23.
"The House of Alba has decided to sell the Armand Albert Rateau furniture commissioned by the 17th Duke of Alba, don Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart in the early 1920s in France, in order to support the funding of its heritage and of its various palaces throughout Spain as well as supporting new projects for the family," a statement on the Christie's website said.
The statement also said the pieces were part of a general reorganization, do not form part of the historic collection of the House of Alba or relate to the history of Spain.
The duchess, Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, has more titles than Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and is twice-widowed.
Her fortune includes ancient palaces throughout Spain, paintings by Spanish masters Velazquez and Goya, and huge stretches of land. Her wealth is estimated at between 600 million and 3.5 billion euros ($4.58 billion).
The duchess's six children were openly opposed to her marriage to Alfonso Diez, with whom she started to step out in 2008, but softened to the idea after the matriach's move to divide her fortune between them.
The wedding plans even met with disapproval from Spain's royal family although King Juan Carlos eventually gave his blessing to the couple.
On offer at the auction are two dark green patinated floor lamps 'aux oiseaux', a bronze and black marble dressing table, an adjustable day bed, a carved and partly gilt wood canapé 'aux cols de cygne' and a white marble bath tub.
The top estimates are for the lamps and the table at 1.5 million euros ($1.96 million) to 2 million euros each.
Rateau's works, commissioned for Madrid's Liria Palace in the 1920s, were inspired by his journey to Naples and Pompeii in 1914, accompanied by a group of friends which included French jewelry designer Cartier.
"These pieces, which have never left the palace, represent a precious as well as a unique evidence of an exceptional commission, dreamed at but unattainable until today and only known to us through a small number of period photographs," Christie's European Director of the 20th century Decorative Arts & Design Sonja Ganne said in the statement.
Writing by Paul Casciato