Wednesday, 1 October 2014

King on a Koutoulakis Herm and the Hermeneutics of Dealers Descriptions

Dorothy Lobel King (PhDiva) walks us through the case of a head withdrawn from tomorrow's Bonham antiquity sale (Wednesday, October 1, 2014, 'Collecting 101: A Head at Bonhams'). She says sellers who put such things up for auction "often mess up is in trying to be too clever with the provenance and literature" and gives a few hints about how to "read between the lines" (ADCAEA-guidelines aficionados, are you watching?). She points out that Bonhams does not have a stumble-free track record (involvement with the Sevso Treasure and that Portland-vase-clone cameo glass which quietly disappeared and other problems). Her equation:
So Symes polaroids + dodgy dealer [...] + no paperwork + odd write-up + second dodgy dealer = the balance of probability suggests that this piece was looted.
I was interested in her comments about authenticity and some dealers offering items which seem to be modern fakes:
This doesn't really bother me - auction houses operate under caveat emptor, and frankly I don't care if arrogant collectors buy fakes any more than if they exhibit exceptionally bad taste in their vanity project museums. Fakes have been around forever, and arguably the Roman Hermes above is a fake of Alcamenes' Hermes Propylaios - and they don't damage archaeological sites.
My thoughts exactly. If you buy items only on a dealer's say-so, no-questions-asked about provenance, no-documentary-proof-offered, no proper scientific/condition report to back up the statements made about age and manufacturing technique, then it really is caveat emptor, the arrogant buyer relying on his own unaided judgement is wading out into a deep sea of problems without a lifejacket.

The "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent" head in question was withdrawn from the auction

UPDATE 2 October 2014:
Professor David Gill has joined this discussion (Looting Matters Thursday, October 2, 2014, 'Roman Herm Withdrawn from Bonhams: Becchina association established')
"Glasgow-based researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has separately spotted the herm in the Becchina photographic archive. [...] If the Polaroids were sent from Gaitanis to Becchina in May 1987 it seems that the collecting history provided by Bonhams is likely to be flawed.  This raises questions about how auction-houses and museums authenticate collecting histories. What questions do they ask? How do they check the paperwork? How are facts verified?

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