Sunday, 19 January 2020

Timeline Auctions, Ukrainian Cultural Property and the Soviet-Era Smugglers


In their 25th February 2020 Auction, Timeline are selling a 'Viking Single-Edged Petersen Type C Sword 9th-early 10th century AD' (Lot 0463) Estimate GBP (£) 8,000 - 10,000
Provenance:
From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; believed originally from the Dnieper River.
There's a whole lot of superfluous narrativisation, over-using the word "important" and mostly yammering on about the pattern-welding. I'm more interested in the statement that it came out of the Dniepr (now in Ukraine) in the "1980s". Just to put that in context: Leonid Brezhnev (1964–1982), Yuri Andropov (1982–1984), Konstantin Chernenko (1984–1985), Mikhail Gorbachev (1985–1991). Who, in the 1980s was in a position to take a find from the Dniepr and transport it through the Iron Curtain to "the European art market"? What were the connections of this particular art smuggler? Whose hands did this item pass through, and how were the funds raised from its sale made use of? There is more than one type of blood antiquity.

In a recent article we learn that Timeline claim to be super-ethical as dealers in this difficult and disreputable market (almost as difficult as that in rare wild birds):
Christopher Wren of Timeline said the auction house employed the ALR “to check all Western Asiatic items submitted to us for possible sale, so it was directly at our instigation that the piece was identified.” He added: “We also liaise closely with the Art Squad of the London Metropolitan Police and with other authorities in our constant endeavours to ensure that stolen or looted pieces are not offered and can be returned to their proper home.
And in this case? Its proper home is Ukraine. Unless of course Timeline has access to export licences with the correct stamps and signatures on it. But they do not say anything about that in their sales offer.

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