Thursday 22 April 2010

Auction House Did not Check, or had they Hoped that Nobody Would Notice?

David Gill (in his post Bonhams and the Medici Statue: Lot Withdrawn) draws attention to an egregious example of failed due diligence by a major London auction house. A marble statue on sale was withdrawn when sharp-eyed David posted on his blog a photo from the infamous Geneva seizure. Quite obviously the two are the same. The one in the polaroid is a bit grubby, still has the earth on it and the Bonhams shot is more tastefully lit. David generously notes:
It remains a puzzle why the antiquities staff at Bonhams were not suspicious of this particular collecting history (or "provenance"). What measures did they take to check that the piece had not passed through the hands of Medici? Or had they hoped that nobody would notice?
I would not call it a "puzzle", I would call it appalling. David's earlier post on this piece is here: A Roman Statue from the Medici Polaroids

See also his Smash and grab "Some collectors will claim that they are preserving the past, but really their desire is to own the past (and to ignore the consequences of the "owning" process). Do auction-houses and dealers care how recently surfaced antiquities arrived on the market?" The fact that collectors of such stuff certainly do not and continue to buy is no incentive for them to change their business practices.

In his Code of Ethics for UK Dealers in Antiquities David draws attention to the totally useless (because hardly ever used) and purely decorative British Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 and one might ask whether in regard to what that law actually "says", cases like this should not be being investigated to determine if an offence was committed. How did this object "surface" on the British market, by what means did it arrive there? There is a first time for everything, perhaps the British "partnership" with collectors of portable antiquities really has gone too far?

Then there is this discussion of a Hellenistic Gold Wreath at Bonhams (Lot 240). Also some Roman Limestone Funerary Busts on the Market also in the same Bonham's sale: "Interesting and long-established provenance"

This is rich in the week when a group of antiquity collectors has been strenously trying to persuade the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee not to extend import controls on archaeological artefacts illegally exported from Italy into the US. Shame on them too.

Photo: Geneva Freeport polaroid and Bonhams lot 137 (courtesy David Gill).


Damien Huffer said...

and here I figured that all pieces associated with Medici had been tracked down and dealt with/repatriated... Scary!

David Gill said...

I estimate that less than 1% of the Medici Dossier has been tracked down. And then there are the images from Becchina and the island of Schinoussa (Robin Symes).
Best wishes

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