Monday, 11 July 2011

Two Mougins Pots and Their Origins

Yesterday I wrote a short piece about whether a twenty or twenty five year collecting history was enough to establish minor artefacts in a private collection were "kosher". A London-based Classical archaeologist had previously suggested that the form of private collecting represented by the so-called Mougins Museum of Classical Art was a form of collecting that she would "support" on this basis. I disagreed. In the comments, a collector picked me up on what I had written stating that some of the pots in the Mougins Museum collections should be OK, because they were from the (Axel) Guttmann collection, sold in 2004. Then I was reminded of a couple of texts from Looting Matters which throw some light on the question, and discuss two of the Mougins pots themselves, both of which appear to have come from the Geddes Collection, itself the subject of some "interest" by Looting Matters:

LM - Tuesday, May 24, 2011: Apulian pottery formerly in the Geddes Collection This had "surfaced" in 1985 (so more than 25 years ago).

LM - Thursday, May 26, 2011: Further Apulian pottery formerly in the Geddes Collection This also "surfaced" in 1985. So where were these two items before then?

Surely being able to trace something back to an anonymous 1985 auction sale or being loaned on exhibition somewhere in 1985 is not exactly what is meant by "of licit origins", is it? Where and when (a) were these objects dug up and under what circumstances, (b) how did they get onto the market in the source country, (c) when did they leave the country and under what circumstances, and (d) where were they between then and their "surfacing" (from "underground"?) when they appear in a London auctioneer's catalogue? What hard evidence is there that steps (a) to (c) were in accord with the relevant laws? Obviously it is those three processes in the turning of a piece of archaeological evidence into a collectable ("major" or "minor") which is at the heart of the question of licitness.

(That's before we go anywhere near the question of the destruction of archaeological data by the loss of information about the precise context of deposition and associations of the object in the ground.)

Vignette: Royal Doulton 'Minerva' porcelain.

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