Monday 12 December 2011

The "Dundas Leda"

"That? Oh, that's been in the family for years" was the reply Sotheby's antiquities specialist Dr Florent Heintz got when he enquired about a 4ft 5in statue of Leda and the Swan which he spotted during "a routine visit" to a Northern England Georgian country house with an impressive collection of historic furniture, paintings and porcelain. The statue had once stood in the garden as an ornament but was recently moved indoors – to the corner of a room at Aske Hall, near Richmond, North Yorkshire. The Marquess of Zetland and the rest of his family had believed the artwork was created in relatively modern times and their staff regarded it as “part of the furniture”. Heintz recognised it as an ancient second century Roman Imperial sculpture.
Until its rediscovery, despite having been kept at the estate by the Dundas family since 1788, the statue had remained entirely unknown to scholars. It does not appear in any of the major surveys of ancient marble sculpture in English country houses, but is mentioned in Robinson’s Guide to Richmond of 1833. [...] Dr Heintz found the sculpture had a rich provenance, being one of four antiquities bought in Rome during the 18th Century by the 1st Earl of Zetland on behalf of his father. The most prized of the antiquities – a statue of the Lysippean Eros – was stolen from the grounds of Aske Hall in the Seventies and has never been recovered.
The sculpture was offered for auction by the will trust of the 3rd Marquess of Zetland, Lawrence Dundas, who died in 1989.
It had been expected to fetch between £1.2m and £1.9m at Sotheby’s antiquities sale in New York on Friday, but four determined bidders pushed it to ten times its estimate, before an anonymous buyer clinched the statue over the phone.
The hammer price was reportedly £12.2m.
This is a rare example of an object coming onto the market with an impeccable collecting history going back well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and the sort of object which nobody would have any qualms about circulating on the international antiquities market, and going to any buyer with money enough to grab it all for himself. It is not freshly surfaced, what is more it is one whose collecting history was lost and has been reconstructed by diligent research (due diligence by the seller). What a contrast with those objects which "surface' on the market and we are expected to believe are from an lost "old collection" with absolutely not a shred of evidence to support, let alone allow verification of that claim. The legitimacy of these objects is of a far more questionable nature than the Aske Hall Leda.

But how much of a "routine visit" was Dr Heintz on, when it was known that the first Dundas to own the hall was a member of the Society of Dilettantes with a lot of money (made from supplying the British army and banking)?

Stuart Minting, 'Statue used as garden ornament sells at auction for £12.2m', Northern Echo, 12th December 2011

Daily Mail article too.

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