Friday 25 October 2013

Leutwitz Apollo (6): The Dutch Dealer and the Box of Bits

The official collecting history for the Leutwitz Apollo has Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a traveller and antiques/antiquity/ethnographic collector finding it in pieces in 1993-1994 (this date is repeated several times in Bennett's book) :
he had hired a couple of workmen to help him, clean out the main house and barns which during the Communist era had been used to store agricultural machinery and other items. A great aunt of his had lived in the house until the late 1980s when she died without an immediate heir. (p. 71)
he found fragments of the bronze statue:
buried under scrap metal and other debris and reclaimed objects gathered from the property in a room on the main house's ground floor. (p.71)
He later (in 2003 pp. 65, 67 and 71) said that he had seen this statue whole in the garden and house when it belonged to his great uncle  in 1934-6 when he spent the summers on the estate here. It was first "in a wooden pavilion in a terraced garden near the main house". He says he saw the statue again, this time moved into the main house in 1936. After he'd found it in his great aunt's house, he had to decide what to do with it.
He underestimated the value of the work, believing it to be an eighteenth or nineteenth century garden sculpture. Assuming its market value to be less than the cost of reconstruction, Walter sold the damaged statue to a Dutch antiques dealer. Numerous dealers, he said, flooded into the former GDR looking for bargains, buying up everything they considered marketable. Typically no written purchase agreements were issued during such transactions because this was neither common nor required under German law. (pp 71-2)
Saith a lawyer, so it must be true. Steven Litt has in several articles, the earliest from 2004 - so more or less when CMA was collecting information which was then passed on to the press - suggested that the date of this sale was "later in 1994" (see for example A god of myth cloaked in mysteryMuseum takes heat over ancient Apollo, September 12, 2004), 
 In 1994, the lawyer showed the sculpture to Lucia Marinescu, a Romanian scholar. But her response apparently did nothing to convince Walter to keep the work. Walter told Bennett and Reid that he sold the piece later in 1994 to a Dutch art dealer for 1,600 Deutschmarks, or $1,250 in 2004 dollars, thinking it was an 18th- or 19th-century garden ornament. Walter also told the museum he couldn't remember the dealer's name, and that he has no receipt. 
There are three things here. The first is that Mr Walter is himself a collector and connoisseur, he is chatting with a renowned Romanian expert in antique bronzes. Anyone looking at that piece (especially if it is in fragments) can see that it has corrosion inside which is due to corrosion buried in the earth. We are asked to believe that they were looking at it before a more recent reconstruction and presumably cleaning. How on earth can anyone believe looking at its corrosion layers that this is a modern cast? In addition, has anyone seen a nineteenth century bronze garden ornament with inlaid eyes? Reproductions of classical sculpture of the eighteenth and nineteenth century have bland plain surfaces and blank staring eyes.

We are asked to believe that a wandering antiques Dutch dealer rolled up one day with a big van and  1,600 Deutschmarks in his pocket on the off-chance that in this (by all accounts dilapidated) old house might be something worth buying. Had Walter already been selling some of his great aunt's furniture before that to give assumption to such an idea? The dealer snapped up the statue which was in bits and - unlike the "connoisseur" -  could see that after a bit of tarting-up, its potential market value would be to be more than the cost of reconstruction. Why would he assume that from a box of bits, one hand missing and a big gaping hole in one side? It's hardly usable as a garden ornament in that state. Anyway he did and then off he went with the bits.

Mr Walter did not even get his name. But then, how many such dealers are there in Holland? How did it get from this garden-antique dealer to the Aboutaams? How many Dutch dealers are in the Geneva gallery owners' circles?

I've discussed this before  'I Found it in My Garden'. 

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