Thursday 11 December 2014

Christie's and "condition reports" - Take that and Talatat

I found some of the so-called condition reports for objects in Christie's 11 December 2014 New York,   sale 3403 rather skimpy, and wonder just what the auction house considers falls under the term "condition". Like for example the Alexander head Lot 140 (which sold well over its estimate), we got just two views and on one of them on zooming there is an odd mark under the (proper) right jowl, undescribed, also the photo suggests that an extensive area of the hair (on the proper right at the back) has been retooled. IS that the case? No mention is made of a discrepancy between what the photo seems to show and reality. It would be a significant omission if there was recarving of part of the object.

The condition of the Skyphos (Lot 144) is also a bit odd. What is that odd pitting over some areas of the surface? What kind of corrosion would cause that? Like on the lower body on the left. It says the side lugs might be reattached, why is the joint not shown?   Are those really traces of the casting flash on the one on the right? Why?

The biscuit is taken by that Amarna relief, Lot 5. At first sight an almost too-good-to-be-true Amarna portait on talatat block with sloping break - and a sistrum in a sketchy hand balancing the composition. 

screen shot from auction details made public

Zooming on it reveals weathering (of an unusual coarse limestone) which looks real.... Christie's will only ever show you the front, never the back or underside. Nevertheless the view we get is enough to show where the weathering ends. Like on the top left corner:

screen shot from public auction details
What do you reckon? Mattock or blunt axe? There is a row of similar scars along the top of the block, and the breaks are fresh. Somebody has recently trimmed the artefact to give it a flat top - maybe to stand a cocktail glass on at a rich man's house party.

There are similar marks down the right side too

and down the left

Where there is fresh hammer dressing as well
and then when you look at the block itself, it is shattered into fragments, the breaks are clearly fresh and have been partly concealed with off-white gunk: 

screen shot from auction details

Some off-white gunk has been added to the lower edge of the block (which I assume to be the only original edge now present) to tart it up. The whole thing has been mounted - but the details of that are obscured in the photo and description. The words "knocked about with a pickaxe" re absent from the description, which avoids detailing much about how a piece of weathered stone on an archaeological site was transformed into "art" for a collector  (Price Realized $81,250). In the process three sides of the original object (perhaps including negative space to the left and above the head, but the rest of the adjacent figure on the right) have been lost without record - should ever that fragment be 'grounded' with a provenance and somebody try to unite it (even if only virtually) with other fragments of the same scene scattered by the market (like the Akhenaton talatat from Karnak), then the way this object has been treated renders it impossible. 

The 'provenance' is given by Christie's as "Charles Gillet (1879-1972), Lausanne; thence by descent to his son, Renaud Gillet (1913-2001), Paris". Was either of them responsible for the trimming of the block to give it this form?

Next time some collector or dealer tells you that they are "preserving art", show them these photos.  

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