Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Symes-handled object in NY Court

In a lawsuit filed in a New York court, the auction house Sotheby's together with the owners of an artwork withdrawn from a May sale are taking the Ministry of Culture of Greece to court in an antiquities test case after Athens demands the return of an 8th century BC Greek Geometric Period bronze horse  (James Pickford, 'Sotheby’s takes Greece to court in antiquities test case', The Financial Times 5th June 2018). The 14 cm high figure had been bought by Howard and Saretta Barnet in 1973 and was due to have been sold after their recent death in Sotheby’s New York salerooms on May 14 (with an estimate of between $150,000 to $250,000)  with other sculptures from their collection, and was featured on the sale's catalogue cover. The object was withdrawn after Greece’s culture ministry sent the auctioneer a letter on the day before the auction, demanding its withdrawal from the sale and return to Greece.
In the letter seen by the Financial Times, the ministry said there was nothing in its archives to indicate the object “had left the country in a legal way” and it reserved “the right to take the necessary legal action” to repatriate it. The horse had appeared in the records of Robin Symes, a British art dealer, who was later accused of trading in looted archaeological treasures, the Sotheby’s court filing noted. Sotheby’s rejected the Greek claims, pointing to the 1967 sale of the horse at a public Swiss auction before it passed into Symes’s hands and thence to the Barnets’ collection. Nonetheless, it pulled the statue from the May sale at the eleventh hour, since the existence of the claim damaged its marketability. Arguing that Greece had no right to interfere in the sale and could provide no information as to when or by whom it had been stolen or removed from the country, Sotheby’s said it was asking the court “to clarify the rights of legitimate owners of ancient works of art and protect clients against baseless claims”. 

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