Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Old collections at the Basel Ancient Art Fair

I thought that it would be interesting to browse what is on offer at next month's Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF). Some of the dealers do not provide information about the "former owners" of objects on offer, but here are some of the "old" collections represented in the selection of "choice" pieces:

a. J.-P. A. collection, Brussels

b. the Collection of the Swedish architect Albert Tornquist (1819-1898)

c. Spitzer Collection, Wien-Paris, XIX century and, Moretti Collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland

And specifically from Rupert Wace:

d. "An Egyptian painted fresco fragment dating from the New Kingdom": "a Dutch collection", "private collection the Netherlands, acquired 1960s-70s"

e. "a limestone head of a cow", Egyptian, New Kingdom: "a private French collector in the mid 20th century"

f. "an Egyptian limestone relief fragment from the Middle Kingdom": "formerly in the noted collection of Georges Halphen in France"

g."Greek head of a female": "a private European collection, acquired in 1984"

h. "a Hellenistic polychrome terracotta head of a woman": "the collection of a Venezuelan diplomat"

i. "An Etruscan bronze handle": "a private Swiss collection"

j. "an extraordinary terracotta rhyton or drinking vessel in the form of a humped Zebu bull": "a private German collection, acquired prior to 1970"

Wace's press release on the website of his public relations company stresses:

"All exhibitors [at BAAF] are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) who abide by a strict code of ethics guaranteeing the authenticity of everything they sell and exercising extensive due diligence regarding provenance".

Wace is understandably wanting to present a good image after the poor publicity he received last year (see "A Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck - and a member of the IADAA"). If we remember, that piece came from "a private collection in France" --- apparently a euphemism for a syndicate of auctioneers, "PIASA in Paris".

In a world where an object derived from Robin Symes can be described as from "a private collection ... in Great Britain", any diligent person would be rightly suspicious of antiquities emerging from anonymous collections.

So do we need a little more information to put our minds at rest?

2 comments:

Nitsan said...

I think it is interesting that you spend so much time worrying about where pieces come from. Most of those countries chasing collectors and Western museums never gave a damn about these objects for many years. Why not be thankful for all those museums and collectors who care and appreciate antiquities and your proffession as a result. There are bigger problems in this world that requires our attention than chasing a vase, or a bronze.
An archeologist job, I think, should be to dig, find, and educate. And let me ask you a question, if you could get your hands on all the objects in private colletions, what would you do with them? Where would you put them? And who would go see them?

David Gill said...

Dear "Nitsan"

Thank you for your comments. I am glad you find my comments interesting.

My concern as an archaeologist is for the protection of archaeological sites. Looting destroys such contexts. You are confusing two issues: collecting in general and recent looting to supply antiquities for the market.

You have responded to a posting about archaeological material "surfacing" at the Basel ancient art fair. It is surely appropriate to comment on the sources of this material.

I have commented before that repatriation does not restore archaeological contexts. The damage has already been done.

But I am glad that you accept the educational role of archaeology. And my role here is to educate about the material and intellectual consequences of looting.

And to answer your last question, an exhibition of objects returned from North American museums, a North American dealer, and a London-based dealer have gone on display in Rome. So the wider public can see them.

Best wishes

David

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