Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Due Diligence at Bonhams

Bonhams is a member of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA). The ADA's code of conduct states:
I undertake not to purchase or sell objects until I have established, to the best of my ability, that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.
Could staff at Bonhams have detected that they were about to offer material handled by Giacomo Medici?

I suspect that a check was made with the Art Loss Register (ALR). But as I pointed out - in connection with a piece of Lydian silver on offer from Bonhams in October 2007 - "the ALR will indicate if the object has been stolen from, say, a private collection in Knightsbridge, but not if the item comes from a previously unknown and unrecorded archaeological site". If the Medici Roman Youth had come from a pillaged archaeological site, it would not appear in the ALR register.

So any responsible dealer would then want to make sure that they were not likely to handle recently surfaced antiquities. Bonhams had experience of this in October 2008 when they tried to sell the Graham Geddes collection. Two of the Apulian pieces, an oinochoe and a bell-krater, surfaced at Sotheby's in London for the December 1986 sale. This in itself should alert anybody if they were asked to sell a statue that had passed through the same sale. Moreover, a quick check with Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story (1997) would have shown that Medici was linked to this very sale. It is therefore surprising that the staff at Bonhams did not enquire further to ensure that the Roman youth did not appear in the Medici archive of photographs. (Remember, it took me about about one hour to have my suspicion confirmed.)

Was this a 'one off'? It would appear that Bonhams did not learn from the Geddes sale. In that instance, researchers were alerted to the likely presence of Medici material because the name 'Geddes' was inscribed next to a lot at Sotheby's - and illustrated in Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story.

Readers will have to accept that the staff at Bonhams have conducted "due diligence" (in the words of the ADA Code of Conduct) "to the best of their ability".

It will be interesting to see if the management of Bonhams take a decision to tighten up their procedures. Perhaps they should insist on documented collecting histories that can be traced back prior to 1970. And that would have meant that they could have avoided handling the three Roman funerary busts that once passed through the hands of Robin Symes.

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