Thursday, October 2, 2014

Roman Herm Withdrawn from Bonhams: Becchina association established

Bonhams in London were due to sell a Roman marble herm today (lot 41) but it was withdrawn (Euthimis Tsiliopoulos, "Hermes head withdrawn from auction", Times of Change 1 October 2014). It was estimated to sell for £10000-£15000. 

The collecting history had been given as "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent".

However Glasgow-based researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has separately spotted the herm in the Becchina photographic archive. He writes:
I also identified the object in the Becchina archive. The origin of the head is Greece, because it is a Greek looter named Costas Gaitanis (from Herakleion, Krete) who sent to Becchina on May 29th, 1987 the Polaroids depicting the head. The envelope containing the Polaroids arrived in Switzerland (Basel, at Becchina's gallery) on June 1st, 1987. The envelope is included in a larger file that Becchina kept regarding dealings he had with a Greek middleman named Zenebisis. The same file includes the image of the gold wreath that the Greek state repatriated from the Getty Museum.
If the Polaroids were sent from Gaitanis to Becchina in May 1987 it seems that the collecting history provided by Bonhams is likely to be flawed.

This raises questions about how auction-houses and museums authenticate collecting histories. What questions do they ask? How do they check the paperwork? How are facts verified?

More interesting is why this "history" was not identified by the Art Loss Register or whichever agency had been asked to conduct a search on the objects.

Bonhams has not had a good track-record for handling antiquities:

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