Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Steinhardt Sardinian Figure and the Medici Dossier

Sardinian figure from the Medici Dossier.
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Glasgow-based researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has suggested that a Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's (December 11, 2014, lot 85) is linked to the Medici Dossier of polaroid photographs. The estimate is $800,000-$1,200,000.

The upper part of the head has been damaged in the Polaroid photograph, although no comments about restoration are made in the lot notes.

The figure is the stated as coming from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Collection. Its earlier collecting history is stated as:
  • Harmon Fine Arts, New York. 
  • The Merrin Gallery, New York, 1990 (Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery, no. 27). 
  • Acquired by the current owner, 1997.
The due diligence search will no doubt have alerted the staff at Christie's and the agency they used to possible concerns. So, for example, was Harmon linked to some of the fragmentary Cycladic figures derived from the 'Keros Haul'?

The Merrin Gallery is linked to Roman bronze known as 'The Merrin Zeus' that was returned to Italy. Only last year there were issues about the sale of the Symes Pan at Christie's. And the marble statues of the Dioskouroi on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art were handled by the same gallery. We also recall that pots in the Borowski collection were derived from Merrin. (For a review of the Merrin Cycladic exhibition in the New York Times see here with a mention of the Sardinian figure.)

Then there is Steinhardt as a collector of such things as a gold phiale that has been returned to Sicily. What about the alleged link with the tomb painting from Paestum seized at a North American airport? Steinhardt has been associated with Cycladic figures. Steinhardt is also linked to Christie's where he is listed as a member of the Advisory Board.

Yet is there more information about the Sardinian figure? Suzan Mazur discussed the exhibition at the Merrin Gallery back in 2006 ('Merrin Gallery In Italy's Antiquities Dragnet?'). She noted:
[Leonard] Stern owned 10 Cycladic marbles and loaned all of them to Merrin for the show: Six Spedos pieces; a Dokathismata female (2400-2300 BC); the Anatolian "Stargazer" (3000-2500 BC) worth $1 millon and previously belonging to Nelson Rockefeller; a Sardinian female figure from the Ozieri culture (2000 BC); and a Cycladic female (2800-2700 BC) said to be from the same source as the Met's Cycladic "Harp Player". The Harp Player is a fake -- according to Met Ancient Near East expert Oscar White Muscarella. 
The collection was housed at the time in Stern's Fifth Avenue townhouse aka Harmon Fine Arts Gallery, which did "sizeable transactions" in antiquities Stern told me in a phone call. Stern's secretary, warned me the address was not for publication and she said Stern used a second gallery when he needed additional space.
So is the appearance of 'Harmon Fine Art' in the Christie's catalogue an alternative to stating 'Leonard Stern'? Was the figure only exhibited with Merrin? (For Stern as a collector see 'Dynasty in Distress', Bloomberg.)

So if Mazur is right, and Leonard N. Stern was the former owner, where did Stern acquire the figure?

And who purchased the figure from Medici?

Christie's would be wise to re-investigate the collecting history of the figure as a matter of urgency. Have they contacted the Italian authorities?


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