Monday, April 11, 2016

Surfacing Antiquities in New York: Becchina and Medici

Hydria from Medici Dossier. Courtesy: Christos Tsirogiannis.
The present due diligence process adopted by some auction houses is not fit for purpose. I made this point at a recent meeting of the All Party Committee on Cultural Heritage.

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has now identified three pieces due to be auctioned at Christie's New York tomorrow (12 April 2016). The fact that part of the collecting histories have not been included in the details suggests that either the auction house had not been diligent in establishing the collecting history (inappropriately called "provenance") or that this information had been inappropriately stated (and that the due diligence search had not picked up the discrepancy).

The three pieces are as follows:

Image from the Becchina archive.
Source: Christos Tsirogannis.
1. A Roman stone mosaic panel (lot 9). Estimate: $200,000-$300,000. 'Property from an important European collection'. Collecting history: Private Collection, U.S.;  an American Private Collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1998, lot 182; with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, acquired from the above; Acquired by the current owner from the above, 2000.

Tsirogiannis has identified that the mosaic appears to feature on an Ariadne Galleries leaflet that forms part of the Becchina archive.

We should recall that the association between Becchina and Ariadne Galleries has been noted elsewhere. (And the Ariande Galleries are linked to the unreturned Icklingham Bronzes.)

Christie's needs to disclose where the Ariadne Galleries fit into the collecting history. Are they represented by the US Private collection? Was the mosaic consigned by Becchina? What was Becchina's source?

2. South Italian black-glossed ('black-glazed') hydria (lot 36). Estimate: $8,000-$12,000. 'Property from the collection of Charles Brickbauer, Baltimore'. Collecting history: Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1987, lot 243; with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York; acquired by the current owner from the above, 1988.

The 1987 Sotheby's London auction should have alerted anybody conducting a due diligence search. Tsirogiannis has identified this hydria from the Medici Dossier. Did Christie's contact the Carabinieri to double check that the hydria did not feature in the photographic archive? And will the Charles Brickbauer collection be returning the hydria?

Janiform here from Becchina archive. Source: Christos Tsirogannis.
3. A Roman marble janiform head (lot 70). Estimate: $40,000-$60,000. 'The Property of a Lady'. Collecting history: Private Collection, New York, Boston and Texas, acquired prior to 1995; thence by descent to the current owner.

Tsirogannis has identified this head showing Zeus Ammon and Alexander the Great from the Becchina archive.

Christie's should have been aware of the issues as they auctioned another janiform head in 2009 that had to be returned to Italy. Again it suggests that the due diligence process lacked the appropriate level of rigour.

Christie's once again has managed to offer objects at auction that should have been picked up in a rigorous due diligence process.

Perhaps members of Christie's staff could learn from a similar case at Bonhams back in 2010, i.e. some six years ago.

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