For some four decades, William D. Walsh browsed auction catalogs in search of the ancient artifacts that would gratify his passion for classical antiquity.
In other words during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and in this decade, Walsh has been buying antiquities at auction. Pogrebin continues:
Mr. Walsh said he acquired every piece at public auctions — not through a private dealer — and therefore hopes that the provenance of his artifacts is clean and accounted for. “I’ve always focused on keeping the auction house between myself and the seller,” he said.
But it is well documented that antiquities have been surfacing through auction houses. Why did one well-known auction house close down its antiquities department in London? Why had some of the antiquities returned from North American museums to Italy passed through established auction houses?
Pogrebin tries to get some balance in his report and quotes Richard Hodges, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology:
It’s a slightly imprudent act on the part of the university [sc. Fordham], because a lot of it is not provenanced ... The message that it sends is there is nothing wrong with looting and buying illegal objects. Fordham needs to be very careful about this.
The collection is described by Jennifer Udell, the curator, as follows:
It spans several periods, Mycenaean, Villanovan, Classical Greece, Geometrical, Archaic Roman, Imperial Roman, Republican, Etruscan, South Italian.”
The press release highlights the following:
- a bronze bust of Roman emperor Caracalla of the Severan Dynasty, circa 200
- several large ceramic vessels from the ancient Etruscans, whose culture flourished in central Italy in the centuries before the rise of the Roman Empire;
- a nickel-size Athenian silver coin, with an owl insignia, dating from the 5th or 6th century B.C.;
- an 8-foot high male funerary statue from Rome, circa 10 A.D.;
- a marble bust of Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first emperor of Rome.
It will be interesting to see the sources and histories of the pieces in due course.
Hodges sounds a bit jealous and appears more than a bit deceitful in the way he goes about planting doubts about objects that have been generally known about and in public view for a very long time. Interesting he didn't mention anything about that fact.
Hodges is quoted as saying "Fordham needs to be very careful about this". Care is indeed the watchword. The recent returns to Italy from Boston, Malibu, New York and Princeton - and indeed from Jerome Eisenberg - show that items acquired during the 1970s had apparently been removed from Italy illegally. We need to ask about the sources for antiquities that surface on the market without previous histories.
History teaches us that care is needed. And that is why there needs to be further information supplied about these newly displayed pieces.
See Richard Lacayo, "Undocumented Immigrants?", http://time-blog.com/looking_around/2007/12/sign_of_the_times.html.
In particular, "But when he [sc. Walsh] tells the Times that he hopes his collection is sufficiently documented because it was all acquired through auction, not private dealers, he may be putting too much faith in how energetically the auction houses vetted their consignments in the days not so long ago when buyers and sellers were less sensitive to the issue of illegal exports."
Udell is now quoted as saying:
Not that she would be pleased to see anything go. "If the carabinieri called me and said, 'We want the volute krater by the Virginia Exhibition Painter back,' it would suck," she said, referring to one of the collection's prized objects. "But you've got to be open about this, especially about objects that were collected [before the standards were agreed upon]. I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would be a lot happier doing the right thing, [which is] the legal thing."
Kate Taylor, "Fordham Opens Museum of Classical Art", New York Sun, December 6, 2007
For details of official opening and photographs see here.
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