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Cycladic at Auction: the Ascona Link

There is a growing emphasis in the antiquities market on objects that have a good history. (Please can we stop using the misleading term "provenance"?) Objects that have a record prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention can now claim much higher prices.

The IHT ("Antiquities sales in New York") has noted:
... at Sotheby's, bidders were even more willing to pay enormous prices for desirable antiquities that could irrefutably be proved to have reached the West well before 1970.
(I presume that "the West" means the land mass to the west of the Atlantic ...)

Among the antiquities sold at Sotheby's in this category was a male Cycladic figure (June 5, 2008, lot 13) that fetched US$1,314,500 (though less than the upper estimate of US$1.8 million). The catalogue provides the early history for the piece. It was apparently residing in an unnamed German private collection in the late 1960s, and was acquired from that source by Dr. Wladimir Rosenbaum, Galleria Casa Serodine, Ascona. The catalogue helpfully adds:
Before becoming an art dealer in Ascona, Wladimir Rosenbaum (1894-1984) was a successful Zurich lawyer close to Carl Jung, Robert Musil, and avant-garde artistic circles, including the Dadaists. For a biographical account focusing on the period of his first marriage see Peter Kamber, Geschichte zweier Leben. Wladimir Rosenbaum und Aline Valangin, Zurich, 1990.
The present vendor ("European Private Collection") purchased the figure from the gallery in 1972 or 1973. The first recorded publication was in the Karlsruhe exhibition (1975), Kunst und Kultur der Kykladeninseln im 3. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (Art and Culture of the Cyclades, 1977), no. 72:
Male (?) idol with hands meeting against the stomach.
The Karlsruhe catalogue recorded the "provenance" (i.e. find-spot) as "unknown" and stated that the figure was residing in a West German Private Collection.

The statue was illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Pat Getz-Preziosi, Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections (Richmond, Virginia, 1987) p. 53, fig. 24b. There it is recorded as being "in Lugano, Paolo Morigi Collection".

Pat Getz-Preziosi (Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture [Madison, Wisconsin, 2001] p. 132, nn. 14 and 15, and p. 134, n. 43) provides further information. The male figure sold at Sotheby's was "from the same source" as Karlsruhe no. 79 ("Male figure with pilos, hands against the chest"; Ascona, Galleria Casa Serodine; subsequently "Lugano, Adriano, Ribolzi Collection). She continued both were "possibly from the same cemetery" as a piece in the Harmon Collection (pl. 5a).

The Sotheby's catalogue entry appears to be full and even mentions where the piece has been cited in article and book footnotes, for example:
Pat Getz-Preziosi, "The Male Figure in Early Cycladic Sculpture," Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 15, 1980, p. 31, no. 4, figs. 1.4 and 4-5
P. Sotirakopoulou, "The Early Bronze Age Stone Figurines from Akrotiri on Thera and Their Significance for the Early Bronze Age Settlement," Annual of the British School at Athens, vol. 93, 1998, p. 133, note 153
Gail L. Hoffman, "Painted Ladies: Early Cycladic II Mourning Figures?," American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 106/4, 2002, p. 527, note 17 [JSTOR]
However it is surprising to find no mention of the reference to the this male figure in D.W.J. Gill and C. Chippindale, "Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures", American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993) pp. 601-59 [JSTOR]. The figure is listed on p. 618, Table 7, "Standing Male Figures and Warrior Figures"; it is the very first piece. We also noted (p. 619) that of the seven male Plastiras type male figures, four had no find-spots, two were said to come from Amorgos, and one said to come from Antiparos. We also raised the possibility of modern creation for some of the male pieces. Why did Sotheby's fail to cite our article? Was the cataloguer unaware of it? (I suspect not.) Did the article draw attention to issues about collecting Cycladic figures that were unacceptable to the auction-house?

The figure is now sold. It was first recorded in 1975 (and said to have been purchased in 1972 or 1973). Was it known for certain before 1970? If Getz-Gentle is correct about it coming from the same cemetery as the second piece sold by the same Galleria Casa Serodine, when were they removed from their graves in the Cyclades? Who provided this information ("I was told") to Getz-Gentle? Was it Dr Wladimir Rosenbaum? How did he know? Did both male figures reside in the unnamed German private collection in the 1960s? Did the German private collection exist?

This male figure is a good reminder of the continuing material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cycladic figures.

Sotheby's (New York), June 5, 2008, lot 13.


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