Thursday, 21 August 2008

"Elvis" and the Graham Geddes Collection

The news that the Roman "Elvis" sarcophagus fragment was to be sold at Bonhams in London this coming October has generated quite a bit of publicity. But who is the present proprietor?

The press release quotes Chantelle Waddingham (Rountree), Head of Antiquities at Bonhams, who describes Graham Geddes as an Australian "collector and dealer".

A profile of Geddes appeared in 1996 (Zinta Jurjans Heard, "Making history", The Age [Melbourne] April 15, 1996). At that time he was described as having "the largest private antiquities collection in the world". Heard expanded, "he is one of the world's premier antique dealers and one of the world's leading authorities on antiquities, the passion of his life". His main "speciality" was described as "Southern Italian and Greek vases and Greek and Roman sculptures".

His antiquities collection contained "reputedly the largest collection of Southern Italian vases in the world put together by Mr Geddes with Professor A.D. Trendall, an internationally regarded specialist" (Susan McCulloch, "Out with the old for antiquities collector", The Weekend Australian August 10, 1996). (For Trendall see the obituary from the Society of Antiquaries.)

Geddes had dispersed part of his collection before. At the time it was reported (Antonia Williams, "Simply the best; Lots & Lots", Sydney Morning Herald September 19, 1996):
Twenty years ago, Geddes began assembling antiquities with friend and mentor Professor A.D. Trendall and, no hint of tomb robbery here, these objects come wreathed in academic approbation and provenance. Some of the proceeds, seller's and auctioneer's, will be donated to the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe. Christie's expert Christine Insley Jones believes all the heavy collectors will be on the alert, particularly for the Attic red-figure Column Krater c 610 BC [sic.] estimated at $175,000 and climbing.
Geddes has been a benefactor; pieces from his collection have been on loan with university museums and other institutions. Rita Erlich ("For sale, the Geddes collection", The Age October 12, 1996) stressed this point when quoting Geddes:
"I prefer to buy items with provenance," he says. "Most of my vases and pieces of sculpture that I currently have have been in situ in various universities and collections."
It will be interesting to see the catalogue of the 2008 sale in due course.

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