Monday, 23 March 2009

Bonhams: Partial Histories

Bonhams has released details of its April sale of antiquities [April 29, 2009: catalogue]. There seems to be a curious lack of history for some of the pieces. Take lot 17: An Attic red-figure bell krater, "Attributed to the Painter of Montesarchio T.121, circa 4th Century B.C."

The krater originally surfaced at Sotheby's London, May 31st, 1990, lot 376. The entry then tells us that it was "On loan to the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, March 1995 - April 2008." (For a list of other significant pieces displayed at this location.)

However there is no mention that the piece was once owned by Graham Geddes and that it had been left unsold in the Bonhams sale of 15 October 2008, lot 8 [see earlier comment on this sale].

The krater had an original estimate of £10,000 - £15,000. Yet five months later the estimate stands at £5,000 - £7,000.

The key issue for this krater is the identity of the person(s) who consigned it to the Sotheby's sale in 1990.


Wayne G. Sayles said...


What is your point??? The krater did not sell in October 2008, so they reduced the price and offered it again. Undoubtedly, the item had a reserve that mandated an opening bid that nobody was interested in. The fact that it was unsold means nothing except that the asking price was not supportable. I'm sure that you might have noticed that the world of March 2009 is not the same as the world of October 2008, so now there is not only a personal value consideration but a world economic consideration as well.

Is there a law in England that requires that the name of the name of the person that owned it in 1990 must be made public at the sale? I'm a bit baffled as to why you even mention this rather ordinary situation and why you find the lack of a full provenance curious. Many completely licit objects lack full provenance.



David Gill said...


Thank you for your comments. It is interesting to see that you link the reduced price to the global economic downturn - I am not sure that is the only issue at play here.

Transparency lies at the heart of the market: buyers need to be sure that they are not going to buy something that turns out to be controversial.

This is not an 'ordinary situation'. First the object surfaced for the first time at Sotheby's in London. I should not need to rehearse the reasons why this is significant ... but look at the histories of many of the pieces returned to Italy and see the common thread. If you want to know more I suggest you read Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story. This is why the name of the person who originally consigned the piece is so important.

Second, why should Bonhams give the name of Graham Geddes? Buyers need to be aware of the events surrounding the October sale at Bonhams - events reported in The New York Times (see the posting linked from this page).

Thank you for your continuing interest in Looting Matters.

Best wishes


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