Thursday 30 April 2009

Bonhams: Response to April Sale

Chantelle Rountree, the head of Antiquities at Bonhams, has been speaking about this week's sale ("Bonhams: Antiquities turn in sprightly performance with £1.5m sale at Bonhams As Tarzan Adds Strength", M2 PressWIRE April 30, 2009 Thursday):
"This sale shows that if you offer items of real interest with good provenance the market remains strong despite the general economic gloom. Collectors who are passionate about their subject know that items of this kind come along rarely."
The sale is reported to have raised £1.5 million. High prices included:
  • lot 30: A Hellenistic terracotta funerary wall painting, £132,000
  • lot 32: A Roman marble male torso, £93,600
  • lot 54: A Roman mosaic panel, £168,000

For lots that had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes and Graham Geddes see my earlier comments.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Ex Symes Bronze Sold at Bonhams

A Greek Daedalic bronze figure that had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes has been sold at Bonhams (London) for £9000 (lot 10). It is still not clear why Bonhams failed to declare this important part of the collecting history.

Other lots that have received comment here:
Another related lot that interested me:
  • lot 37: Roman sarcophagus from the Graham Geddes collection, £4080

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Whose Culture?: Reprint Articles

Whose Culture? has now arrived. Four of the nine main essays have appeared elsewhere:
  • Sir John Boardman, "Archaeologists, collectors and museums" = E. Robson, L. Tradwell & C. Gosden (eds.), Who Owns Objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts. Oxford: Oxbow, 2006. [revised and abridged] [see my 2007 comments] [see also D.W.J. Gill, review in Journal of Field Archaeology 32.1 (2007) 103-06.]
  • Kwame Antony Appiah, "Whose culture is it?" = "Whose culture is is, anyway?", New York Review of Books 53, 2 (February 9, 2006) [online] = chapter in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. [see my 2008 comments]
  • Derek Gillman, "Heritage and national treasures" = chapter in The Idea of Cultural Heritage. Leicester: Institute of Art and Law, University of Leicester, 2006.
  • John Henry Merryman, "The nation and the object" = International Journal of Cultural Property 3 (1994) 61-76. [Note not vol. 4 (1995) as cited in the bibliography and in the acknowledgments]

A Collector on CPAC: Looking Back

Papers filed by the ACCG and its supporting bodies in a FOIA request served on the US State Department include a declaration by Jay Kislak.

It is worth remembering Kislak's comments about CPAC in a report from the New York Times (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", April 8, 2007 Sunday).
But the committee's current chairman, Jay Kislak, a real estate magnate and collector of pre-Colombian artifacts, bristles at the secrecy under which the State Department has the panel work.

''In my opinion the restrictions, regulations and lack of transparency under which we are asked to operate in pursuing our duties at C.P.A.C. are to say the least unusual, and in many cases they are unbearable, immoral and maybe either extra-legal or in contradiction'' of the law, he said.
Is it usual, tolerable, moral and legal (and not forgetting ethical) to acquire recently-surfaced archaeological objects (including coins) that have no recorded collecting history prior to 1970?

"Outdated and largely rejected practices"

Jenifer Neils, who has written on the Parthenon, is well placed to review James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? (American Scientist April 29, 2009) [review with Swharon Waxman's Loot]. Cuno does not seem to get the message being sent to him from the reviews -- and Neils puts it well:
Although [Cuno] strives to be ecumenical, pulling his examples from China, Nigeria, Turkey and Italy, his arguments are one-sided and hence surprisingly narrow. He supports the now outdated and largely rejected practices of museums that acquire antiquities without documented provenance. And he utterly fails to provide any other perspectives, especially those of archaeologists.

She concludes:
Cuno is a museum director whose writ is clearly to defend the acquisition practices of the major western museums in light of increasing pressure to refrain from purchasing objects of dubious or no provenance. The public might be better served by less atavistic museum professionals, ones who could address our changing times and evolving ethical standards and offer creative solutions for the enjoyment of our collective past.
I hope that Cuno's voice in Whose Culture? has been toned down ...

Monday 27 April 2009

Antiquities as Investments: A Word of Caution

One thing is clear from the return of antiquities to Italy and Greece: the same names pop up time and time again. And those in the know are wise enough to avoid antiquities that once passed through, say, the hands of certain dealers or the halls of certain auction houses.

Who wants to buy an antiquity only to find that it features in one of the thousands of images forming part of the archives in the hands of the Italian and Greek governments? Imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars, pounds or euros to buy a piece of ancient art only to find that it has a more than interesting collecting history. (And who in this time of global financial uncertainty can afford to make that sort of mistake?)

Time and again we have read that museums and private collectors have bought "in good faith" - they never meant to buy looted objects.

That is why auction-houses, for example, need to provide the full collecting histories for objects. It is not enough to check datasets for stolen objects - the staff need to undertake some rigorous checks of their own and then make their findings public. That is what due diligence is all about.

Cyprus and the Coin Collectors: Yet Another Round

In February 2008 I posted an update about the FOIA request served on the US State Department by:
The IAPN and PNG are so interested in this action that they have yet to issue a statement in the press sections of their websites.

But now there is movement ... Peter Tompa has posted a development on the ACCG website:
In papers filed by attorney Scott A. Hodes on April 24, 2009 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the numismatic groups have argued that the State Department has wrongfully claimed such information to be “secret.” Past Cultural Property Advisory Committee Chairman, Jay Kislak, has added weight to the numismatic groups’ position. In a declaration filed with the Court, Mr. Kislak indicates that greater transparency is necessary to allow museums and members of the public to make informed presentations to CPAC. He has also stated that official State Department documentation falsely suggests that CPAC agreed with the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type.

Tompa senses that there has been an attempt to hide information:
one heavily redacted document appears to confirm back channel coordination between the archaeological community and the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center over extending Cypriot import restrictions to include coins
We continue to wait ... Tompa suggests another six months ... perhaps in time for Thanksgiving?

Saturday 25 April 2009

MacGregor and Cuno: a conversation about the encyclopedic museum

James Cuno and Neil MacGregor can be seen discussing the benefits of the encyclopedic (or universal) museum (April 19, 2009). MacGregor emphasises 'world culture' and the way that the British Museum is loaning material to China and countries in Africa. Their conversation touches on the issue of imperialism.

Friday 24 April 2009

Bulgaria: Late Antique Sculpture Recovered

An antiquities gang operating at Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria has been apprehended ("Bulgaria Police Seizes Priceless Find from Illegal Treasure-Hunters", Sofia News Agency April 24, 2009).

A Late antique marble statue of a woman was recovered.
The group dealt with illegal archaeological excavations and trade of objects with cultural and historical value.

Stewardship for the World's Antiquities?

Hugh Eakin has written a thoughtful response to James Cuno's two new books, Who Owns Antiquity? and Whose Culture?, in the New York Review of Books ("Who Should Own the World's Antiquities?", 56, 8, May 14, 2009). Eakin maps out the changes that have taken place since the 2002 "Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums", supported by key North American and European museum directors.

Among the changes have been the return of well over 100 antiquities to Italy from AAMD member institutions, and the Rome trial of a North American curator.

Eakin presents Cuno as out of touch:
And yet, not only does he not share the younger generation's changing attitude toward the antiquities market; he seems in many ways even less accommodating toward foreign governments than the old guard.
Eakin is also critical of the content of Cuno's work:
He also expends little effort confronting unscrupulous behavior by museums that has helped give the recent restitution claims such force.
I am also interested that Eakin detects a move in Cuno's thinking from "ownership" (clearly reflected in the title of the single-authored book) to "stewardship", an emphasis which I have suggested elsewhere is much more in keeping with the position of the archaeological community.

My copy of Whose Culture? is in the post ....

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Cleveland Museum of Art: "convincing evidence of wrongdoing"

Steven Litt has been covering the story surrounding the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art ("Cleveland Museum of Art will return tainted antiquities to Italy Wednesday", The Plain Dealer April 22, 2009). Today's return has been played down by the Museum: there is no press release relating to the return.

Timothy Rub, the museum's director, was quoted by Litt,
"I look upon this as a kind of mechanical thing ... The big news for me was the signing of the agreement."
Litt concludes his report with this:
Rub said the lesson of the negotiations with Italy is that the museum will return objects to foreign countries only in the face of convincing evidence of wrongdoing.
Does this imply that the management team at the Cleveland Museum of Art has accepted that the objects returned to Italy were acquired against a background of "convincing evidence of wrongdoing"?

If that is the case the museum - and Rub in particular - has a responsibility to disclose the collecting histories of the returning pieces.

Litt has earlier suggested that (according to Italian sources) the objects had been acquired from Fritz Bürki, Robert Hecht, Giacomo Medici, and Robin Symes. Is this correct? Do any other pieces in the collection come from the same sources?

Cleveland Museum of Art: Handover

The Cleveland Museum of Art will be handing over 14 antiquities to Italian authorities later today, Wednesday ("Cleveland museum set to return Italian ancient art", The Associated Press State & Local Wire April 22, 2009).
Timothy Rub says the transfer of the art, which includes ancient pieces looted or smuggled out of Italy, will take place Wednesday.
As part of the agreement, Italy has promised to lend 13 objects comparable in quality to the returned antiquities and to cooperate on future exhibitions.
There is nothing about the resolution of the discussions relating to two other pieces, the "Cleveland Apollo" and a bronze Nike (see earlier comments). The museum also needs to disclose the full collecting histories of the returning pieces (see earlier comments).

Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.

Monday 20 April 2009

Bronzes passing through a North American collection

Those who have been following the return of antiquities to Italy will know that two bronzes had apparently once passed through the collection of John Kluge before being sold at Christie's in June 2004.

For one of them see:
Susan Moore ("Market review: Asian art out-performs its estimates, while fine Antique bronzes foretell a return to lucrative form", Apollo 159 no. 159 (July 1, 2004) 76) discussed the sale:
A rather more recent accumulation was also seen at Christie's New York on 8 June--the Morven Collection of Ancient Art, formed by the obviously well-advised financier John Kluge. There were no weak areas here, with high prices achieved for Greek vases, Egyptian pieces and bronzes.
Among the pieces was a Greek daedalic female figure in bronze (lot 379) that sold for $10,755. Its collecting history mentions that it had passed through the hands of "Robin Symes, London" and then the "Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1989 (Gods and Mortals, no. 2)". (It was published in C.C. Vermeule and J.M Eisenberg, Catalogue of the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes in the Collection of John Kluge, New York and Boston, 1992, no. 88-82.)

Some 19 antiquities in the "The Morven Collection of Ancient Art" auction of June 2004 had passed through the hands of Robin Symes:
  • lot 379 Greek bronze female figure, $10,755
  • lot 380 Greek bronze votive, $3585 (previously 'M. Gilet (d. 1973), Lausanne')
  • lot 381 Greek bronze griffin protome, $23,900 (previously Sotheby's, New York, 2-3 December 1982, lot 159)
  • lot 382 Greek bronze griffin protome, $8365
  • lot 384 Greek bronze goat, $11,950
  • lot 385 Greek limestone kouros, $77,675
  • lot 396 Greek bronze Acheloos, $20,315 (previously an American private collection)
  • lot 401 Greek bronze mirror cover, $15,535
  • lot 402 Greek bronze baby Dionysos riding a panther, $8365 (previously French private collection)
  • lot 409 Sardinian bronze boat, $10,755 (previously Sotheby's, New York, 15 June 1988, lot 101)
  • lot 420 Etruscan bronze seated youth, $7768
  • lot 436 Etruscan bronze Aplu (Apollo), $107,550 (previously in an American private collection)
  • lot 438 Etruscan or Italic bronze Nethuns (Neptune), $6573
  • lot 491 Roman bronze youth, $5736
  • lot 524 Roman silver bust of Jupiter, $5975
  • lot 523 Roman bronze bust of Minerva, $53,775
  • lot 529 Bronze tondo bust of a goddess, $47,800 (previously Sotheby's, New York, 20 May 1982, lot 155)
  • lot 534 Roman bronze Alexander the Great as Helios, $31,070
  • lot 553 Egyptian gilt bronze bust of a pharaoh as Osiris, $83,650 (previously French private collection)
Another four were sold on 16 December 2005 ("The John W. Kluge Morven Collection "):
  • lot 418 Greek bronze athlete, $4560
  • lot 419 Etruscan or Italic bronze craftsman, $2040
  • lot 421 Roman bronze roundel, $4200
  • lot 423 Roman bronze dancing maenad, $7200
Now the Greek daedalic female figure (lot 379) is available again at Bonhams (April 29, 2009, lot 10) though without the mention that it had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes.

Is it safer to give an incomplete history than state who had handled the piece? Or was it the mention of Robin Symes that made the October 2008 sale at Bonhams so memorable?

Friday 17 April 2009

Malibu arrival for Pompeii statues

Two bronze statues from Pompeii, an Apollo and an ephebe, have arrived at the J. Paul Getty Museum ("U.S. Getty museum gets first art under Italy deal", Reuters April 15, 2009). This forms part of the loan agreement in the wake of a series of returns to Italy.
"As part of the collaboration agreement between Italy and the Getty, we wanted to contribute to the conservation of these artifacts," said Karol Wight, senior curator of antiquities at the Getty. "Our staff are very good in this area."
Further details, comments and pictures can be found at "Bronze statues of Apollo and the Ephebe", Blogging Pompeii (March 23, 2009); "Getty gets first loans of antiquities from Italy", LA Times Culture Monster April 16, 2009.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Ancient Coin Collecting in North America

Nathan Elkins has published the text of his lecture, "Der Handel mit antiken Münzen in den USA", to the Frankfurter Numismatische Gesellschaft at Frankfurt's Historisches Museum.

Elins writes:
I discussed the many problems with an unregulated and unconcerned market, the distasteful nature of the dialogue that has developed in North America, and the urgent need for thoughtful collectors, archaeologists, and law enforcement to find common ground in the face of organized and unconcerned commercial interests.

This is a welcome addition to the debate about portable archaeological material (or antiquities).

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Spotlight on Amsterdam

After the series of returns to Italy the spotlight is now turned on European collections. Theo Toebosch has considered the series of acquisitions made since 1970 by the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam ('Twijfel over collectie van Allard Pierson', NRC Handelsblad April 3, 2009, p. 8). His opening statement is provocative:
In de collectie van het Allard Pierson Museum zitten zeker vijftien objecten die zeer waarschijnlijk afkomstig zijn uit de illegale handel in oudheden.
What are these 15 objects? A list of the disputed pieces is provided in a box at the end of the article. They include Greek pottery (including two Siana cups), Sicilian terracottas, as well as a terracotta antefix and associated mould. There are some familiar names, dealers and auction-houses: Elie Borowski, Palladion, Robin Symes, and Sotheby's (London) [July 1985]. It would be helpful if the museum could provide complete histories for all the items.

One of the most interesting pieces identified by Toebosch is what appears to be a dismembered Roman mosaic with fragments in at least two other European museums (two are mentioned). The Amsterdam piece was apparently purchased a gallery in Freiburg in 1978. Its style points towards a Syrian origin. Do all the pieces share a common (recent) source?

The usual statements are made. Outgoing director Robert Lunsingh Scheurleer is quoted as saying that the pieces had been purchased in good faith ("de voorwerpen in goed vertrouwen heeft gekocht").

The article coincides with a 75th anniversary exhibition. It is perhaps time to review the acquisition policy of the museum.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Euphronios: study by Vernon Silver

Vernon Silver's new study of the Euphronios cup, The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece, is about to be published by Harper Collins.

Suzan Mazur has commented on some of the detail, Mazur On Euphronios At Harvard Law & Lost Chalice (March 30, 2009).

Preliminary details can be found at
Moving from a Trojan War battlefield to an Athens pottery workshop to an Italian crypt, and involving tomb robbers, smugglers, a Hollywood producer and a Texas billionaire, journalist Vernon Silver tells the true story of the search for a 2,500-year-old chalice missing since 1990 when an anonymous European dealer snatched up the artifact in an auction at Sotheby’s.

The ancient cup’s tale mirrors the life story of a shady contemporary art dealer who made a fortune trading in antiquities, supplying the world’s greatest museums and collectors with artifacts illicitly removed from historical archaeological sites.

The Maserati-driving dealer holds the key to finding and saving the lost cup, but the discovery of the chalice’s fate reveals another riddle - and even greater missing treasure.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Further observations on the return of the fresco fragment from the J. Paul Getty Museum

I have been following the press releases about the return of a further fragment of wall-painting from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy. The link between the two ex-Fleischman pieces (one returned to Italy) and a third piece once in the Shelby White collection is well known and hardly a revelation of the last twelve months.

Maxwell Anderson in the 1994 [emphasis mine] exhibition catalogue, A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Flesichman (The J. Paul Getty Museum in association with The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1994), discusses two of the fragments (nos. 125 and 126).
The upper portion of the fresco [sc. no. 126] matches precisely the upper portion of a fresco section in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection ... and is from the same room, as is catalogue number 125.
In the light of this observation, now some 15 years old, it is hard to understand the comment made yesterday ("US museum to return Roman fresco fragment to Italy", Associated Press Worldstream April 7, 2009):
Rebecca Taylor, a spokeswoman for the J. Paul Getty Trust, said the museum noticed last year that it matched another piece of a wall painting that a private collector was returning to Italy.

Wall fragments to be reunited

The J. Paul Getty Museum has announced that it will be returning a further Roman wall-painting fragment to Italy ("The J. Paul Getty Museum will return a 1st century Roman freso to Italy in May 2009", press release, April 7, 2009). The piece is described as "a landscape scene" and that it was acquired in 1996.

Michael Brand, the director, is quoted:
Our decision to return this fragment is based on a newly published image we saw about a year ago that included another fresco fragment that was being repatriated to Italy by a private collector. This image placed our landscape fresco alongside this newly repatriated fragment ... Seeing these fragments together made it clear that the two were part of the same wall design and belonged together.
I presume that this fragment was one of the Fleischman fragments acquired in 1996 ("Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman"). It is likely that this latest fragment is the one that appeared as A Passion for Antiquities no. 125 ("Fresco Fragment: Vignettes of Cityscape") = inv. no. 96.AG.170 ("Wall Fragment with Landscape Scenes").

This will join two other fragments returned to Italy: one from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the other from the Shelby White collection (see my comments from January 2008 with initial reconstrcution). A fourth fragment was apparently seized from Giacomo Medici in Geneva.

The latest fragment will be returned in May 2009.

The arrangement of the fragments has been created by David Gill and is intended to give an impression of the original design. It is not an accurate reconstruction though the fragments are at the same approximate scale. This was originally created in January 2008.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Third Intermediate Period Coffin Seized in Miami

A Third Intermediate Coffin belonging to the 21st Dynasty Pharaoh Ames has been confiscated in Miami ("Egypt wants a 3,000-year-old coffin back from US", AP March 22, 2009). Zahi Hawass claims that the wooden coffin was removed from Egypt in 1884.

The coffin arrived in the USA from Spain.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Looting Matters On The Buses

Looting Matters has taken out advertising on London buses in a bid to popularise the debate about the antiquities market. This has generated a huge amount of interest.

The initial service is serving Gower Street and the museums in the Bloomsbury area.

"We should give it all back", said Sheila Jones, 52, of Ealing, West London, while waiting for the 29C service.

Martyn Ffewkes-Smith, 26, was even more enthusiastic. "I pulled out my iPhone and looked up the site. I had never really thought about the issues before."

The advertising is being rolled out from the start of April. While "Looting Matters" is unable to comment on the financial backers for the project, the design team at CMH Associates are delighted with the finished campaign.

Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...