Thursday, 22 October 2009

The collecting history of a black-figured stamnos

Next week Bonhams is planning to auction an Attic black-figured stamnos attributed to the Michigan painter (28 October 2009, lot 193; estimate £60,000 - £80,000). The collecting history ("provenance") is provided:
"Acquired at a German [sic.] auction, Kunstwerke der Antike, Münzen und Medaillen A.G., Basel, Auktion 70, November 14th, 1986, lot 203. Formerly ex Ferrucio Bolla Collection, Lugano, 1960s."
There is a little more we can add as the stamnos appears in the database of the Beazley Archive (no. 3886). It was first published in Numismatica e Antichità Classiche, Quaderni Ticinesi 5 (1976), 39, fig. 3 (A). (The journal was founded by Bolla.) There is nothing cited in the Beazley archive to indicate its history between the 1960s and 1976.

The stamnos was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1980. Bolla died in 1984 and the stamnos was sold at Münzen und Medaillen A.G., Basel in 1986. It was then offered for auction at Christie's New York on 7 December 2000 as lot 433 [not 2001 as in the Beazley Archive database]. The estimate was for $100,000 to $150,000 but the stamnos failed to sell [see report].

The stamnos features in an interview with Hicham Aboutaam (June 19, 2009) [see post].The interview, found here, asks about the collecting history:
Interviewer: Where was this stamnos before Phoenix Ancient Art acquired it?

Hicham Aboutaam: The Stamnos was part of the collection of Mr. Ferruccio Bolla, a banker in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland and was published in 1976. We also learned that it was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu, in 1980.
There is no mention of the history of the piece prior to 1976. What is the basis for Bonham's statement ("Formerly ex Ferrucio Bolla Collection, Lugano, 1960s.")?

I emailed Madeleine Perridge in the Antiquities Department at Bonham's and she replied (Wednesday October 21, 2009)
I am afraid that this is the only information that we have concerning the provenance.

[The stamnos] was part of the collection of Mr. Ferruccio Bolla, a banker in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland and was indeed published in 1976. But prior to it being in Mr Bolla’s collection, I do not have any more information to give you.
So who supplied the information? Who checked the facts?

The stamnos presently is on offer on-line from for 78,000 euros (or $110,00). The seller is Phoenix Ancient Art. (At today's exchange rate that is the equivalent of £71,000, the mid-point of Bonham's estimate.)

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Marc Fehlmann said...

Dear David

The stamnos has been published by Dr. Cornelia Isler-Kerenyi who together with her husband Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Isler has always been a staunch advocate for strong ethical standards in archaeology, and who is personally well known to me. She has been the President of the Swiss Commission for UNESCO’s Division of Culture for many years, and she promoted the Swiss Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (CPTA). This regulation implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention into Swiss domestic law and regulates the import of cultural property into Switzerland, its transit and export and its repatriation from Switzerland as well as measures against illicit transfer.

Ferruccio Bolla (1911-1984) was a member of the Ticino Appeal Tribunal, was a deputy judge at the Federal Tribunal and held several key positions in Swiss politics: between 1971 and 1972, he was President of the Swiss Council of States and from 1963 to 1966, President of the Foreign Affairs Commission. Having had a strong interest in history and archaeology, he was head of the Ticino section of the Swiss artistic and historic buildings association and founded the journal Numismatica e Antichità Classiche - Quaderni Ticinesi.

As collector of classical art he was part of the generation of Robert Käppeli (1900-2000), Giovanni Züst (1887-1976), Josef Müller (1887-1977) and Samuel Schweizer (1903-1977), all distinguished figures in Swiss public life who had started to collect already before or shortly after WWII. Bolla owned many pieces that had belonged to earlier well-known collections, and even if this particular stamnos has not been published prior to 1970, one can in my opinion assume with common sense that this piece was in the Bolla-collection prior to that date. Dr. Isler-Kerenyi would never have published a piece that obviously originated from a recent clandestine excavation.

Sometimes, one ought to consider the larger picture. What do we gain from ostracizing every object that has no publication record prior to 1970? If we want to clean the market from tainted material, we should still keep in mind that there were many collections that were either not accessible or not published before 1970, even if they existed long before. To mention another example: Josef Müller’s holdings of Swiss art were only published in 1975, and his antiquities were not published before 1991 (by Jean-Louis Zimmermann, and only selected pieces). Hence one should, in my opinion, not stigmatize every piece on the open art market that has not been published before 1970, and surely not this particular stamnos from the Bolla collection.


David Gill said...

What is the evidence that this piece was known prior to 1970? What is the basis of the statement made by Bonhams?

David Gill said...

For a snapshot of Switzerland's less than honourable place in the movement of a recently surfaced antiquities see here.

This is why we need the collecting history of the stamnos to be confirmed.

Marc Fehlmann said...

I would say that one would have to ask again Bonham's about the statement in their catalogue. One could also ask Ferrucio Bolla's children or grandchildren - if they remember, or Dr. Isler-Kerenyi.

I absolutely agree with you that there are ugly, damaging and upsetting cases in the antiquities market, but I also believe that it is not helping the situation to throw all archaeological material without publication record prior to 1970 into the same pot. The Becchina- and Medici-cases to which you refer are clearly of a different kind than the Bolla-collection, because the latter was formed at a time when collecting antiquities with or without provenance was not questioned at all. It was like hunting elephants and tigers. Fortunately we have moved on from there. Hence I personally prefer to find a pragmatic – less orthodox – approach in such situations. With the Bolla-stamnos, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to its early history unless I personally happen to see a good reason not to. The late publication date is in my opinion not good enough. You might remember that Sir John Boardman’s CVA of the Castle Ashby collection was only published in 1979 … and even the AIA implemented its code of ethics which asks members not to publish undocumented antiquities, i. e. antiquities "which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970" as late as 1990.

I would be curious to know where you get the facts that would lead you to the conclusion, that the Bolla stamnos was looted after 1970.



David Gill said...

The stamnos sold for £72,000.

David Gill said...

The Herculaneum Victoria is reported to have passed through the Bolla collection presumably after June 1975 when it was removed from the archaeological store.

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