The press release for the sale of antiquities at Bonhams in April 2010 reminded us of some "interesting" provenances. One that caught my eye was linked to lot 139, "A Roman marble figure of a barbarian water carrier". The provenance is given as "Ex European private collection. Subsequently part of an Australian collection acquired in the 1960s." It was then "On loan to La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia 1981-86."
La Trobe University has featured as a venue for previous antiquities offered by Bonhams. For example, an Attic bell-krater offered in April 2009. It had, in fact, been part of the Graham Geddes collection and had been left unsold in the October 2008 sale at Bonhams. Indeed several pieces from the Geddes collection are known to have been on loan to La Trobe (including a Lucanian nestoris subsequently acquired by Boston's Museum of Fine Art and returned to Italy).
At the end of March I contacted a senior academic at La Trobe University to discover more about the piece. This is the reply: "I don't recall any such sculpture on loan to La Trobe".
Can we be certain that the water carrier was indeed on loan to La Trobe? And if this information is questionable, what do we make of it being in an Australian private collection in the 1960s? Did the staff at Bonhams check the information or did they take it "on trust"? What was their due diligence process? (And remember their track record.)
There are echoes of the Australian sea-farer who consigned part of the tomb of Mutiridis to Bonhams for the sale of antiquities in May 2008.
The staff at Bonhams should be starting to double-check the collecting history for the water carrier as a matter of urgency. And what is the name of the anonymous Australian private collector who has consigned it?
Detail from Bonhams, lot 139.