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Bonhams: Resurfacing Antiquities

Mark Hughes has written a significant piece on the October sale of antiquities at Bonhams ("Bonhams: Lots of trouble on New Bond Street", The Independent October 27, 2010). The story was broken by Italian journalist Fabio Isman in the Art Newspaper on the eve of the sale. The two lots had reported collecting histories: they are said to have resided in Swiss and European private collections. What is new in the story is that Hughes reveals that Bonhams had been aware of the possible identification of the two pieces well before the sale took place:
"Days before the auction the house received an email from an eminent academic alerting them to the questionable provenance of the lots, but it pressed ahead with the sale."
Bonhams has claimed that it had conducted a search with the Art Loss Register. But Chris Marinello, an executive director of the ALR, has clarified the ALR's position:
The controversy is that the Italian government does not want to release the photographs. I can understand their reticence. The Italians know that there were other looters working with Medici and may want to convict some of them. Those pictures are evidence and they could argue that releasing them could prejudice future proceedings.
Hughes raises an interesting issue:
But while figures in the art world say it is up to the Italian police to release the dossier, some argue that when even the slightest doubt is cast on the provenance of an antiquity, the auction house should remove it.
This report comes in the wake of recent surfacings on the market. The case is a reminder that auction houses need to improve their due diligence procedures.

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