Saturday, 16 April 2011

Raising an Eyebrow over an Apulian Fishplate

Apulian fishplate before and after restoration apparently in 1998.
I was very interested in the images of an Apulian fishplate in the files of a Swiss-based dealer. The fishplate is shown before and after restoration. There is clearly damage on the face of the striped perch, on the body of the bream, and next to one of the scollops. There are small details to notice like the comma-shaped patch in the central recess for the fish sauce.

The fishplate was apparently restored soon after March 14, 1998 (and apparently before February 10, 1999).

It is remarkable that this fishplate appears to be the same one, attributed to the Eyebrow painter, that was sold at Christie's for £3750 earlier this week (April 14, 2011, lot 242). The Christie's fishplate has a declared collecting history:
With Eduard Burkhard, Basle, 1976.
Walsch Collection, Germany.
I presume that Eduard Burkhard is the same as Eduard Burkhardt Antiken of Basle.

And this raises a question. Who consigned the fishplate for restoration?

Did Eduard Burkhardt Antiken send it for repair 22 years after acquiring it? Or was it when it was in the Walsch collection in Germany? But then why would the fishplate appear in the file of another Swiss-based dealer who is unmentioned in the Christie's collecting history? Indeed, why should this additional dealer note the apparent price of the fishplate (70 Swiss Francs)?

The fishplate was one of three pieces from the Walsch collection that were sold at Christie's this week. The other two are:

  • Lot 221 An Attic black-figured neck-amphora, attributed to the Dot Band class. £7500. Previous collecting history: "With Maxburg Galerie Antiken, Munich, Germany, 1970."
  • Lot 243 Apulian red-figured askos attributed to the White Sakkos group. £11,875. Previous collecting history: "With Eduard Burkhand, Basle, Switzerland, 1977."

Did the staff at Christie's conduct a rigorous due diligence search on the fishplate? Was there a documented (and authenticated) collecting history?

Interestingly I have noted that objects that passed through the hands of the same Swiss dealer have been provided with creative collecting histories. And this raises a further serious point. Are the collecting histories as stated in the sale catalogue entries accurate? Are they no more than reported "provenances"? How do such creative collecting histories corrupt the corpus of knowledge?

Did Christie's check with the Italian authorities as part of their "incredibly thorough" due dilgence process? If not, why not? (And Christie's were aware of concerns prior to the sale.)

And if Christie's due diligence is so thorough, why did nobody spot that that two adjacent lots apparently from the same German collection have similar but not the same [note spelling] collecting histories? ("With Eduard Burkhard, Basle, 1976"; "With Eduard Burkhand, Basle, Switzerland, 1977"). [See also a Roman bronze jug apparently from this same source - "ex. Swiss private Collection, acquired from Eduard Burkhardt Antiken, Basel, 1970" - that passed through Medusa Ancient Art.]

All this suggests that staff at auction houses need to improve and strengthen their procedures. Failure do so will see toxic antiquities undermining confidence in the market.

I am grateful to Christos Tsirogiannis for his contribution to this identification.

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