At the beginning of 2013 I made a number of predictions. I drew attention to Cambodian antiquities and we have seen items returned. Sotheby's has also agreed to return a piece that had been due to be auctioned.
The two December sales at Sotheby's and Christie's in New York are now complete. This allows me to review the sale of antiquities for 2013. Overall the two auction-houses have sold $32.6 million worth of antiquities in NYC this year, down from $35.6 million last year. Indeed this is the third consecutive fall from $133.8 million in 2010, and $62.4 million in 2011. Indeed 2013 is comparable with 2004 ($32.5 million).
This means that over half a billion dollars worth of antiquities have been sold at the two auction-houses in NYC since 1999, with Sotheby's well ahead of Christie's by some $142 million.
Fabio Isman has a piece on the Medici and Symes pieces surfacing on the New York market ("Pezzi di Medici e Symes all’asta: fino a quando?", Artemagazine December 2013). This draws on the identifications made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. It also has the images of one of the objects in the Swiss Gallery.
The piece is a reminder that auction-houses need to undertake a more rigorous due diligence process to prevent these toxic antiquities from appearing at the sales.
I have been looking at the median value of Egyptian lots sold at Sotheby's New York from 1998 to 2013. The December median value has had a steady increase from $3,737 to $27,500. The contrast is with the June sales that have risen from $2,875 to $13,750.
Over a year ago LM discussed the Khmer statue that was being offered by Sotheby's. It appears that the collecting history for the piece was not as straightforward as it first seemed. My view was Sotheby's would wish to distance the auction-house from any notion of wrong-doing given the damaging impact of the Medici Conspiracy. It has now been announced that Sotheby's will be returning the disputed statue to Cambodia (Tom Mashbery and Ralph Blumenthal, "Disputed Statue to Be Returned to Cambodia", New York Times December 12, 2013).
The accord ends a long bare-knuckled court battle over the Khmer treasure, a 10th-century statue valued at more than $2 million. The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days.
At the same time, lawyers from the United Stat…
I have been plotting the sale of antiquities on the New York market for some years. Today's sale at Sotheby's New York shows that the two June and December auctions this year netted over $20 million, of which $6.8 million was represented by Egyptian material (34%).
Since 1998 some $77 million worth of Egyptian antiquities have been sold by Sotheby's New York, representing 20% of the value of the sales. Just over 61% of the lots in this period appear to have surfaced since 1973, a downward trend suggesting that Sotheby's is more cautious of objects that do not have a documented collecting history that can be traced back.
Following the identification of a Pan in the Medici Dossier, Sotheby's New York withdrew the lot from the sale. Such responsible behaviour reflects the seriousness that the auction-house takes over the due diligence process.
The Hermes-Thoth that had once been handled by Robin Symes sold for $4,645,000 (estimate: $2.5 - $3.5 million).
Last week Dr Christos Tsirogiannis identified the Medici Pan that is due to be auctioned in New York later this week. Tsirogiannis has now identified a terracotta Pan from the Schinousa archive that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (December 13, 2013, lot 114, estimate $8000 - $12000).
Christie's have offered the following collecting history:
with Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York, 1968. Private Collection, New York, 1968-2011.
So when was the Pan in the possession of Robin Symes? What is the identity of the private collection? Is the collecting history presented by Christie's robust? What authenticated documentation was supplied to Christie's?
The Edward H. Merrin Gallery has been linked to the bronze Zeus returned to Italy, material in the collection of Dr Elie Borowski, as well as the marble Castor and Pollux on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
DCMS and English Heritage have published the consultation document, 'English Heritage New Model', today, December 76, 2013. Only yesterday the Heritage Alliance AGM was discussing the not-yet-published consultation document.
I am sure that readers of LM will be interested in the document and no doubt will wish to respond to the DCMS.
Sotheby's New York are due to auction a giallo antico marble bust of Pan next week (December 12, 2013, lot 51). The estimate is $10,000-$15,000. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out to me that a polaroid image of the sculpture was found on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici. The image is stapled to a form for the Hydra Galerie, an outlet linked to Medici (and see also here).
Sotheby's provide the Pan with the following collecting history: "French private collection, Fontainebleau, acquired circa 1975".
What is the identity of the anonymous French collection? What does the association with Hydra Galerie imply?
I am grateful to my Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for pointing out that the head of Hermes-Thoth due to be auctioned at Sotheby's New York next week had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes (December 12, 2013, lot 39). The estimate is $2.5-3.5 million.
Sotheby's note the association with Symes and suggest that it had once been in the possession of Douglas H. Fisher in London during the 1950s and 1960s. The basis for this information is not indicated.
The head ("The Hermes of Hermoupolis") was on offer from Albrecht Neuhaus, Würzburg, in 1970 (see Burlington Magazine 112 [May 1970] p. lxxv [JSTOR]).
Robert Steven Bianchi notes the head in an unnamed collection in 2007 (Robert Steven Bianchi, “The Nahman Alexander,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 43, 2007, 29 n. 6 [academia.edu]).
Colour images of the head feature in the Schinousa archive where they were identified by Tsirogiannis.
Cambridge University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another ancient object from the Medici dossier. He has identified a Gnathian askos acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1980 from images seized in the Geneva Freeport. The item was derived from Fritz Bürki whose name is associated with many of the returns from North American collections to Italy.
According to AAMD Guidelines the curatorial staff at VMFA will need to contact the Italian authorities.
Tsirogiannis, C. 2013. "Nekyia. From Apulia to Virginia: an Apulian Gnathia askos at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts." Journal of Art Crime 10: 81-86.
The latest number of the Journal of Art Crime has appeared. This contains my essay on the so-called Cleveland Apollo.
"The exhibition of the Cleveland Apollo and the thinking behind the publication of Bennett’s book reveal what Roger Bland of the British Museum once described (in a review of James Cuno’s work) as “an example of US cultural imperialism at its worst”. Bennett has reignited the debate and prepared the way for a full and balanced discussion of the so-called Cleveland Apollo at some future managed event at the Cleveland Museum of Art."Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75.