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If leading museums won’t buy these antiquities – why would you? UPDATED with sale results

October 18, 2012

Lot 115 A ROMAN MARBLE RELIEF OF THE THREE GRACES
CIRCA 2ND CENTURY A.D.
The middle figure with weight on right leg, left leg bent at knee with slight twist to her body, her left arm around the waist of the left-hand figure, her right arm slung across the torso of the right-hand figure with her hand resting on her shoulder, the figure on the right with her right arm resting on shoulder of middle figure, the figure on left with her right arm resting on the middle figure’s arm and her left arm around her waist, each figure with tendrils of hair falling onto shoulders, in low relief behind are an oinochoe, altar and low stool with phiale
27 in. (68.6 cm.) high
Estimate: £100,000 – £150,000 ($160,200 – $240,300) HAMMER PRICE  £420,000.
Provenance
Private collection, UK.
with Antonio Otano, Bilbao, Spain, 1981.
Private collection, Spain; thence by descent to the present owner.

Increasingly, major museums are following the American Association of Museum Directors guidelines and are limiting their antiquities acquisitions to those works only with a pre-Nov. 1970 provenance, a date coinciding with of the ratification of a UNESCO accord on cultural property protection (this is not to say that works with a pre-1970 provenance are not subject to repatriation claims because several source countries have laws preventing the export of patrimony that were enacted years and decades prior to the UNESCO action).  This follows years of high profile lawsuits against some of the nation’s leading institutions that resulted in the repatriation of looted antiquities (along with pending litigation and threats of litigation).

Moreover, as the New York Times reports, collectors are having a harder time disposing of works – either through sale or donation – of non pre-1970 works:

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, is … [a]n antiquities collector … eager to sell an Egyptian sarcophagus he bought from Sotheby’s in the early 1990s. But he is stymied, he said, because auction houses are applying tighter policies to the items they accept for consignment.

So, why would a collector consider purchasing any of the four items illustrated in this post from the Christie’s September 25, 2012 Antiquities sale in London?  None of them, and dozens more, has a verifiable pre-1970 provenance (according to the auction catalogue).

Lot 71. AN EGYPTIAN BRONZE AND GILT WOOD IBIS
LATE PERIOD TO PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, CIRCA 664-30 B.C.
Striding forward with left leg advanced, with incised details of the scales along the legs and the joints of the feet, the S-shaped neck and long bill curved, the round eyes inlaid with glass, bulging beneath ridged brows, the wood body gilt, the bronze tail with incised feather detail
13 in. (33 cm.) high
Estimate: £40,000 – £60,000 ($64,080 – $96,120) HAMMER PRICE  £85,000.
Provenance
Private collection, France; acquired on the Paris art market prior to 1982, and thence by descent to the present owner.

Lot 94. AN ATTIC BLACK-FIGURED COLUMN KRATER
IN THE MANNER OF THE PAINTER OF LOUVRE F 6, CIRCA MID-6TH CENTURY B.C.
The obverse centred with Herakles striding to right, left leg advanced, right arm raised above head holding club, wearing tunic with incised borders, belt slung diagonally across chest, left hand gripping the right wrist of the bearded centaur Nessos who turns back to face the hero, arms reaching out in a gesture of supplication, forelegs bent beneath body, flanked to the left by a standing draped female, draped male, perhaps Iolaos, and sphinx with long curling tail and head-feather, and to the right by standing draped female with incised decoration on border of himation and dotted detail on drapery, and a similar sphinx, rosettes in the field; the reverse with siren in profile to right with wings upraised between two confronting panthers with curling tails, rosettes in the field; swans in profile beneath handles, a bearded male head on handle-plates, the rim with diagonal wavy lines, alternate black and red tongues on shoulders, band of black beneath upper register with red border, rays above foot, details in added red
16¾ in. (42.5 cm.) high, 22 in. (56 cm.) diam. incl. handle-plates
Estimate: £40,000 – £50,000 ($64,080 – $80,100) THIS LOT FAILED TO SELL
Provenance
Private collection, Switzerland, prior to 1972; thence by descent.

Lot 117. TWO ROMAN BRONZE ATTACHMENTS
CIRCA 1ST-2ND CENTURY A.D.
Both in the form of a hunting pantheress, leaping forward with mouth agape revealing lolling tongue and sharp fangs, with pointed ears and whiskers, heavy teats, and upwards-curled tail, powerful leg and chest muscles clearly delineated, with incised markings to indicate coat, one with single incised line showing spine, the other with double incised line, both with forelegs resting on a socket in the form of an antelope head with long twisted horns, integral attachment plate beneath hindlegs
16¼ in. (41 cm.) long max. (2)
Estimate: £100,000 – £150,000 ($160,200 – $240,300) BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT  £65,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.
Provenance
Private collection G. O., London, 1990s.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 22, 2012 11:26 AM

    The answer to the question should be obvious: either I just think the pieces are beautiful and want to keep them forever, not buy them with an eye to selling or donating; or, I do not care whether museums will buy them because a) I think there may be museums in other countries that will buy them; b) I plan to sell them not to museums but to another collector. The notion that a clean-hands policy on the part of (some) museums is enough to shut down the market for dodgy antiquities is Pollyannaish.

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