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Upcoming sale of Cambodian Antiquities with Shaky or Non-Existent Provenance – UPDATED

April 25, 2012

Lot 522, Provenance: ??
A FINE SANDSTONE HEAD OF A MALE DEITY. Khmer, Pre Rup style, 10th c.
Height 35 cm.
Estimate: CHF 20 000.- / 30 000.- (€ 16 670.- / 25 000.-)

UPDATE – The online auction catalogue for this sale has the same result for all of the lots in this article: “Unsold / no responsibility is taken for the correctness of this information.”  It’s unclear whether these lots failed to sell or if they were withdrawn from sale.

The May sales of Asian art and antiquities at Galerie Koller in Zurich include a selection of Cambodian antiquities that have shaky or non-existent provenance (i.e., history of ownership).  Given the ongoing tussle over the disposition of a possibly looted Khmer statue currently with Sotheby’s, why would an auction house offer up works for which there is no clear provenance?  On pages 188-193 of the auction catalogue there are several items, including a beautiful bust (Lot 522, above) that should have the auction house and potential buyer’s very concerned.  Five lots have no provenance whatsoever, four have the nebulous provenance “Swiss private collection” (the Swiss Freeport system has too often been abused as a method for laundering the provenance of antiquities), and two are listed as having been purchased in the mid to late 1980s, before Cambodia’s 1993 law nationalizing its cultural heritage, but well after the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted in November 1970.  As the New York Times reported, ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ The International Council of Museums (ICOM) Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk warns specifically about the types of work Koller is offering.

To be fair, there could be good, clear title to all of these items that includes documented provenance demonstrating their original export from Cambodia was legally done.

Since most of these works don’t have anything near that (at least not published in the catalogue), potential buyers should avoid them.

Lot 523, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
A GENTLE SANDSTONE HEAD OF AVALOKITESHVARA.
Khmer, Bayon, 13th c. Height 27 cm. Wood stand.
Estimate: CHF 9 000.- / 12 000.- (€ 7 500.- / 10 000.-)

Lot 524, Provenance: Purchased at „Au Vieux Venise“, Paris, 1989 (invoice available).
A SANDSTONE HEAD OF VISHNU. Khmer, pre-Angkor, 7th/8th c. Height 24.5 cm. Probably slightly retouched.
Estimate: CHF 10 000.- / 15 000.- (€ 8 330.- / 12 500.-)

Lot 525, Provenance: ??
A GREY SANDSTONE FRAGMENT OF A MALE DEITY.
Khmer, 11th/12th c. Height 36 cm.
Estimate: CHF 6 000.- / 8 000.- (€ 5 000.- / 6 670.-)

Lot 526, Provenance: ??
A GREY SANDSTONE SHIVA LINGAM. Khmer, Angkor Wat style, 12th c. Height 44.5 cm.
Estimate: CHF 6 000.- / 9 000.- (€ 5 000.- / 7 500.-)

Lot 527, Provenance: ??
A SANDSTONE TORSO OF A MALE DEITY. Khmer, Angkor Wat, 12th c. Height 46.5 cm. Stand.
Estimate: CHF 5 000.- / 8 000.- (€ 4 170.- / 6 670.-)

Lot 528, Provenance: ??
A BRONZE FIGURE OF BUDDHA MUCHALINDA. Khmer/ Lopburi, 13th c. Height 24 cm.
Estimate: CHF 2 000.- / 3 000.- (€ 1 670.- / 2 500.-)

Lot 529, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
A FINE BRONZE FIGURE OF PRAJNAPARAMITA. Khmer, 12th/13th c. Height 17 cm.
Estimate: CHF 4 000.- / 6 000.- (€ 3 330.- / 5 000.-)
530

Lot 531, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
A BRONZE STANDING FIGURE OF BUDDHA. Khmer, Lopburi, 13th c. Height 20.5 cm.
Estimate: CHF 4 000.- / 6 000.- (€ 3 330.- / 5 000.-)

Lot 530, Provenance: Swiss private collection, purchased in Chiangmai 1986.
A BRONZE STANDING FIGURE OF BUDDHA. Khmer, Lopburi, 12th/13th c., height 30.5 cm. Wood stand.
Estimate: CHF 2 000.- / 3 000.- (€ 1 670.- / 2 500.-)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Miles permalink
    April 12, 2013 4:21 PM

    Many pieces of sculpture that come under the term “Khmer” were actually created and found on Lao, Thai & Vietnamese territory as all three were part of the Khmer empire for long periods of time. There are many many “Khmer” temples in all three of Cambodia’s neighbouring countries how can anyone be sure the above mentioned sculptures came from Cambodia proper as opposed to say Issan in North Eastern Thailand?

    One other thing, at least 3 of the above pieces look obviously fake.

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