Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Houston bronze krater

The bronze krater (once) on loan to Houston is mentioned by Monica S. Dugot, Thomas R. Kline, Jennifer Anglim Kreder, and Lucille A. Roussin, "Legal and Ethical Problems in Art Restitution", in a paper given in New York on April 4, 2008.
... a bronze krater is currently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from the Shelby White –Leon Levy collection, and there are calls for the museum to release its provenience history. 
As far as I know the collecting history for this krater has not been released.

Interestingly the cases relating to cultural property in Minneapolis (2011) and Toledo (2012) and mentioned in the same paragraph have now both been resolved.

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Operation Mummy's Curse

Source: ICE.
There are times when you wonder if there is a lack of imagination when it comes to naming operations but 'Mummy's Curse' is probably one of them.

Put that aside, ICE has announced that it is has returned "dozens" of Egyptian antiquities to Egypt as part of an "ongoing five-year investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world". The total value of the seizures so far is approximately $3 million.

This sarcophagus appears to be the one siezed in a garage in Brooklyn in 2009. It is reported (Kathleen Caulderwood, "US Returns $2.5M In Egyptian Antiquities As Experts Call For Tougher Punishment On Smugglers", International Business Times April 22, 2015):
The coffin had been emblazoned with the name Shesepamutayesher and the title “Lady of the House” sometime between 664 and 111 B.C. But when Special Agent Brenton Easter of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uncovered the artifact Sept. 8, 2009, after months of investigation, it had been slapped with a few false shipping labels.
So once again we are seeing that the "paper trail" of a significant object is being corrupted to allow the piece to enter the market.

Caulderwood reveals that the investigation is linked to Morris Khouli (and see my earlier discussion here).
Easter recovered the head and other objects from Khouli’s gallery, intercepted shipments in Newark, New Jersey, and eventually found the “Lady of the House” sarcophagus at Khouli’s home, in a crate all ready for shipment.
ICE issued a press release on these investigations back in 2011.

Caulderwood also makes the point that there is the potential for this investigation to be linked to material coming from Syria. And this is a point that I have made before with links to material allegedly from Palmyra.

The material is not just Egyptian in character. The press release states: "A related December 2010 shipment interception netted agents 638 ancient coins from different countries, 65 of which are being repatriated to Egypt today." Which countries? Who imported the coins? What did the paperwork say? And coins have already formed part of the discussion in the Khouli case.

This immediately raises the big question: who has acquired the 7000 plus objects mentioned in the release? Museums? Private collectors? Or are they still part of the stock in a range of dealers? And are some of these objects forming part of what some term "the licit market"?

And this stated case comes against a broad backdrop that appears to include an Egyptian coffin seized in Miami.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bronze krater (once) on loan to Houston

I have been rather taken aback by the amount of interest to my post on a bronze krater that was once (and perhaps still is) on loan to Houston. I had been looking forward to the publication of the piece by Conrad Stibbe in the volume for Leon Levy but I understand from colleagues in NYC that this will not be appearing.

Does this mean that there is a move to return the krater to FYROM?

I have commented elsewhere on the Koreschnica krater and its burial.

Parts of the tomb assemblage appear to be in a major North American university collection so there could be significant implications if this group is investigated.

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The modern movement of ancient coins and protective legislation

I have been reading an important new piece of research by Professor Nathan T. Elkins of Baylor University ("Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions: a critique of arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's 'test case'," Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 2 [2015] 236-43). He considers the way that the ACCG "has launched multiple legal challenges aimed at undermining import restrictions on ancient coins into the United States in bilateral agreements with foreign countries".  He includes an important table that lists coin hoards from Cyprus that contain Cypriot coins. This data is provided to challenge the "spin" provided by those who lobby for the coin dealing bodies.

Elkins makes an important point in his conclusion: "Legal challenges have been launched by lobbying groups with a commercial interest that present a highly skewed picture of the actual situation that is not based on evidence".

This academic research is likely to undermine attempts to waive restrictions on the modern movement of ancient coins.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

"The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can "

I have been interested to read the responses to the decision to withdraw four antiquities from Christie's. The latest is by Georgina Adams ("The Art Market: Blue Period Picasso emerges", Financial Times 17 April 2015). A spokesperson for Christie's commented that they needed access to the confiscated archives, and Chris Marinello of the Art Recovery Group is quoted, "The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can with the available information".

One of the withdrawn pieces passed through the December 1985 sale at Sotheby's. Any "due diligence researcher" or member of an auction house will know the significance of that sale. And to help them along their way the list of consignments from Boursaud (and ultimately, it seems, from Giacomo Medici) has been published. Six years ago I drew attention to some of the issues relating to the year 1985, so to miss this item in such a sale but then to state that "The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can with the available information" suggests that some of these so-called "researchers" need to do better. Indeed one of the 1985 pieces was seized from an auction-house beginning with ... C ...

One of the other pieces also surfaced through Sotheby's in 1986. Again a researcher familiar with these sales should have been alerted: the "Medici youth" from 2010, and the Graham Geddes collection in 2008. And it is a year that I highlighted back in 2010.

For the other two pieces Montreal and Japan are both significant for potential associations with Gianfranco Becchina ... and Tsirogiannis has linked them to objects in the Basel Dossier.

I have a great deal of respect for Marinello when it comes to fine art but I wonder if he has not understood the toxicity of the antiquities market.

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Collecting histories matter

I see that there continues to be significant issues raised over the four antiquities withdrawn from Christie's. the key issue that needs to be addressed is an improvement in the due diligence process. It would appear that the collecting histories for these four objects were either incomplete or had not been authenticated. The advocates of a licit market need to demonstrate how an object passed through known collections and sales, and that paperwork should be authenticated. This is not an issue about access to images but rather about the rigour of those undertaking the research by or on behalf of the auction houses. 

Separately, how often are dealers represented in the paperwork as collectors? so, for example, is, say, a Japanese Collector shorthand for a Japanese dealer operating out of Switzerland? 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should Christie's have known?

I plan to comment on the withdrawn objects from Christie's in a little more detail. I note that a spokesperson for the auction house has called for access to the Medici and Becchina photographic archives. But this misses the point that at least one of the pieces appears to feature in a published consignment list. Surely the register used by Christie's to check for stolen items would have made that link ... But it appears that they are unfamiliar with such literature. 

It goes back to my earlier point that the auction house needs to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process and that may mean changing the agency used to check collecting histories. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lots withdrawn from Christie's

The four lots at Christie's that had been identified by Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, have been withdrawn from the auction next week:

  • Lot 83: Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the Swing painter. The property of a gentleman.
  • Lot 103: Etruscan terracotta antefix. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 108: Apulian hydria, attributed to a follower of the Snub Nose and Varrese painters. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 113: Gnathian bottle, attributed to the White Sakkos Group. [Note only one of the two pieces has been withdrawn.]
It appears that the Italian authorities were in touch with the auction house and we look forward to a statement in due course.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Etruscan antefix and Christian Boursaud

I have been looking through the consignment list of Christian Boursaud, dated 24 September 1985. The items were intended for the December 1985 sale at Sotheby's in London (9 December 1985).

Number 37 is listed as 'ANTEFIXE ETRUSQUE TERRE CUITE' with a reserve of £2000.

I presume that a due diligence search would make the link should the antefix resurface on the antiquities market.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Swing painter and the Becchina archive

Attic black-figured amphora
Attributed to the Swing painter
Becchina Archive
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
In December 2002 Christie's Rockefeller Plaza sold an Attic black-figured amphora attributed to the Swing painter for $53,775 (December 12, 2002, lot 16). It was stated as 'The property of a private collection". The amphora is listed in the Beazley Archive (no. 26090) although no other information is provided other than the sale at Christie's.

However this same amphora has resurfaced on the London market and is due to be auctioned at Christies on 15 April 2015 (lot 83). The estimate is £50,000-£70,000. The collecting history is now provided as:

  • Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s. 
  • Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16. 
  • Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale. 
  • with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006. 

It is now the property of 'a gentleman'.

Were the staff at Christie's in New York unaware that the amphora had resided in a Japanese collection in the 1980s?  Why were they unable to provide that information?

This amphora is important as Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted the piece in the Becchina archive. Indeed the annotations on the record card show that images of the amphora were sent to three European academics.

Becchina had links with a Japanese dealer so the private collection in Japan is not without interest.

And (part of) the stock of Becchina's Basel operation has been the subject of considerable interest since it was revealed earlier in 2015.

Will 'the gentleman' withdraw the amphora from the auction? Or will Christie's withdraw the lot?

And what does it say about the 'due diligence' search conducted by Christie's prior to the sale?

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