Friday, January 18, 2008

Robin Symes and a Glory of the Past

This posting was prepared in August 2007 but never posted. Given today's announcement about the Shelby White collection it seems appropriate to place this in the public domain.

Information on the web of dealers supplying antiquities for private collectors in North America is beginning to emerge from Italy.

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (in The Medici Conspiracy) have noted that one of the Shelby White / Leon Levy bronzes "appears in three Polaroid photos and in about ten [regular] photographs in which the small bronze clearly appears still dirty with earth".

This small bronze kouros has been linked to the Greek colonies of Southern Italy and Sicily by Dietrich von Bothmer (in Glories of the Past, no. 87).

It now appears that this bronze was sold to Levy/White by Robin Symes in March 1990 for a reported US$1.2 million. (Glories of the Past gives no clues about its source.)

And also notice that by September 14, 1990 the bronze featured in the exhibition, Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

So, in a period of six months, this bronze was purchased, selected for exhibition, catalogued and researched. And then the exhibition catalogue went to press, was printed and bound in Verona, Italy - and then shipped (I presume) back to New York in time for the exhibition opening.

The surfacing of the bronze in the hands of Robin Symes was so timely to fit into this celebration of "Ancient Art". There is little wonder that Shelby White and Leon Levy could write so warmly,
We have been so fortunate, as collectors, to have become friends with the dealers who first showed us these wonderful objects.
But now that the Geneva Polaroids appear to link this kouros with the illicit movement of antiquities from Italy, will Shelby White give up one of her Glories?

Apparently not.

It is reported that the Italian Government has asked for at least 20 antiquities to be returned (and see E. Povoledo, "Top collector is asked to relinquish artifacts", New York Times, November 29, 2006).

What should Shelby White do?

Be gracious. Present the bronze kouros to the Italian state - and reflect that it was US$1.2 million well spent. After all, the money went to somebody she once considered to be a friend.

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