Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Professor Graeme Barker CBE

Professor Graeme Barker at UEA, November 2014
© David Gill
I would like to offer my personal congratulations to Professor Graeme Barker, former Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University, for his nomination as CBE in the New Year's Honours List. Graeme was Director of the British School at Rome when I was Rome Scholar working on Greek pottery in Italian contexts.

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US returns antiquities to Turkey


The US Government has returned a number of antiquities to Turkey that had been intercepted at Newark International Airport ("Priceless 6th Century B.C. historical artifacts returned to Turkish government", 10 December 2014, ICE press release).
The artifacts were intercepted at Newark International Airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in February 2013 and HSI Newark returned the items Tuesday subsequent to an investigation that determined the artifacts were illegally smuggled out of Turkey using false documentation destined for an individual in Illinois.
The return included 15 ancient coins.

Who is the private individual in Illinois? Are they a dealer? Or a collector? Or a dealer-collector? Will this person be named?

And how does a paid Washington lobbyist explain this seizure?

For earlier comments by Paul Barford see here.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review of 2014

Cycladic figure returned to Greece from Karlsruhe
In January this year I made some predictions. The first was that there would be continued sightings of objects handled by Medici and Becchina on the antiquities market. And there have been, including Bonhams in London (and again in October), Christies in London, Christie's in New York (and see here), and an Egyptian statue at Sothebys New York.

Interestingly the Italians were threatening to take legal action over the Symes material. But this did not seem to materialise.

I had suggested that there needed to be more rigorous due diligence checks prior to sales: clearly this continues to be a weakness. So I addressed it in my column, "Context Matters", in the Fall number of the Journal of Art Crime (2014).

I have not discussed objects identified from the Medici Dossier now in one major North American museum during 2014. However it is likely that the collector and museum will be named in 2015. However Christos Tsirogannis discussed the collecting history of a Paestan krater that had been acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I wondered if material would be returned to Italy from Copenhagen and the Museum of Cycladic Art (Goulandris Collection). But still no movement.

Mosaics acquired by Fordham University
Source: Fordham
LM has reviewed the collection at Fordham University and in particular the collecting histories of the antiquities. We noted that Fordham had hand to relinquish title to a Villanovan hut. Fordham also acquired some Christian mosaics that appear to come from the Near East. The collection also contains a Roman imperial bronze apparently derived from the Sebastaieon at Bubon in Turkey.

I continue to note the issues surrounding the sale of antiquities on the market.

There has been no movement on the Koreschnica krater, the Icklingham bronzes, the Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, and the SLAM Mummy Mask. However, a detailed study of the acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask was published in the Fall Number of the Journal of Art Crime (2014). This is likely to prompt renewed questions of SLAM.

However part of the Sevso Treasure was purchased by the Hungarian Government. Lydian stelai were returned from the US to Turkey. And a Cycladic figure returned from Karlsruhe to Greece. Nor should we forget the coins sent to Greece from the collection of a Rhode Island medic, or the Shiva sent back from Australia to India.

Transparency relating to the Bothmer potsherd collection continues to be an issue. However some of the issues will be addressed in a forthcoming article (with Christos Tsirogiannis) in the International Journal of Cultural Property.

All continues to be quiet about the planned symposium on the Cleveland "Apollo".

Heritage Crime continues to be a major issue in England and Wales. And there continue to be muted responses from members of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The so-called "Crosby Garrett" helmet went on display at the British Museum. (I published an extended essay on the helmet in the Journal of Art Crime.) The problem of "nighthawking" was highlighted by the opening of a small exhibition of finds from Rendlesham in Suffolk. And the English Heritage site of Eynsford Castle was damaged by such activity. And of course the BBC produced a so-called comedy on Detectorists (in Suffolk). Issues about the reliability of information for objects documented by the Portable Antiquities Scheme was raised by a fellow curator at the British Museum.

We noted the theft of part of a fresco from Pompeii.

There were interesting issues raised about the collecting history of the Sappho Papyrus.

The MOU between the US and Bulgaria was signed.

Parthenon sculpture on loan to Russia © David Gill
Museums have been selling off part of their collection. In England it was the case of the Northampton Museum and the disposal of an Egyptian statue. This had serious implications for the museum's funding. The St Louis branch of the AIA was also selling off material. Meanwhile the British Museum decided to loan a pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon to Russia.

Finally there has been the extensive looting of archaeological sites in Syria.


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Monday, December 29, 2014

PAS and controlled archaeological excavation

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) "allows finds discovered by members of the public to be recorded for the benefit of researchers and the public alike" (Michael Lewis, press release). And I noticed that The Times on Saturday (Mark Bridge, "For history and riches go treasure-seeking", 27 December 2014) was discussing how PAS had reported its millionth find. Yet we also know that the PAS database includes material from "Controlled archaeological excavation". So a major Roman coin hoard excavated by archaeologists in Bath appears in the database.

One of the things that was discussed by Gill and Chippindale is the difference between objects with a secure archaeological context (a1), and those with a reported or alleged find-spot. To what extent is the PAS database falling into the 'a2' (or a3 / a4) categories? How far can we trust reported find-spots? ['a' stands for archaeology. And this is another reason why I am trying to discourage the use of the obsolete term "provenance".]

There are clearly some important methodological issues that need to be addressed in the nuanced design of the database.

And perhaps this is where the Micropasts project enters the debate.

It is important to notice that even quality 'tabloids' like The Times do not check the facts behind press releases.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Christmas

Canterbury Cathedral © David Gill, 2014
I would like to wish all readers of LM a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask: its collecting history

My article on the acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask by the St Louis Art Museum has been published in The Journal of Art Crime ("The case of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask", vol. 12, 13-25). It discusses previously undisclosed information about when the curatorial team at SLAM became aware of aspects of the collecting history. In particular, there is discussion of the exchanges in 1999 that brought about "new" information about when the mask had first been sighted.

The article is likely to raise issues about the apparent lack of rigour in the due diligence process adopted by SLAM during the acquisition, and the unwillingness to discuss the collecting history with Egyptian authorities when concerns were first raised with SLAM (including with the Director).

I close with this question:
Will professional responsibilities bring the SLAM team to reopen discussions with the Egyptian authorities to ensure the mask's return to Egypt?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Selling Antiquities in New York

© David Gill, 2014

The two big sales of antiquities at Christie's and Sotheby's have taken place in New York this week. It is time to review the year.

First it is clear that there has been a steady decrease each year from 2010 ($133.8 million) to the present $26.8 million. And that is nearly a $6 million drop since 2013.

Sotheby's has yielded more than Christie's for the third year in a row. This year's difference was more than $2.5 million. (Last year was $7.5 million, so the gap is narrowing.)

Both auction houses have had to address issues relating to the so-called "toxic antiquities" that their due diligence processes appear to have failed to spot.

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Symes Statue Unsold at Sotheby's


Egyptian statue from Schinoussa Archive
Source: ARCA / Tsirogiannis

It seems that the Egyptian statue that had appeared to pass through the hands of Robin Symes has been left unsold at Sotheby's today.

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Robin Symes, the Egyptian Priest and Sotheby's

Egyptian priest from Schinoussa Archive
Source: ARCA / Tsirogiannis
Later today Sotheby's will be auctioning "AN EGYPTIAN DIORITE FIGURE OF A PRIEST OF THE TEMPLE OF MUT, LATE 25TH/EARLY 26TH DYNASTY, CIRCA 670-610 B.C." (lot 6). The collecting history is provided:

  • private collection (Christie's, London, April 27th, 1976, no. 135, illus.) 
  • Khnoum, Geneva, 1992 
  • Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, October 1st, 1996, no. 462, illus. 
  • Safani Gallery, New York 
  • Jack Josephson Collection (Sotheby’s, New York, June 5th, 2008, lot 57, illus.) 

In 2008 it sold for $422,500.

Who was the vendor in 1976? And who was the statue's proprietor prior to 1976? When did the statue leave Egypt?

The statue has been exhibited at:

  • the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, August 2008-August 2013 
  • the Albany Institute of History and Art, “The Mystery of the Albany Mummies”, September 21st, 2013-June 8th, 2014

Part of the collecting history has been expanded. Glasgow University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that the statue appears in the Schinoussa archive and therefore makes the link with Robin Symes.

Egyptian objects with similar collecting histories were withdrawn from auction at Christie's yesterday. We can only presume that the staff at Sotheby's have been in touch with the Egyptian authorities.

Will the statue be withdrawn from the sale today?

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christie's: withdrawn lots

Attic red-figured krater / Swingler
Source: Tsirogiannis
Those following Christie's sale of antiquities will have noted the following lots have been withdrawn:
  • Lot 51: AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG. "This Lot is Withdrawn."
  • Lot 95: Athenian red-figured krater. "This Lot is Withdrawn."
  • Lot 133: A FALISCAN BLACK-GLAZED ASKOS. "This lot has been withdrawn from the sale." Collecting history: "with Phoenix Ancient Art, Geneva, 1997"; "PROPERTY FROM THE MICHAEL AND JUDY STEINHARDT COLLECTION".
  • Lot 139: A ROMAN MARBLE COLUMN CAPITAL. "This Lot is Withdrawn."
Dr Christos Tsirogannis had linked lot 95 to photographs associated with David Swingler, and lots 51 and 139 to the Schinoussa archive. It is not clear why the askos was withdrawn from the sale, although it joins the Sardinian figure also from the Steinhardt collection.

Who owned the askos prior to 1997? What does it say about other objects that were derived from this route? What about the mummy mask that was acquired by the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) in 1998?

Do the staff at Christie's need to review their due diligence process to make it more rigorous?

And why have the lots been withdrawn when in the past the sales have proceeded? Can we detect a change in policy at the auction-house?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why loan the odd pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon?

The personification of the river Ilissos from the Parthenon
© David Gill
Lee Rosenbaum has explored why Nel MacGregor has been keen to make a loan of the 'Ilissos' statue to the Hermitage Museum ("Preparing for Lawsuit? Why Might Neil MacGregor Be Doubling Down on His Elgin Marbles Bet?", Culturegrrl December 9, 2014).

Rosenbaum suggests the following as a possible explanation of MacGregor's tactic:
More people view these cultural treasures in London than in Athens. And now, with the incipient loan program, the British Museum’s reach could be further broadened. Therefore, the world is better off if custodianship of these treasures remains in London.
This one statue is part of a pedimental group, that forms part of an architectural whole from a major fifth century BC temple known as the Parthenon. Is the time coming when these sculptures are placed in a specially designed museum and within line of site from the Athenian akropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site?

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Robin Symes and lots at Christie's

Authenticated and therefore reliable collecting histories are important. Auction catalogues need to be able to demonstrate the previous owners of a lot. After all, potential buyers need to understand what they are buying.

Dr Christos Tsirogannis has identified two of the lots that are to be auctioned this week at Christie's from the Schinoussa Archive (linked to Robin Symes). This raises questions about when the objects passed through Symes' hands.

Lot 51, AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG

  • with Nicholas Wright, London, prior to 1980. 
  • Private Collection, U.K., 1992. 
  • with Charles Ede, London. 
  • PROPERTY FROM THE HARER FAMILY TRUST COLLECTION


Lot 139, A ROMAN MARBLE COLUMN CAPITAL

  • Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 18 May 1987, lot 210 (part). 
  • Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 25 June 1992, lot 138.


For lot 51, is Robin Symes the anonymous private collector? Is this the best way to describe him?
For lot 139, when did Symes possess the capital?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christie's: "having to prove provenance"

Readers of LM will know that I find the word "provenance" as obsolete. Why not use the terms archaeology ("this krater was found in tomb 56 of the Fikellura cemetery"; "we do not know where this statue was found") or collecting history ("formerly in the Hope collection"; "auctioned on the New York market"; "property of an anonymous Belgian gentleman")? I have written on this topic and the key article from the Journal of Art Crime can be found here.

I see that William Robinson, International Head of Group at Christie's, has written about the forthcoming December sales, including antiquities (that takes place this week). He comments:
Each individual area has had particular challenges. For me this year, many have been directly or indirectly related to the questions of cultural property and provenance. We have not been able to sell any Pre-Columbian Art in 2014, as we have not been presented with any that has had provable provenance dating back to before the bilateral agreements that various countries have made. I sincerely hope that we will be able to successfully sell items in this field in the coming year. This issue of having to prove provenance on items, with its implied assumption of ‘guilty unless proven innocent’, is an attitude which I detest but reluctantly have to agree is sensible in the current atmosphere. Strong provenance is also becoming more and more reflected in the prices that are achieved in the sales. The flip side to this is that our attitude towards provenance was also a major factor in our winning the most important collection that came onto the market in 2014 (due to be sold in 2015). At the same time I have worked internally as one of the members of the Cultural Property Committee to try to modify Christie’s approach towards works of art where there are anomalies in our regulations, or situations that lead to unnecessarily rigid application.
Yet the antiquities team under Robinson's care did not manage to spot the issues surrounding the Steinhardt Sardinian figure and it had to be withdrawn from sale. There remains the case of the Swingler krater as well as two other items that passed through the hands of Robin Symes. Earlier in the year the London department was offering material identified from the Medici Dossier (and attracted major coverage in The Times of London).

I have suggested elsewhere that Christie's needs to adapt its due diligence process to make it more rigorous. And this is where the word "provenance" is meaningless. The Christie's catalogue entry needs to map out the authenticated collecting history of the object. Perhaps Robinson will read this and encourage his antiquities team to make the appropriate changes.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Swingler and the Getty: "we need things to fill it up"

Image of krater reportedly linked to David Swingler
Source: Tsirogiannis
The issue about the krater at auction at Christie's this week and linked to David Swingler (by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis) continues to develop.

It appears that Swingler worked with Jiri Frel of the J. Paul Getty Museum to supply antiquities. A 1987 report records (Claire Spiegel and Robert A. Jones, "Unseen Artworks Embroil Getty Museum in Dispute", LA Times April 12, 1987):
Frel became well-known for his ability to drain the living rooms of wealthy collectors. "He cried for them; he whined for them," said David Swingler, a Los Angeles archeologist and collector. "He would say to me, 'Please, we have a Roman villa, we need things to fill it up.' He was constantly asking for knickknacky things for the study collection."
It would be interesting to know which of the Getty pieces are linked to Swingler.

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The British Museum and Cultural Imperialism

© David Gill
The loan of one of the pedimental sculptures from the Parthenon to the Hermitage raises a number of issues about cultural property. I was presenting a research seminar on this topic in Cambridge last month and I was asked how the debates fit into the wider discussion of cultural imperialism.

One of the most helpful reviews attacking the position of the Encyclopedic museum as maintained by James Cuno, and Neil MacGregor, has been provided by Roger Bland of the British Museum. 

It is well worth a read.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Parthenon loan to Russia

© David Gill
The British Museum has announced that it has loaned the statue possibly representing the river Ilissos to Russia (BBC News, 5 December 2014). This statue forms part of the west pediment of the Parthenon.

Neil MacGregor sees the loan as a "marble ambassador of a European ideal" (British Museum blog). The sculpture will be on loan to the Hermitage.

I suppose we could see the Parthenon as a building derived from tribute paying cities scattered around the Aegean. And I am sure that there were some asking questions in the fifth century BC about how their talents were being spent.

But it all depends on how you view empires and imperialism.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Pasta, Swingler, Christie's and the Krater

Image reported to have been seized from Swingler
Source: Tsirogiannis
Back in 2000, Christina Ruiz reported on "Artefacts Smuggled in Spaghetti" for the Art Newspaper. In June of that year:
The other major group of works presented to the [Italian] Ministry of Culture was confiscated from the California home of David Holland Swingler, a food importer, by US Customs officials collaborating with the Italian police. The Swingler cache was returned to Italy in June. 
... When US Customs officials searched Swingler's home in Laguna Hills they discovered a similar hoard of artefacts. 
The investigation into Swingler has revealed just how easy the business of smuggling artefacts can be. It seems that during trips to Italy, Mr Swingler made direct contact with tombaroli by visiting archaeological sites and simply asking around. 
Artefacts looted from Etruscan and Apulian sites by tombaroli collaborating with Swingler were passed onto his Italian partner and shipped to the US hidden among bundles of pasta in food containers. 
... 
In 1996 Swingler was sentenced in absentia by an Italian court to four years and eight months in prison and he was ordered to pay around $6,000 for damages to the archaeological heritage, the first time Italy has imposed such a fine.
During the raid in Laguna Hills a number of images were seized, among them an Attic red-figured krater attributed to Myson. The krater was reported to have been sold to 'a major East Coast collector'.

Source: Tsirogiannis
This krater is clearly the same one that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefellar Plaza next week on December 11 (lot 95; $60000-$90000 estimate).

And Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, spotted the link.

Christie's note that the krater is the property of 'a New Jersey Private Collection', and provide the following collecting history:
  • with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1980. 
  • John Kluge, Charlottesville. 
  • The Morven Collection of Ancient Art; Christie's, New York, 8 June 2004, lot 320. 
  • with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 2005 (Art of the Ancient World, vol. XVI, no. 86). 
The krater sold for $38,240 in 2004. At that time, it was sold as part of the Morven Collection of Ancient Art, and its collecting history was provided as follows:
  • with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1980
What is the documented and authenticated collecting history of the krater prior to 1980? Who was the 'major East Coast collector' who is reported to have acquired it?

And is The City Review right to note that 'Morven' was the Virginia home of Kluge? And if so, why does Christie's add John Kluge as a separate entry in the collecting history?

This is not the first Royal-Athena Galleries --- Kluge krater that has attracted the attention of LM. And we know that there are issues relating to the Kluge collection, and that two bronzes formerly in that collection have been returned to Italy.

In the 2004 sale, Max Bernheimer of Christie's wrote in the catalogue that "Many [of the lots] have renowned provenance". Does the "renowned provenance" include the "Swingler collection"?

We presume that Christie's will now be contacting the Italian authorities.


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More identifications at Christie's

Breaking News

It appears that four more identifications from photographic archives have been made by Glasgow academic Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.  Three  relate to items in the forthcoming auction at Christie's, and one at Sotheby's.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Due Diligence at Christie's: time for change?

Sardinian Figure from the Medici Dossier
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
The decision to withdraw the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure from the 'Ancient Art' auction at Christie's in December raises some issues.

First, did the Christie's antiquities team check the collecting history of the figure for themselves? It is clear from a simple and brief search that the figure had been owned by a private individual (who appeared to be represented as a gallery) and that the gallery where the figure was exhibited did not appear to own it. Why did Christie's present the information in the way that they did?

Second, did the Christie's antiquities team contact the Italian / Sardinian authorities to check that the figure was not listed in one of the photographic archives?

Third, did Christie's use a third party to check databases of "stolen" archaeological objects? It is known that some of these agencies do have access to some of the photographic archives seized by the Italian authorities.

Fourth, have the staff at Christie's managed to learn anything from previous seizures? How have they adapted their due diligence processes? Is there enough rigour?

Is a way ahead to ask much more searching questions about objects that do not have full and documented collecting histories that lead to the period prior to 1970?

Is it time for a new approach to be adopted by the auction-house?

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Announcing news on Thanksgiving Day

Steinhardt Sardinian Figure
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
The apparent removal of the Steinhardt Sardinian figure from auction at Christie's is timely. After all, today is Thanksgiving Day. Eight years ago, also in late November, the J. Paul Getty Museum announced the return of its first batch of material to Italy.

So perhaps it is a day to bury "bad news".

But what is surprising is that a major institution like Christie's has not absorbed the lessons of the last eight years in what has become known as "The Medici Conspiracy".

Academic researchers now realise that it is important to probe and investigate "collecting histories".

And we know that it is important to check the photographic archives that have been seized by the Italian authorities.

Staff in the "Ancient Art" department at Christie's need to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process to prevent this type of incident happening again. They ought to recognise that their present process is not "fit for purpose".

It is perhaps timely that my next essay in the 'Context Matters' series for the Journal of Art Crime is on this very theme.

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Steinhardt Sardinian Figure Withdrawn From Sale


Many Italian news agencies now seem to be covering the decision by Christie's to withdraw the Sardinian figure from December's auction. The vendor was Michael Steinhardt.

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Steinhardt Sardinian Figure: Update

It appears that the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure has been withdrawn from auction at Christie's next month.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christie's and "transparency"

Sardinian figure from Medici Dossier
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Back in November 2009 (i.e. 5 years ago) some objects that passed through Christie's were seized and subsequently returned to Italy. When I contacted the press office at Christie's I was informed "the transparency of the public auction system combined with the efforts from the U.S. ICE and foreign governments, in this matter, led to the identification of two stolen artifacts". The Attic pelike and the Apulian situla have now been returned to Italy.

Five years later, a Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's appears to have been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from Polaroids in the Medici Dossier.  The posting of the catalogue ('the transparency of the public auction system')  has prompted the identification.

If the pelike and situla can be described as "stolen" by Christie's because they appeared in the Becchina archive, how does the same auction house describe the Sardinian figure?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Press coverage of Steinhardt Sardinian Figure Growing



There seems to be growing coverage in the Sardinian and Italian press of the story that the figure identified by Dr Christios Tsirogiannis appears in the Medici Dossier.

Discussion has started to include the figure returned from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Coverage of Steinhardt Sardinian Figure

Source: Tsirogannis / ARCA
The coverage of the story about the Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's in December  is growing. There is now a feature on Sardinian TV.

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The Steinhardt Sardinian Figure: Social Media




Comments on social media are applying pressure on the vendor of a Sardinian figure due to be sold at Christie's in December.

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Diplomatic pressure and the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure

Sardinian figure identified from the Medici Dossier
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
It appears that officials in Sardinia have asked US Ambassador Phillips (in Rome) that the Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's in December should be returned to Italy ("Pili: Bloccate l'asta della Dea Madre. E' refurtiva, deve tornare in Sardegna", Sassari Notizie November 25, 2014). The figure has been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from a Polaroid that formed part of the Medici Dossier.

“Bloccate immediatamente la vendita della Dea Madre. E’ refurtiva, va restituita alla Sardegna. Il governo italiano deve intervenire immediatamente sull’amministrazione americana per bloccare l’asta dell’11 dicembre prossimo a New York. Non si tratta di un pezzo pregiato da vendere, ma è refurtiva. Rubata alla Sardegna e ai sardi. Un governo autorevole e serio deve intervenire con tutti i poteri a sua disposizione per bloccare questa vergognosa vendita che offende la storia della Sardegna e dei Sardi."
Christie's needs to respond to these claims as a matter of urgency now that a fuller collecting history has emerged.

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The Steinhardt Sardinian figure and "the transparency of our operations"

Sardinian figure from the Medici Dossier
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Readers of LM will know that Max Bernheimer of Christie's made a public statement in 2010 about the 'transparency of [Chriet's] operations". He specifically said:
Provenance has always been important, and in light of recent repatriation issues, it has become paramount.
By provenance he means "collecting history".

So is the verification of the "collecting history" for the Steinhardt Sardinian figure now "paramount" for Christie's? It appears that Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the figure in a polaroid from the Medici Dossier.

We can assume that Bernheimer has been in touch with the Italian authorities and sought clarification.

But while he is about it, could he confirm when and how 'Harmon Fine Arts' obtained the figure? And why not use the name of the collector behind HFA?

And what does "with the Merrin Gallery" mean anything other than HFA made a loan of the figure for an exhibition?

Potential purchasers of the figure will want to know that they will not have the Italian authorities pressing for the figure's return. After all, you would not want to spend over $1 million on a figure that could be reclaimed shortly after the auction.

Is it time for Christie's to make a public statement about the sale of the figure?

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Cycladic Figures from the Keros Haul and the 'Harmon Collection'

Peggy Sotirakopoulou linked five pieces of the Cycladic 'Keros Haul' to 'Harmon, New York'. These are:
170: Spedos figure. Formerly Ian Woodner (acquired in 1968 or 1969). NAC no. 39; Harmon/Stern 2004, 40, no. 138; Getz-Gentle, PS rev. 158, no. 1 ('The Karlsruhe/Woodner Sculptor') ['Harmon coll']
180: Torso and thighs of a female figure. Formerly Halphen collection, 'since before the Second World War'; auctioned Paris, Drouot-Richelieu (December 1995). Harmon/Stern 2004, 13, no. 177.
181: Lower torso and thighs of a large female figurine. Formerly Ian Woodner, 'who acquired the figurine in 1962 or 1963'. NAC no. 41; Harmon/Stern 2004, 45, no. 157.
223: Torso and thighs of a female figurine. Formerly Jay C. Leff collection ('since the 1960s or earlier'), Julius Carlebach, New York; Sotheby's NY June 1996, lot 44. Harmon/Stern 2004, 12, no. 181.
242: The larger part of a female figurine. Formerly anonymous private collection. Harmon/Stern 2004, 39, no. 111.

Harmon Fine Arts of New York issued a catalogue, Cycladic Masterpieces (2004) [sometimes referenced as Harmon/Stern].

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Steinhardt Sardinian Figure and the Medici Dossier

Sardinian figure from the Medici Dossier.
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Glasgow-based researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has suggested that a Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's (December 11, 2014, lot 85) is linked to the Medici Dossier of polaroid photographs. The estimate is $800,000-$1,200,000.

The upper part of the head has been damaged in the Polaroid photograph, although no comments about restoration are made in the lot notes.

The figure is the stated as coming from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Collection. Its earlier collecting history is stated as:
  • Harmon Fine Arts, New York. 
  • The Merrin Gallery, New York, 1990 (Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery, no. 27). 
  • Acquired by the current owner, 1997.
The due diligence search will no doubt have alerted the staff at Christie's and the agency they used to possible concerns. So, for example, was Harmon linked to some of the fragmentary Cycladic figures derived from the 'Keros Haul'?

The Merrin Gallery is linked to Roman bronze known as 'The Merrin Zeus' that was returned to Italy. Only last year there were issues about the sale of the Symes Pan at Christie's. And the marble statues of the Dioskouroi on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art were handled by the same gallery. We also recall that pots in the Borowski collection were derived from Merrin. (For a review of the Merrin Cycladic exhibition in the New York Times see here with a mention of the Sardinian figure.)

Then there is Steinhardt as a collector of such things as a gold phiale that has been returned to Sicily. What about the alleged link with the tomb painting from Paestum seized at a North American airport? Steinhardt has been associated with Cycladic figures. Steinhardt is also linked to Christie's where he is listed as a member of the Advisory Board.

Yet is there more information about the Sardinian figure? Suzan Mazur discussed the exhibition at the Merrin Gallery back in 2006 ('Merrin Gallery In Italy's Antiquities Dragnet?'). She noted:
[Leonard] Stern owned 10 Cycladic marbles and loaned all of them to Merrin for the show: Six Spedos pieces; a Dokathismata female (2400-2300 BC); the Anatolian "Stargazer" (3000-2500 BC) worth $1 millon and previously belonging to Nelson Rockefeller; a Sardinian female figure from the Ozieri culture (2000 BC); and a Cycladic female (2800-2700 BC) said to be from the same source as the Met's Cycladic "Harp Player". The Harp Player is a fake -- according to Met Ancient Near East expert Oscar White Muscarella. 
The collection was housed at the time in Stern's Fifth Avenue townhouse aka Harmon Fine Arts Gallery, which did "sizeable transactions" in antiquities Stern told me in a phone call. Stern's secretary, warned me the address was not for publication and she said Stern used a second gallery when he needed additional space.
So is the appearance of 'Harmon Fine Art' in the Christie's catalogue an alternative to stating 'Leonard Stern'? Was the figure only exhibited with Merrin? (For Stern as a collector see 'Dynasty in Distress', Bloomberg.)

So if Mazur is right, and Leonard N. Stern was the former owner, where did Stern acquire the figure?

And who purchased the figure from Medici?

Christie's would be wise to re-investigate the collecting history of the figure as a matter of urgency. Have they contacted the Italian authorities?


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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nelson Bunker Hunt

The death of collector Nelson Bunker Hunt was announced in October 2014. A number of obituaries have appeared in the British press:


Only the Telegraph mentioned his collections of antiquities and coins:
Forced into personal bankruptcy that required them to liquidate assets, the brothers auctioned off immense collections of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic coins, raising more than $30 million. Sotheby’s in New York sold their art collections, and they were even forced to offload household items, including an enamel teapot which went for $20.
The frontispiece of the 1983 catalogue was the Etruscan terracotta antefix that was acquired by Laurence and Barbara Flieschman and returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum. The cover shows the Kyknos krater that was returned to Italy by Shelby White.

The Euphronios cup from the Hunt collection is the starting point for Vernon's Silver's The Lost Chalice.

As I noted back in 2008 the returns to Italy included pieces from significant North American private collectors.

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