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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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Beau Street Hoard


It was encouraging to hear last week from Verity Anthony about the Beau Street Hoard. The hoard was discovered in 2007 during excavations in Bath by archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology. As a result we know the precise context:
The mass of fused coins lay in a right angle created between the walls of a Roman building (probably the corner of a room). It was tightly packed in on the other sides by two stones, forming a stone-lined chamber. 
The  hoard was not removed until its 'full extent was established and its position accurately planned and recorded'.

Careful conservation work revealed the outline of the original bags in which the coins had been deposited. Sampling work was able to identify that the bags were made from 'skin product'.

The hoard itself contained some 17,500 Roman coins, originally deposited in 8 bags.

The Beau Street hoard is now the subject of a British Museum colour booklet by Eleanor Ghey (2014). It is a good reminder of the amount of information that can be gleaned from a properly excavated, conserved and studied Roman coin hoard.

I was very struck by the imaginative ways that the Beau Street Hoard has been used to engage with the local community through a series of projects.

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