Thursday, April 29, 2010

Auction House Attention

The UK's The Independent reports that Bonhams auction house in London removed a collection of Roman sculptures from an auction to be held yesterday. Concerns that the pieces were illegally excavated were raised by Cambridge archaeologist, Christos Tsirogiannis and Swansea University's Dr David Gill. The researchers have suggested a link between at least one of the sculptures and infamous antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici. Gill has compared a Polaroid photograph of taken by Medici of Roman sculpture once in his possession and a piece that was slated to be sold at Bonhams. A police investigation into four works and internal investigation by Bonhams are reportedly underway. Medici was convicted of dealing in illegally dealing in stolen antiquities in 2004.

Also in the press this week is the oldest auction house in France, the Hôtel Drouot. The New York Times reported on Monday about an ongoing investigation following twelve arrests made in December.
A dozen people were arrested on suspicion of coordinated thefts, most of them “commissionaires,” members of Drouot’s clannish corporation of handlers and transporters; since then, four more have reportedly confessed to stealing. The police are said to have recovered more than a hundred missing objects and artworks, including several Chagall lithographs and a Courbet valued at as much as $135,000. [NYT]
Merchants claim that auctioneers at Drout, who make a commission with a sale, engage in "ballot stuffing," a practice in which they place fake bids to push prices up. The "most persistent rumors," however, have surrounded practices of theft by auctioneers or handlers. Works that were intended to be sold at Drout have disappeared outright from various locations and trucks in before reaching the auction houses.

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