The sale was led by A Marble Group of Leda and the Swan, Roman Imperial, circa 2nd Century A.D which sold for $19,122,500 (est. $2/3 million). The sculpture was sought by four bidders before eventually selling to an anonymous purchaser bidding over the telephone. The competition included an online bidder who participated up to $16.5 million.Leda and the Swan was recently discovered in Aske Hall, North Yorkshire and had been in the collection of the Marques of Zetland since 1789.
An Egyptian Basalt Head of a King, Early Ptolemaic Period, Reign of Ptolemy I/III, circa 304-200 B.C. from the Collection of Dodie Rosekrans, the late San Francisco philanthropist and collector, sold to an online bidder for $392,500 (est. $100/150,000). This is the highest price paid by an online bidder in a live auction at Sotheby’s.
Other strong prices from the Rosekrans collection included A Marble Head Of Zeus Ammon, Roman Imperial, Circa A.D. 120-160, which sold for $3,554,500 and was purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (est. $800,000/1.2 million), and An Egyptian Black Basalt Head Of Tuthmosis III, 18th Dynasty, Reign Of Tuthmosis III, 1479-1426 B.C, which sold to an online bidder for $602,500 (est. $150/250,000).
The Wall Street Journal discovers that Antiquities are having a very nice run up in prices even if the works are considered “priceless:”
The prices of antiquities, defined as artifacts mainly derived from the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, including Egypt, the Near East, Greece and Rome, have soared tenfold over the last decade, according to G. Max Bernheimer, Christie’s International department head of antiquities.
Since 2006, sales at the privately-owned auction house have quadrupled from $10.2 million (€7.5 million) to $42.7 million. What is more, unlike other parts of the art market, sales have steadily increased throughout the recession. [...] John Ambrose, director of U.S.-based antique dealer Fragments of Time, says: “We see more than 10,000 ancient objects each year but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find good quality objects. This is not just in the traditionally difficult areas of Attic pottery, Egyptian objects and glass, but in every area including Roman pottery. The lack of supply is pushing up demand.” [...]
In the 1970′s, the British Rail Pension Fund invested 2.9% of its portfolio – around £40 million – in more than 2,000 objects including antiquities. Fifteen years later the fund sold its art investments – gaining an annual compound return of 11.3%. Around the same time U.S. bank Merrill Lynch set up two funds –Athena I and II – to invest in ancient coins and antiquities. It poured over $30 million into these under the management of coin and antiquities dealer Bruce McNall. After two-and-a-half years the managers reported a 36% net gain.
Pricing the Priceless (Wall Street Journal)
The Financial Times highlights the rise of antiquities on the auction market by looking at what’s on offer at TEFAF this month where antiquities dealers are joining Modern and Old Master dealers to appeal to eclectic collectors’ taste. At TEFAF, part of the appeal is buying without the pressure of an auction compeititon:
Auctions are achieving the kind of prices that dealers could never dream of asking. “If there is the right mix of essential ingredients – rarity, aesthetic appeal and provenance – the sky seems to be the limit at auction,” says London dealer Rupert Wace. [...] Rupert Wace, for instance, unveils a documented but previously unpublished – and exceedingly rare – Neolithic Aegean female idol of around 5300-4500BC, some 2,000 years older than most Cycladic figures, which turned up recently at auction in Strasbourg. [...] Despite her scale, this idol has great presence and resonance, and no one with any feeling for the past could fail to be moved by holding her. A Cycladic figure of around 2400BC sold for a record $16.9m at auction last year; its pre-sale estimate was $3m-$5m. This one comes at €1.2m ($1.6m).
Figures from History (Financial Times)
The Independent explains the bind the auction houses are in with the Medici Dossier, a file of 20,000 photographs held by the Italian police identifying works sold by Giacomo Medici who dealt in looted antiquities. The auction houses and the Art Loss Registry have no access to the dossier which complicates the work of identifying looted works that find their way to auction:
Selling goods once owned by a notorious art thief would undoubtedly sour the reputation of Bonhams, one of the most reputable auction houses in the world. But Bonhams was aware of the potential criminal link between lots 94 and 95. Days before the auction the house received an email from an eminent academic alerting them to the questionable provenance of the lots, but it pressed ahead with the sale.
The Italian authorities refuse to share the Medici Dossier with auction houses or the Art Loss Register, the international body which authenticates ownership of works of art. This makes it difficult to remove items for sale even if they are cited as being pictured in the dossier, potentially leaving British auction houses open to the accusation that they are dealing in stolen goods. [Read more...]
The long-running trial of Marion True came to an abrupt end when a court ruled that the statute of limitations had passed on the charges. Despite having to leave her position at the Getty when the trial commenced five years ago, Marion True has been released by a court in Rome. The New York Times’s Elisabetta Povoledo spoke to Maxwell Anderson to explain the import of the trial:
The trial was a wake-up call, he added. “The notion that a single curator could be indicted for what was a practice of American museums led us to review how American museum collections were being built, ” he said. In 2008 the association adopted a “no provenance rule” forbidding members from acquiring antiquities that could not be adequately vetted. Ms. True “sacrificed herself on behalf of other museum directors in America,” Mr. Anderson said. [Read more...]
Christie’s reports on the astonishing sale of its Roman British helmet. Discovered in Cumbria, there was a local campaign to keep the helmet in the area to be used as a tourist attraction. The £2.28m purchase price shows the demand for the object. Here’s Christie’s release:
The Crosby Garrett Helmet sold today at the auction of Antiquities at Christie’s South Kensington for £2,281,250 / $3,629,469 / €2,593,781 (estimate: £200,000 to £300,000). An exceptional survival from Roman Britain, the helmet was discovered by a metal detectorist in Cumbria in May 2010 and dates from the late 1st-2nd Century A.D.
In all 6 bidders fought for the helmet; 3 by telephone, 2 in the room and one via the internet from California. It was sold for £2.3 million to an anonymous client bidding by phone. [Read more...]