Showing posts with label Bonhams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bonhams. Show all posts

November 8, 2016

Bonhams Withdraws Suspect Antiquity from Auction

Bonhams has withdrawn the suspect antiquity that was identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 07, 2016. This (il)licit object had originally been set for auction on November 30, 2016 via the auction house's London division.  


As mentioned in ARCA's earlier report this morning, the antefix is traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive, a twenty year old repository of dealer records and polaroids that document the trove of antiquities that at one point or another passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2004 for selling thousands of stolen pieces of Greco-Roman art from Italy and the Mediterranean.

The withdrawal of the object comes with a short statement that reads "This lot has been withdrawn".


For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this antefix, please see ARCA's earlier report of his finding here


Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Etruscan Terracotta Antefix

On November 7, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London on November 30, 2016 traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive.



A screenshot of the provenance/collection history details are added here:


Etruscan buildings were often decorated with polychrome terracotta elements. Antefixes, such as this one on auction, were placed at the end of the rows of roofing tiles located along the eaves of the roof. Usually made in molds, many took the form of male or female mythological characters. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archives and the related Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Each of these dealer's archives provide insight inside a network of illicit trade in antiquities and, when combined, include thousands of ancient objects from all over the world which have passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” illicit objects through the licit market.

Two images from image from the confiscated
Medici archive alongside the Bonham Auction Object Lot.


An expert on terracotta figurines, James Chesterman collected avidly and was the author of Classical Terracotta Figures published by Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1974.  In 1984 the Fitzwilliam Museum purchased more than 100 Greek and Roman terracotta figurines from Chesterman's collection, in what is likely to be, in the museum's own words, the last major private collection to enter the Museum.

Who were some of James Chesterman's sources for antiquities?

Conducting a quick search (meaning far from comprehensive) of objects from the Chesterman's collection that have come up on auction tells us a little about some of his sources. 






Medici Archive image provided by
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
After the closing of his Rome Gallery, Giacomo Medici entered into partnership with Geneva resident Christian Boursaud and opened Hydra Gallery in Geneva in 1983 (Silver 2009: 139). 

This Swiss gallery then began consigning material supplied by Medici for sale on the London market, predominantly through Sotheby's.  (Silver 2009: 121-2, 139; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27). Watson and Todeschini estimated that during the period of the 1980's Medici was the source of more consignments to Sotheby’s London than any other vendor (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27).

If the collection history on the Bonhams Lot is accurate, then Medici's pieces were also appearing on the Paris antiquities market during that same period. If it isn't, then this object is missing a passage from its London history.

Dr. David Gill also has analyzed this new sighting, adding his own research in this Looting Matters blog post. 
Many have argued that Dr. Tsirogiannis tactics of naming potentially looted objects from the archives via ARCA's blog, David Gill's Looting Matters and on occasion Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction, places auction houses at a disadvantage and should be construed as unfair given the market does not have direct access to the photos in these archives.  A valid point, but given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, we hope this will lead auction houses to consider more stringent reporting requirements of their consignors to insure that they do not inadvertently support the illicit antiquities trade. 

In closing,  given the proven lucrative nature of unprovenanced antiquities on the open market, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol who in turn will notify the Italian authorities of his new identifications. Here's hoping that his continued spotlight, however awkward it is for everyone, will serve as a recurring reminder that we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By: Lynda Albertson
----------------------
Bibliography: 

Lindros Wohl Birgitta, Three female Head antefixes from Etruria,
in The Getty Museum Journal, 12, 1984, pp. 114-116.

Pallottino Massimo, Giuseppe Foti, Antonio Frova, Franco Panvini Rosati (sous la dir. de) Art et civilisation des Étrusques, octobre-décembre 1955, cat. adapté et traduit par Jean Charbonneaux et Marie-Françoise Briguet, Paris

Silver Vernon The lost chalice: the real-life chase for one of the world's rarest masterpieces: a priceless 2,500-year-old artifact depicting the fall of Troy
Harper - 2010

Watson Peter and Todeschini Cecilia The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums
PublicAffairs - 2007




July 17, 2015

David Gill's column Context Matters reviews “From Palmyra to Mayfair: The Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq” in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In David Gill's regular column "Context Matters", the archaeologist examines “From Palmyra to Mayfair: The Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq” in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crimeedited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:
The present conflict in Syria and northern Iraq has brought the issue of antiquities to the attention of the international media. This is due, first, to the scale of the recent looting revealed by remote sensing, second, to the possibility that archaeological objects were being used to fund the conflict, and third, to the deliberate destruction of key monuments and museum objects in what can only be described as acts of "cultural barbarism". At the same time there are more pressing concerns about the plight of refugees from the conflict zones, and the deliberate targeting of religious minorities. 
Looting is not a new phenomenon to Syria. And there have been instances in recent years of objects linked to that region turning up on the antiquities market. In April 2009 six Roman limestone busts surfaced on the London market at Bonhams (April 29, 2009, lots 48-53). ...
David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School of rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He has recently completed a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War. 

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime.

December 28, 2014

Columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches" in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
   ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches":
The antiquities department of Bonhams planned to offer a Roman herm for auction on October 2, 2014 (lot 41). The herm was estimated to be sold for £10,000 to £15,000. It seems to be a Roman copy of the Hermes Propylaios set up next to the late 5th century BC monumental gateway, the Propylaia, at the entrance to the Athenian acropolis. The statue was observed there by the second century AD travel-writer Pausanias (I.22.8). The herm is known from a copy found at Pergamon in November 1903 (CS 1904) and now in Istanbul (Boardman 1985: 212, fi g. 189). The inscription on the stela reads in Greek: “You will recognise the fine state statue by Alkamenes, the Hermes before the Gates. Pergamios gave it. Know thyself” (trans. Boardman).
The display of such a statue in this royal city was unsurprising given the deliberate allusions to the city of Athens, and in particular to the Athenian acropolis, by the Attalids in the design. Andrew Stewart has suggested that a second type of herm is represented by an inscribed copy found in the Gymnasium of Vedius at Ephesus (Stewart 2003a; 003b). 
On 2 October 2014, the day of the Bonhams sale, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis was able to identify the Bonhams herm from the photographs and paperwork seized from the Italian dealer Gianfranco Becchina in Basle, Switzerland in May 2002 (Gill 2009, 78-79). The images were found in a fi le relating to Becchina’s associations with a Greek individual by the name of Zenebisis. The envelope containing the images were sent by Georgios Papadakis from Herakleion in Crete; the envelope is franked with the date 29 May 1987. The letter arrived in Basel (and was franked) on 1 June 1987. Someone has written on the envelope the name of Costas Gaitanis. Is Georgios Papadakis a genuine or a cover name? Why should Gaitanis be sending images to Becchina? Did Gaitanis have the herm in Greece? The evidence from the Becchina dossier suggests that the herm was being offered on the market in May 1987. 
Yet there is a problem. The herm offered at Bonhams was given a precise collecting history: “Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent”. This placed the herm in the period prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. But how could the herm apparently be on the Greek market in 1987, but at the same time have already been acquired by Koutoulakis in 1965 and then passed down as part of his collection by descent?
David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School of rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He has recently completed a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War.


The complete column is published in the current issue of The Journal of Art Crime.  Subscriptions to The Journal of Art Crime or individual copies of eEditions or printed issues may be obtained through ARCA's website here.

October 3, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis provides three images from Becchina archive of Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios recently pulled from Bonhams auction in London


Hermes Image #1
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

As pointed out in David Gill’s blog “LootingMatters”, journalist Euthimis Tsiliopoulos reported that a Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios listed on an electronic Bonhams London auction catalogue was withdrawn from the sale at the request of Greece’s Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property of the Ministry of Culture and Sport (“Hermes head withdrawn from auction”, Times of Change, October 1, 2014):

"Since the head is displayed in seized photographs, which show a possible origin and illegal export from Greece, the Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property immediately proceeded in contacting the auction house asking for more details on the origin of object. After further investigation and documentation, the Directorate called for the immediate withdrawal of the object subject to any statutory right of the Greek government. Finally, the auction house had to remove the head from the auction for the first time and referred the Greek government to get in direct contact with the alleged owner."

Hermes Image #2
Bonham’s published in its catalogue that the marble Hermes had been in the "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva” five years prior to the 1970 UNESCOConvention designed to stop the profitable trade of recently looted antiquities. As documented in the 2007 book “The Medici Conspiracy” by Watson andTodeschini, Nikola Koutoulakis was an illicit antiquities dealer who has been involved in the trade of several antiquities looted from Greece, Italy and Egypt after the 1970 Convention, some of which were recently repatriated to the countries of their origin.

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a Research Assistant with Trafficking Culture Project,University of Glasgow, provided three images of this object to the ARCA blog as it appeared in the “Becchina archives”, the set of Polaroids and business documents confiscated by Italian and Swiss authorities in 2002 and 2005 from the Basel premises of Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina (convicted in Italy in 2011 of illegally dealing in antiquities, http://traffickingculture.org/encyclopedia/case-studies/gianfranco-becchina/). For more information, here's an interview Dr. Tsirogiannis gave last summer.

As Tsirogiannis wrote to Gill:

I also identified the object in the Becchina archive. The origin of the head is Greece, because it is a Greek looter named Costas Gaitanis (from Herakleion, Krete) who sent to Becchina on May 29th, 1987 the Polaroids depicting the head. The envelope containing the Polaroids arrived in Switzerland (Basel, at Becchina's gallery) on June 1st, 1987. The envelope is included in a larger file that Becchina kept regarding dealings he had with a Greek middleman named Zenebisis. The same file includes the image of the gold wreath that the Greek state repatriated from the Getty Museum.

Hermes Image #3
Dr. Tsirogiannis identified the images published here as:

Hermes #1: Five Polaroid images depicting the marble head (photographed from different angles) on a brown blanket and on a cement floor with a cigarette butt nearby. The page, where the Polaroids are attached, is bearing the name of the Greek middleman ‘Zene[bisis]’. An image of a vase, not related to the marble head, is attached (upper right corner of the page).

Hermes #2: Two more Polaroid images of the marble head and the back of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘BASEL 1-6-87’.

Hermes #3:  The same two Polaroid images of the marble head and the front of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘ATHENS 29-V-87’.

April 2, 2014

Christie's and Bonhams withdraw two objects of antiquity linked to Medici and Becchina archives

Image appears to be draft of 1987 invoice
 on sale of antiquities
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Both Christie's and Bonhams withdrew two objects -- a 2,000 year old Greek glass wine jug (called an oinochoe) and another ancient vessel (known as a pyxis)-- from their antiquities auctions this week that forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis linked to the Medici and Becchina archives.

In an email to ARCA's blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote: "I am also sending you the documents related to the pyxis, which prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, something that Bonhams failed to mention in the "provenance" section of their catalogue regarding this object." 

The documents, represented by the images here to the right in a bluish tinge and below in a pinkish tinge, appear to be the draft and final copy of an invoice. The pink image is a photograph of an invoice dated November 12, 1987 from U. R. Becchina to Mr. Torkom Demirjian at Ariadne Galleries Inc. at 970 Madison Avenue in New York City “(For definitive sale/no return) no return) for 23 items — 14 terracotta statuettes + 1 Pyxis, 2 Gnathian vessels, 2 Canosan Pyxides, and 4 Corinthian vessels — at a price in U.S. dollars of $21,800 plus a restoration fee of $3,700 for a total of $25,500. The invoice included: "GUARANTEE These items are of the period of the 6th to the 3rd cent. B.C. The authenticity is unconditionally guaranteed."

This is the image of the pink invoice
from Becchina to Ariadne Galleries
regarding the sale of antiquities
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times ("Auction houses 'handling stolen goods'", April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.” 
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London. 
[...] 
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration. Invoices and sales receipts also appear to confirm that the objects are illicit. He said: “The object at Christie’s was sold at Sotheby’s in 1988, and that’s all — as anyone knows in this field, that almost certainly means it came from Medici. “The Bonhams object also first surfaced in 1987 and has no provenance outside the trade. There again, that should be a warning sign that the piece was illegally excavated and smuggled. Over the past few years, I have spotted dozens of objects like this being drip-fed on to the market, testing whether the Medici scandal has been forgotten. Each time, I have informed the Italian authorities, who tell me they always contact the auction houses, asking them to withdraw the pieces. They almost never do. I think they have only acted this time because The Times is watching. At this rate, London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the ‘dirty’ antiquities market.”
Watson reported that Christie's said that the company would contact Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Unit to investigate the piece and would return it to Italy if the object was the same as the one identified in the polaroid archive confiscated from Medici.

In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote:
A spokeswoman for Christie's said, regarding Christie's ownership of the oinochoe: 
The work you are referring to was sold through another auction house in 1988. It was then sold last year by Christie’s as part of the the Saeed Motamed collection. Christie’s became the owner after the sale of the work was then cancelled due to accidental damage sustained by the work during storage. 
My comment on this would be: Christie's should have been extra careful when they were exercising their 'due diligence' before the most recent sale, since they are the consigners in their own auction: as it turns out, this is a piece which comes originally from Medici. Christie's did not mention in the 'provenance' section of their catalogue which collection this object came from only last year, nor that the object was damaged during storage. All this exposes their practices even more.
Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote in an email to ARCA:
To echo Lord Renfrew in 2010, when four other antiquities I identified were withdrawn by Bonhams (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/27/bonhams-stolen-roman-sculptures-auction), "London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the 'dirty' antiquities market".
Here's a link to the article in BBC News "'Looted' artifacts removed from auction" (2 April 2014).

Here's a link to Dr. Tsirogiannis' post "Auction houses should do more to rooted out looted antiquities" on the website for Apollo Magazine.

March 27, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis matches two objects up for auction in London with objects identified in the Medici and Becchina archives

Medici oinochoe (Medici)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Editor-in-Chief

University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has reviewed the catalogues for three upcoming London auctions and identified two objects to photos in the archives of two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.

The three auctions of antiquities will be held at Bonhams on April 1; at Christie's on April 2; and again at Bonhams on April 3 

The first object is Lot 173 in Christie's Sale 1548 described as a Greek Core-Formed Glass Oinochoe from the Eastern Mediterranean, circa 2nd-1st century B.C., with an estimated bid at £4,000 - 6,000 (US $6,604 - $9,906). Christie's "Provenance" -- or what Dr. Tsirogiannis described in his email as the collecting history -- is described as:
"Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198".
"However, I identified the object from a Polaroid image from the Medici archive," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "We know that Medici consigned hundreds of antiquities to Sotheby's (Watson & Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 2007)."

The second object is Lot 22 in Bonhams April 3 sale (#21926) described as a Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis, circa 3rd century B.C., with an estimated bid at £3,000 - 5,000 (US $5,000 - $8,300).  Bonhams' "Provenance" -- or collecting history -- of the oinochoe is:
"American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s."
"However, I identified the pyxis in two Polaroid images from the Becchina archive (both attached, in the first the object is depicted broken and unclean, in the second the pyxis appears conserved and ready for sale)," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "I have also found documents which prove that the depicted broken pyxis IS THE SAME as the one put on sale by Bonhams. Also, the same documents prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, who were involved in other cases of "unprovenanced" antiquities (e.g., see Gill 2013 http://lootingmatters.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/icklingham-bronzes-looking-back.html), Tsirogiannis 2013:10 http://art-crime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-journal-of-art-crime-spring-2013.html)."

"Why do Christie's and Bonhams still fail to supply the full and correct collecting history of the objects, especially when they advertise their due diligence before the auctions?" Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "Why are these objects depicted in the Medici and the Becchina archives?"

Becchina pyxis in pieces
Becchina pyxis conserved

October 29, 2010

Giacomo Medici's Antiquities Crime Ring Still a Presence on the Art Market


Bonhams Auction house in London sold two antiquities that had been looted by the organized crime ring run by the infamous, imprisoned Giacomo Medici. Two lots from a recent sale were part of the dossier of antiquities looted by tomb raiders on behalf of Medici, who then sold them to the world's most famous museums. Medici was arrested in 1995 and imprisoned in 2004, but the repercussions from his looting ring are still felt. Bonhams has come under scrutiny because of their failure to withdraw the two lots in question from their recent sale, despite the fact that they were notified by renowned professor of archaeology, Dr David Gill of University of Swansea. Dr Gill, an ARCA colleague both as a regular columnist and editorial board member of The Journal of Art Crime, warned Bonhams ahead of time, but the sale went through. The buyer of the two suspect lots, however, withdrew his interest when the Medici connection was made clear. ARCA lauds Dr Gill for his diligent efforts.