Ex Symes Pieces at Auction

This morning Christie's in London included these two Archaic Greek protomes in their Antiquities auction as Lot 69. Their provenance was given as:
"Private collection, London, U.K. Private collection, USA; acquired in London, 1999."

Christie's failed to included in either the catalogue or as a saleroom notice during viewing, that the two heads passed through the hands of antiquities dealer Robin Symes.

We know that the two terracotta protomes passed through Symes' hands, because they are shown in this photo from his Schinoussa Archive found at his home on the eponymous Greek island by the authorities. The heads are mould-made, so initially I thought the Christie's heads were more heads from the same Southern Italian sanctuary, as they look a little different from those in the Schinoussa photo. But a quick look at their backs, seen in the photos I took below, confirmed that the heads Christie's were selling are the same heads as those that passed through Symes' hands ....

I wouldn't want to defend Christie's - whose experts rate very low on any scale of competence, in my opinion - but should they have withdrawn the lots once they knew they had passed through Symes' hands? I don't necessarily think so. Robin Symes was an incredibly dodgy dealer, and many looted pieces passed through his hands, but he also sold pieces that were not looted. And just because a photo is included in his archive does not mean that it was automatically dodgy as a two bob bit.
I do however feel that Christie's should have disclosed the Symes provenance, which became common knowledge before the auction, as one of the saleroom notices; it is common practice to include additional information that comes to light on a card next to the lot during viewing, and as a verbal saleroom notice during the auction. Christie's did neither.

Does it matter that they failed to do so? This time it did not, as the two heads failed to sell, being bought in at £ 32,000 after a bid on the books and a bid in the room failed to hit the reserve (the estimate was £ 40,000 to 60,0000). The dealers I chatted to didn't need to see the photos from the Schinoussa archive to feel uncomfortable with the heads. They are beautifully painted, early protomes but they are also mould-made, so if a dig in Southern Italy or Sicily, their probable provenance, turns up more heads from the same mould ... then the buyer will be forced to return them to Italy.

The market spoke - dealers didn't "buy" the provenance of the heads, so nobody chose to buy them.

1 comment:

  1. provenance is king when it comes to collecting antiquities.


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