ARCA’s Spotlight on an Upcoming Auction
July 28, 2020
By Lynda Albertson.
Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist has drawn attention to and identified antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives. Tsirogiannis teaches as a lecturer on illicit trafficking with ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby’s auction titled ‘The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet’ scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object’s collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .
For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l’art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.
Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:
“Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 , 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm.”
As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive.
Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis
Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017. Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple’s collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities. In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.” Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted.
Screenshot: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
While the Barnet’s may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet’s vetted the objects they acquired. Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet’s was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look. With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered.
Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example. If the object’s listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore.
At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment. This despite the object’s passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities.
Disclaimer: This article expresses research and opinion of its author. It is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.