Showing posts with label art collecting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art collecting. Show all posts

February 20, 2015

Where Did Kitty and Mummy Go? - British Collecting Past and Present

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
Everyone likes a one man's trash is another man's treasure story.  But what can these stories tell us about collectors, collecting habits and the art market in antiquities in the 20th century in  the UK?

In November 2014, the family of a deceased elderly woman, Doreen Liddell, hired the services of an estate sale company, Penzance Auction House to go through the painful disposal of unwanted things us humans tend to accumulate over our lifetimes and that relatives frequently don't have the place for, or the emotional strength to actively sift through.  

Companies like these sort through a deceased person's household belongings, usually after the surviving family members have made a first-pass, marking or removing what they want to keep. The auctioneer's team, familiar with the mechanization of dealing with the property of the deceased,  pack up the momentos the family wants to keep preparing them for delivery to various destinations.  They then set to work valuating the remaining items the heirs aren't interested in retaining, preparing them for auction.  The last two steps usually involve donating the low value items to charities and chucking out the bitts and bobbs that remain.  In quick work company's like this one in Cornwall can clear the house of all evidence that was once a person's life. 

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
One item in this clean-out, a 7-inch tall bronze statuette of a cat, seemed destined for the trash dumpster parked on the driveway of Mrs. Liddell's cottage in Penzance, until auctioneer David Lay intervened.  Lay had a hunch that the regal looking cat with golden earrings set up near the fireplace was not a simple tourist trinket, but might be something special.  Following his instincts, he took the statue to specialists in Egyptian art at the British Museum. They identified the feline as a 26th Dynasty (672-525 BCE) Egyptian bronze.  

Statuettes symbolizing cats often served as votive offerings in Egyptian temples, and were frequently placed in tombs.  Almost all Egyptian gods were associated with some animal and assumed the form of a particular beast in Egyptian sculpture.  In this case the goddess, Bast, written as 'Bastet' by scribes to emphasis that the 't' was to be pronounced, is symbolized in the form of a feline.  In writing, her name has the hieroglyph of a 'bas'-jar with the feminine ending of 't' and during the Old Kingdom she was considered to be the daughter of Atum in Heliopolis.  She first appeared in animal form bearing the head of a lion.  Later,  in the New Kingdom, she took on the form of a domestic house cat like the animal bust found in the cottage.

Up for auction yesterday, the Bast statuette expected to sell for a conservative £5,000 to £10,000 GBP but instead sold for £52,000.  

But how did this ancient object find its way from an Egyptian tomb to a house in Western Cornwall?

It seems Doreen Liddell was the widow of Douglas Liddell, who, before his death was one of the biggest influences in British Numismatics. Liddell worked for Spink and Son Ltd, the prestigious auction house founded in London in 1666.   Starting out in their coin department just after the Second World War he would remain with the collecting firm through his retirement in December 1987.  He worked first in Spink's coin department, moving on to director of the company on the 1st June 1965, followed by a promotion to Managing Director in 1977, a post he retained until he retirement to Cornwall. 
 
Spink's has long been famous not only for its for its sales of Ancient Egyptian artefacts and in 1939 was tasked with selling the estate of archaeologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, three months after Carter's death. 

Photo Credit: Harry Burton/Rue des Archives/ Getty
It is likely that Douglas Liddell purchased the 2,500-year-old Egyptian bronze at one of Spink's many antiquities sales, but unfortunately like is true in many, many cases during the 1900s, collection histories weren't prized, even as is the case with this collector, by those in the biz.  The family has no recollection of, or record for the purchase of the Bast statue so the context of this piece; where it came from and who it belongs to before it was purchased by Liddell has sadly been lost.

In fairness to Mr. Liddell and collectors in general, even Howard Carter, methodical man though he was, kept no systematic record of the antiquities in his personal collection.   The closest thing researchers have to a record of his significant collection is the valuation of Carter's property for probate prepared by Spink and Son on 1 June 1939.

It is not publicly known yet, if this feline statue has a similar record of valuation by Spink, but it is possible that it has.

Can we estimate the purchase price?

Not exactly, but an early Spink and Son catalog from 1924 has been digitized so we have an idea of how antiquities increase their value over time. 

This catalog features objects from the MacGregor, Hilton Price, Amherst, Meux & Carnarvon collections and on page twelve pictures a larger Egyptian bronze cat, almost twice as tall as the one in Mrs. Liddell's cottage.  This one was estimated at auction at £400, a healthy sum relative the other items in the catalog and one that included delivery anywhere in the world.
Photo Credit: Spink and Son Auction Catalog, 1924

Reproduced using an online inflation calculator that compares collector's prices in 1924 with the value of the British Pound in 2011, the scanned catalog illustrates the comparative values that continue to drive individuals to collect antiquities as financial investments.   Not only do these figures show that antiquities were worthwhile investments but their pricing gives ARCA's blog readers insight into how relatively easy it was for collectors to assemble large and diverse collections in the early years of the 20th Century with cheaply priced antiquities.

Back then you could even bring your mummy home for a simple £16  (See page 8).

While collectors are finding bargains today, which will appreciate in value just like this cat and this mummy did, we hope that today's contemporary collectors will begin to place greater importance on where an object comes from as well as better care of maintaining a collection history outlining their purchases.  That way the next generation of heirs don't toss grandpa's beloved kitty in the trash heap.

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/bast.html
http://www.antiquitiesonline.co.uk/A-catalogue-from-the-golden-age-of-collecting_A10JF1.aspx
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-31524625
http://www.davidlay.co.uk/?_ga=1.59733733.991253984.1423311544
http://www.nicholasreeves.com/item.aspx?category=Writing&id=69
https://penzanceauctionhouse.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/something-quite-spectacular/
http://www.spink.com/news/newsletters/2003/200305coin_news.asp

June 26, 2014

ARCA '14 Conference, Panel VIII: Smart Collecting and Connoisseurship and When Art is Stolen

Panel VIII: Smart Collecting and Connoisseurship and When Art is Stolen

What’s wrong with this picture? Standards and issues of connoisseurship
Tanya Pia Starrett, MA HONS LLB, University of Glasgow
Solicitor

Crossborder Collecting in the XXI Century: Comparative Law Issues
Massimo Sterpi, Avvocato
Partner, Studio Legale Jacobacci & Associati 

Bicycles vs. Rembrandt
Martin Finkelnberg
Head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit


National Criminal Intelligence Division, The Netherlands

December 28, 2013

Fabio Isman reports on scholar Augusto Gentili's identification of sitter of portrait "Young Knight in Landscape" at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Carpaccio's 1515 "Young Knight in a
 Landscape", Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Investigative journalist Fabio Isman's article "Scoperto chi è il “Cavaliere Thyssen” di Carpaccio" discusses the work of scholar Augusto Gentili who has identified the mystery man in Vittorio Carpaccio's painting "Young Knight in a Landscape" (1515) at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Gentili, a lecturer at Ca'Foscari di Venezia until his retirement, has identified the painting as a portrait of the Venetian captain Marco Gabriel decapitated by the Turks in 1501 during wartime.

Here Mar Borobia for the museum describes the difficulty in identifying painting as either a fictional knight or a portrait which would be "the first known example in which the sitter is depicted full-length":
It has been suggested that this new format can be explained if this image were a posthumous portrait of a soldier, in which case the figure would be similar to funerary images of a comparable type and date. The landscape around this enigmatic young man is as mysterious and troubling as he is, combining as it does flowers and animals that refer both to good and evil, purity and corruption.
Isman reports that Professor Gentili linked the portrait to Marco Gabriel and to Venice's Hotel Gabrielli. The English translation of Gentili's analysis will be published in The Burlington Magazine.

October 12, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China" by Johanna Devlin

In the Fall 2012 electric edition of The Journal of Art Crime, Johanna Devlin writes on "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China":
The aim of this study is to highlight new trends in the art market and the different ways in which issues concerning ownership of cultural objects have been revealed. In investigating the reasons behind the repatriation of Chinese art via the art market and analyzing its impacts on the art market, this paper will try to uncover what lies behind this new type of recovery.
Ms. Devlin is a graduate of the ARCA Post-Graduate Certificate Program and King's College London. she has worked at Christie's and has studied in China.  She is currently based in Paris.

Here's a link to ARCA's website and information regarding subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime.

February 27, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Judge Arthur Tompkins Reviews "The Taste of Angels" and "Art Plunder: The Fate of Works of Art in War and Unrest"



In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Judge Arthur Tompkins reviews "The Taste of Angels" (First American Edition; Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1948) by Francis Henry Taylor and "Art Plunder: The Fate of Works of Art in War and Unrest" (John Day, New York, 1961) by Wilhelm Treue and translated by Basil Creighton.

Although both of these books are out of print, they can be found from second-hand internet-based booksellers, and are valuable sources for any student of art crime, writes Judge Tompkins.

In "The Taste of Angels", a former director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art surveys the history of art collecting across a wide variety of settings, including the Pharaohs in Egypt, through the Hellenic and Roman Civilizations,the Italy of the Renaissance,the Medicis and the Papacy, and on to the fall of Napoleon.

Wilhelm Treue's small (250 pages) work is an illuminating precursor to the modern study of art crime. According to Judge Tompkins, "it is probably the earliest work of serious scholarship that sets out to encompass, in a coherent form, the long history of art crimes committed during times of war."

Judge Arthur Tompkins has been a District Court Judge in New Zealand for 11 years, having been appointed in 1997. He gained his Bachelor's degree in Law from Canterbury University, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983, and subsequently graduated Masters in Law, with First Class Honors, from Cambridge University, England, in 1984. He has taught the Law of Evidence, and presented at numerous conferences and workshops on a variety of topics, including art crime, expert evidence, the intersect between law and science in courtroom, and forensic DNA, in New Zealand, China, England, Ireland, France, and Italy. He is an Honorary Member of Interpol's DNA Monitoring Expert Group, and an elected Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. He teaches "Art in War" at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in Amelia each summer.

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.