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July 20, 2020

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch - four plus four more

Last Wednesday ARCA wrote about four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt coming up for auction with Gorny & Mosch in Germany which at one point in history had been embezzled from Austria's Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna.  This week it seems that another four suspect antiquities coming from Italy, have also been identified.  These artefacts, an Etruscan bronze figurine and several Greek vases, have been withdrawn from the same upcoming 22 July 2020 Antiquities & African Art auction pending further review but are known to have been linked to dealers who handled illicit artefacts.  

In addition to their incomplete provenance histories, which make many of the Lots in this upcoming sales catalogue difficult to identify as licit or illicit, all four of the current suspect objects at Gorny & Mosch have come up for auction in such a way that claims for their restitution cannot be easily asserted.  This gap in how the German market operates allows tainted foreign cultural assets to continue in circulation, moving from one auction house in one country to another auction house in another, where they are sold and resold in jurisdictions where the statute of limitations is more favorable to the seller than to the source country. 

While  Dr. Hans-Christoph von Mosch of Gorny & Mosch has been quoted as saying “Gorny & Mosch deliberately (withdrew) the four items for further research,” this action apparently only occurred after notification that there was a problem with the objects' pedigree.  One has to ask what, if any, initial research was conducted prior to listing the objects, if further research is needed now. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to emphasize when suspect antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in this Gorny & Mosch auction, art market actors might strive to act more responsibly, turning down circulating objects which are already known to be problematic, rather than allowing them to continue circulating onward to less than knowledgable collectors who the market should be actively advocating for and not taking advantage of.