Antiquities with good history are worth more

More anecdotal evidence perhaps that prices paid for antiquities reflects not only the intrinsic value of the object, but the quality of its history as well. Unprovenanced objects are not selling. Souren Melikian reports on the importance of a pre-1970 history for antiquities at recent auctions in Paris:

At Pierre Bergé on May 29, an Egyptian portrait painted in encaustic on panel of the type conventionally associated with the Fayum area rose to €1.46 million, or nearly $2 million, paid by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The portrait, datable to the years 54 to 68 A.D. on the basis of the hairdo, was owned by a European collector as early as 1968. A week later, it was the turn of Boisgirard-Antonini to score with Egyptian art. The wooden mask of a woman, with its ancient polychromy unfortunately altered by heavy waxing, realized 10 times the estimate, at more than €75,000. It had surfaced in the Paris trade in June 1912. Two lots down, the star piece in the sale, an Egyptian torso of the fourth century B.C. more than tripled its high estimate as it went over €2.26 million. Hieroglyphs carved on the back name a prince who was the governor of Upper Egypt. The inscription was debated at length in three separate German publications before World War II. At the end of a sustained bidding match, the room broke out in applause. The contrast with the dead silence that greeted scores of bronzes, some very fine, from ancient Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and other areas was striking. None were documented and the majority remained unwanted at low prices ranging from €1,000 to €5,000 euros. In five to 10 years, these hot potatoes may not even make it to the auction rooms.

  1. Souren Melikian, Antiquities, With a Proven Record, Drive Auction Market, N.Y. Times, June 14, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/arts/15iht-melikian15.html.transparent

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