Christie’s Withdraws Alabaster Bird Ahead of Antiquity Auction

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The New York Sun

Christie’s International in New York said Tuesday that it yanked a 4,000-year-old Egyptian alabaster vessel from its antiquities sale tomorrow because of concerns raised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art that it was “a problematic piece,” Christie’s spokeswoman Bendetta Roux said.

The vessel, in the shape of a bird and estimated to sell for as much as $30,000, is described in Christie’s catalog as having belonged to an “Israeli Private Collection” before 1975.

Recent high-profile court cases involving patrimony laws, accusations of theft, and smuggling may have cast a shadow over the field of antique art, but they have not quelled the urge to buy and sell.An antiquities auction at Sotheby’s New York last week tallied $4.6 million.

The Christie’s sale features the Roman marble Lansdowne Hermaphroditus, a dual-gendered statue valued at as much as $500,000. It is among 291 lots that the auction house expects to gross as much as $9 million.

Dealer Ali Aboutaam of New Yorkand Geneva-based Phoenix Ancient Art SA, said the controversies have not diminished profits: “It’s clear that the prices for medium- and top-quali ty antiquities have increased in the past couple years, even more so in the last year.”

Still, dealers and auction houses have come under fire. “Evidence is coming out that shows us how provenance information is faked,” said Patricia Gerstenblith, a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago. “If you look at the auction catalogs, you don’t find the names. The question is whether the auction houses really get legitimate, meaningful information.”

– Bloomberg News

RECAPTURING THE FLAGS Four battle flags of the American Revolution sold yesterday for almost twice what Sotheby’s had estimated. The flags sold for $17.3 million to an anonymous bidder who would not confirm to the auction house whether the flags will remain in America.

The seller was Captain Christopher Fagan, a descendant of the British general Banastre Tarleton, who captured the flags and wrote a history of the war. The flags had remained with his family continuously for more than 225 years.

“I’m overwhelmed. I can’t tell you how I feel. Maybe I can tell you in a fortnight,” Mr. Fagan said moments after Sotheby’s executive David Redden had sounded the final gavel. He plans to donate some of the proceeds to military service organizations in America and the United Kingdom.

The first lot, a silk flag of 13 red and white stripes, belonged to the 2nd regiment of the Connecticut Light Dragoons and was captured at Pound Ridge, N.Y., in 1779. After a Connecticut bidder dropped out, the battle for the flag was between two telephone bidders. It sold for $12,336,000.

“I was just crushed. This has been like a death,” a current member of the regiment, Salvator Tarintino, said.

The winning bidder of the first lot also won the battle for the second lot, paying $5,056,000 for three flags of the Third Virginia Detachment, which Tarleton captured in 1780 at the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina. The competition came from a flag collector present at the auction, tea mogul Ben Zaricor of Santa Cruz, Calif.

“I’m not disappointed, but the results here will cost me, because they’ll drive up the price of other flags I want to purchase,” Mr. Zaricor said.


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