has been a strange auction season. A nice Rose Period Picasso
became the most expensive painting ever auctioned when it sold
at Sotheby's for more than $104 million. Sotheby's reinstituted
a New York auction of Pre-Columbian Art. Christie's decided not
to hold a Latin American Art auction in New York. Phillips de
Pury and Luxembourg closed its American Art department and Daniella
Luxembourg decided to leave the auction house, which is now known
as Phillips de Pury.
And there are only 100 lots in Sotheby's Antiquities auction June
9, 2004, one of its smallest offerings in many years.
As usual there have been many surprises and some disappointments.
Despite the resounding Picasso record, the euphoria around it
did not raise the price bar across the board. There is clearly
money out there for "big ticket" items but the market
appears to be quite selective, which means that for connoisseurs
there are opportunities as the "big ticket" items are
not always the best works. Unfortunately, there is an unpredictability
in the market with few auctions selling very well, say, 85 percent
or more of the offered lots. Some have not even sold two-thirds
and at such levels consignors have every right to be concerned
they may be left holding the proverbial bag. Interestingly, several
works in the Christie's evening sale of Contemporary Art May 11,
2004 were retreads, that is, they had been offered and sold at
major auctions in New York within the past two years, which is
pretty recent for re-offering.
Not only does Sotheby's have a small auction, its selection is
by and large not choice, albeit with a few exceptions.
The star of the auction is Lot 78, a great bronze figure of a
warrior from the Middle Bronze Age, circa Early 2nd Millennium
B.C. The 7 ¼-inch-high figure comes from the Erlenmeyer
Foundation of Basel and was sold at Sotheby's in London June 12,
1997. With his titled head, wild curly hair and outstretched arms,
this figure is immensely appealing. It has an estimate of $100,000
to $150,000. It sold for $220,800 including the buyer's
as do all the results mentioned in this article.
highly desirable work is Lot 51, a large Roman mosaic panel of
a pygmy hunt. The panel measures 26 ½ by 82 1/8 inches
and is dated circa 2nd Century A.D. It has a modest estimate of
$70,000 to $90,000. It sold for $299,200.
The panel depicts, among other things, three pymies attacking
a hippopotamus, a crane poking theeye of a pygmy, a crocodile
swallowing a pack mule, a pygmy carrying fruit, a pygmy plucking
fruit from a tree and exotic vegetation. What more could you possibly
The catalogue notes that "According to Aristotle pygmies
were a tribe of semi-mythical dwarfs living in the swamps of Upper
Egypt," adding that "Their dimunitive figures and comical
adventures were extremely popular in the repertoire of Roman house
decoration." The catalogue also suggest "for a related
example see the mosaic of the Great Nile Pygmy Hunt in Sousse,
For more conventional beauty, Lot 30, a marble figure of a goddess
(called "Isis") is particularly graceful. Dated in the
catalogue as Roman Imperial, circa Late 1st/Early 2nd Century
A.D., it is 24 inches high and has a modest estimate of $30,000
to $40,000. It sold for $209,600.
The catalogue provides the following description:
"It is not known where and when Thomas Hope, the celebrated
Regency furniture designer and probably the most famous antiquarian
and collector of antiquities of the late 18th/early 19th Century,
acquired the present statue, but a date of acquisition prior to
1809 is certain, since hope himself published a slightly deviant
line drawing of the figure in his 1809 Costume of the Ancients
with the caption 'Nymph in the old style of attire: from a small
statue in my possession.'"
The statue, now headless, depicts a standing woman, it continued,
"with her right leg forward wearing high-soled sandals and
a long pleated chiton fastened on the shoulder with a long himation
wrapped around her upper back and right forearm, draped across
the breasts and left shoulder, and cascading in zigzag folds along
her left side, her hair failing in long corkscrew curls over the
smaller and less refined statue of a goddess is Lot 25. The Roman
marble figure is dated in the catalogue circa 2nd/3rd Century
A.D. It is 21 ½ inches high and has a modest estimate of
$6,000 to $9,000. It sold for $19,200.
Lot 24 is
a still smaller Roman marble figure of the Knidian Aphrodite,
circa 1st/2nd Century A.D. The 12 3/16-inch-high figure has her
head and was once in the collection of Nina Borowski of Paris
and the Andre Emmerich Gallery in New York. It has a modest estimate
of $6,000 to $9,000. It sold for $7,200. It is a
copy of the famous statue by Praxiteles.
Lot 21 is a very nice Cyladic figure of a goddess that is dated
in the catalogue Early Bronze Age II, circa 2700-2500 B.C. The
figure's right leg is a bit in front of the left, which is a bit
unusual for such figures. It has a modest estimate of $5,000 to
$8,000. It sold for $27,000.
Lot 54 is
a large Egyptian limestone relief panel, Sakkara, 5th Dynasty,
reign of Neferirkare, circa 2500-2480 B.C. It measures 26 by 75
¼ inches and has an ambitious estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $624,000. Its provenance has been
to Count Alexandre Louis Henry de Vaucelles who brought it back
to France from Egypt in 1829. "On his trip to Egypt in 1826,"
the catalogue entry noted, "in the wake of Napoleon's campaign
and in the full swing of the Egyptomania that ensued, the young
traveler and scholar Louis de Vaucelles (1798-1851) was among
the first European explorers to go beyond the second cataract
of the Nile into the land of Nubia. He pioneered the field of
Nubian studies with his book Chronologie des Monuments de la
Nubie, which he published in Paris in 1829." The entry
also notes that Pierre du Bourquet has maintained that the relief
"is unusual in two respects: normally the deceased 'is represented
only once at the end of the list and, if he has a counterpart,
it is most cases his wife. Here he is shown with his name, but
with different titles at each end. The second feature worth noting
is how the scribe placed a list of the deceased titles under each
register of offerings; each title in included except at the end
of the lower register and all of them are preceded by the preposition
['to'}, which probably emphasizes, referring to the magical power
of the formula, that these offerings are meant for the deceased
and for him only.'"
On a smaller
scale, Lot 62 is quite lovely. It is an Egyptian blue figure of
the Goddess Maat, 20th/21st Dynasty, 1075-944 B.C. The 3 3/8-inch-high
figure is missing her headdress and has some damange to her right
shoulder, right elbow and right knee, but is finely modeled. It
has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $54,000.
Lot 63 is
an Egyptian fragmentary sistrum, 26th/30th Dynasty, 664-342 B.C.
The 8 7/8-inch high sistrum is, according to the catalogue, "carved
in a fine green stone resembling magnesite marble or periodottie,
in the form of a head of the cow goddess Hathor supporting a rattle
in the form of a naos on her head. The sistrum was a musical rattle
shaken to appease or entertain the goddess Hathor. It was a woman's
instrument and was used by groups of choristers attached to important
temples." It is missing one of two branches between which
wires with metal disks would have been strung. It has an estimate
of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $48,000.
Lot 71 is
a polychrome wood coffin lid, Egyptian, 21st/24th Dynasty, 1075-716
B.C. It was once in the collection of James Henry Breasted (1865-1935),
the founder of the Oriental Institute of Chicago. The finely modeled
lid is 44 ½ inches high and has a very beautiful face.
It has a conservative estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold
Lot 88 is
a fine bronze bowl that the catalogue says is probably Urartu,
8th/7th Century B.C. The interior of the bowl is repoussé
in shallow relief with the figure of a winged bull. It comes from
the Alsdorf Collection and has a diameter of 6 7/8 inches. It
has a modest estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. It sold for