Weekly News Roundup: June 1-June 5, 2009

In art, antiques and collectibles news are two ongoing legal cases, one with Yale University trying to keep a Van Gogh, the other between a shipping mogul and a billionaire “duke-ing it out” over a Sam Francis painting and photos of the French president’s wife revealing a lot about her.

From The Associated Press via Auction Central News:
Attorney: Yale turned blind eye when acquiring painting

Yale University took a pre-emptive action in federal court last March claiming it was in legal possession of “Night Café” by Vincent Van Gogh. The painting was seized during the Russian Revolution for industrialist Ivan Morozov. A relative of Morozov’s, Pierre Konowaloff, wants the Van Gogh returned to him.

In papers filed recently, Konowaloff accused the Ivy League school of “art laundering.” Yale received the painting, which has been on display in Yale University Art Gallery for half a century, as a bequest from an alumnus who bought it in the 1930s. Yale argues that the Russian confiscation was permissible under international law. To be continued.

From Bloomberg:
Broad Joins Christie’s in Dispute, Wins First Round

More news in another legal case, this one between collectors with mega-deep pockets. When last we visited the controversy surrounding the May 15 Christie’s auction, shipping tycoon Gregory Callimanopulos was crying foul in court. He said his bid of $3 million for a Sam Francis painting had been hammered down. He contended the auction was then reopened with the piece going to another very big-bucks collector, Eli Broad.

But no, said Christie’s. Broad’s representative had raised her paddle in time, and auctioneer Christopher Burge had not seen it. Further, Burge points out that in its catalog, it is stated that the auction house may “refuse any bid” and “determine the successful bidder.”

Round One went to Broad when on June 2 a district judge nixed Callimanopulos’ attempt to stop the painting, “Grey,” from being turned over to Broad, founder of KB Home. Undaunted, Callimanopulos asked that Broad not get the painting until an appeal was decided. Round Two to Broad. The judge, William Pauley III, ruled that keeping “Grey” from Broad would “injure [him] to some degree because he will be denied his enjoyment of the work for an indefinite period.”

A Broad lawyer characterized Callimanopulos’ claim as an “imposition of a bruised ego,” and if that were not enough, said he was “the quintessential sore loser.”

From The Associated Press:
Nude Carla Bruni photo auctioned in Berlin

It’s not as if the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ever been a shrinking violet. Carla Bruni, a one-time top model and girlfriend of—well the list is too long to enumerate. Suffice to say Mick Jagger is on it. In Bruni’s pre- Elysée Palace days, she did some nude modeling, and now these photos are hitting the auction block. Last year, one sold for an astonishing $91,000, 30 times its estimate. On Thursday, a 1994 photo of the French first lady went for $19,600 in Berlin, $14,600 more than the top estimate. Both photos were purchased by anonymous bidders.

From Auction Central News:
Battle royale over rare Britains figures in Old Toy Soldier May 16 auction

Recession, don’t mess with toy soldiers. They will win if the Old Toy Soldier Auctions’ May 16 sale is any indication. Almost every one of the 677 sold bringing in close to $170,000, about $20,000 more than the estimates. The star of the auction was a 25-piece Britains Bahamas Police Band made only in 1959. The set with its drum major, bandmaster, drummers, horn and woodwind players sold for $6,490. The success of the auction was attributed partially to strong absentee and Internet bidding.

From Reuters:
French masterpiece shown for first time in 84 years

More than 80 years ago, a masterpiece by Jacques-Louis David disappeared from public view into private hands. “Alexander watching Apelles painting Campaspe” was mentioned from time to time in books, but that was the closest the public came to it. At last, the 1819 drawing has come out of hiding and will be auctioned July 8. It was put on view in New York June 2 before making its way to Sotheby’s, where the estimate was placed at $1.2 million.

From GM High-Tech Performance:
Heacock Classic Top 10 Pontiac Collectibles From The Past 50 Years

The Pontiac brand maybe fading into history, but certain of its models will live forever in the hearts of collectors. Here’s your chance to vote for your favorite. Is it the 1969 Trans Am? How about the ’65-’67 GTO? Or is it the 1969 Judge that gets your blood pumping faster?

Pompeii Fresco Recovered at New York Auction House

Art Loss Register (ALR) strikes again. It found a Pompeii fresco stolen 12 years ago as it was about to be auctioned. (Auction house, as usual, unidentified.) It was one of six wall panels a farmer came across when he was restoring his house at the beginning of the 20th century. The Italian government acquired the panels in 1957. Forty years later, they were MIA. Five had already been recovered. The ALR alerted all the appropriate international authorities. Case closed.

From The Boston Globe:
Williams hunting license stolen prior to N.H. auction

Someone had light fingers at a preview of Ted Williams’ items up for auction in New Hampshire. A fishing license the Hall-of-Famer, Red Sox great got in 1970 went missing along with some handwritten notes about good fishing holes. The license was in a lot with a hat and pinback that was estimated at $300 to $500.

From Auction Central News:
Massachusetts antiques dealer indicted for trafficking in whale teeth

A grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment against a Nantucket dealer for allegedly importing sperm-whale teeth. Sperm whales are on the endangered species list. Their teeth are used to make scrimshaw, which is popular with collectors for its beautiful carvings. If convicted, David L. Place could up to five years in jail for each count and have to pay up to $25,000.

From The Art Newspaper:
Nicolas Berggruen to open private Berlin museum

The very rich (Forbes estimates $1.8 billion rich) real-estate and financial-investment magnate, Nicolas Berggruen had the good sense to pick up some Hirst, Koons and Warhols starting 15 years ago. Now he wants to hang them in his own museum. (Papa’s collection of Picassos, Klees and Matisses are on display in the Museum Berggruen in Berlin.)

Since Berggruen owns a lot of buildings in Berlin, he’ll have no trouble finding a suitable property. He had been part of project to build a new Kunsthalle (art museum) that was being backed by the city’s mayor but pulled out last year.

From Auction Central News:
Rare Hanukkah lamp hits $314,000 at Skinner

Led by the sale of an important Hanukkah lamp, Skinner’s auction of antique and artisan Judaica on May 21 grossed more than $1.2 million, triple the presale estimate.

From The New York Times:
Obama’s Face (That’s Him?) Rules the Web

Barack Obama inspired a lot of folks to get out and vote last November. He has also inspired a lot of people to pick up a brush and paint his likeness. Obama art is all over the Internet—some good, some terrible and some just plain head scratching. (The naked president astride a unicorn? By the same guy who put pancakes on the heads of John McCain and Sarah Palin.)

And what is more, artists are making sales. (Although pop artist Peter Max’s portrait on e-Bay with a $17,000 price tag hasn’t sold.)

From Art Info:
Stolen Egyptian Artifacts Found at Auction House

Through the combined efforts of the Art Loss Register (ALR) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, all but one of eight Egyptian artifacts have been recovered. The pieces were stolen in 2007 from a Dutch museum. The ALR came across the items in an auction catalog and contacted customs. There were no estimates listed in the catalog.

From The Associated Press:
Antiques dealers lament sales slowdown

The antiques-and-collectibles industry has certainly not been immune to the abysmal state of the U.S. economy. People are being more careful with their spending. Many antiques shops have been closed and shows canceled. At least one show, the Connecticut Spring Antiques, increased the number of dealers and those attending by 15 percent. This was after upping its advertising budget by 20 percent.

From Bloomberg:
Art, Wine Prices Surge at Christie’s Auction on ‘Hunger to Buy’

In upbeat auction news, Christie’s Hong Kong sale brought in $138 million, $41 million more than its presale estimate. It’s believed that lower estimates and fewer lots helped contribute to the auction’s success. That and what one of widely known Asian collector called a “hunger to buy.” Michael Wang also declared the end of the art-market downturn. And based on some recent auction results, he may be right. (See from Reuters, Latin American art auction fetches $11 million)