Sotheby’s have issued a defence in response to a High Court claim made over a work sold at auction which was attributed to a ‘follower’ of Caravaggio.
The version of The Card Sharps
offered at Sotheby's Olympia in December 2006 was estimated at
£20,000-30,000 and sold for £42,000 to the late collector and art
historian Sir Denis Mahon, who died aged 100 in 2011.
In 2007, Sir Denis identified the picture as
an original Caravaggio and acquired an export licence, which valued
it at £10m, to allow it to be shown at an exhibition in Italy.
The High Court claim, filed at the end of
last month, has been made by the vendor at the Olympia sale,
Lancelot William Thwaytes, a descendant of Surgeon Captain W. G.
Thwaytes, who had acquired Caravaggio's original of The
Musicians in 1947 which he sold to the Metropolitan
Museum in New York in 1952.
The claim states that the auctioneers
"failed to carry out appropriate research" and seeks unspecified
damages relating to the price difference between the hammer price
of £42,000 and "the true open market value of the painting in
Sotheby's, however, are confident that their
cataloguing was correct and have issued a statement saying they
remain of the view that "the painting is a copy and not an
autograph work by Caravaggio".
While the Thwaytes claim lists a number of
art historians who have lent their support to Sir Denis Mahon's
attribution - they include Antonio Paolucci, the director of the
Vatican Museums - Sotheby's maintain that their view "is supported
by the eminent Caravaggio scholar Professor Richard Spear, as well
as by several other leading experts in the field".
News of the claim came at the same time as
it emerged that Sir Denis had left his extensive collection of Old
Master paintings to the nation on condition that they must remain
free to view and never be sold. However, the bequest does not
include the painting subject to this High Court action.