It’s a hoary cliche: long lost work of art is discovered in what amounts to a junk shop and turns out to be priceless. Yet this is exactly what happened in the last two years as a regional UK auction house uncovered a rare Islamic treasure, a crystal ewer. The first sale was annulled when the consignors found out what they had. The second sale seemed unbelievable when the object first valued in the hundreds, then “sold” for £220,000, eventually brought more than £3m.
Yet that turns out to have been a rare auction opportunity all its own, as Georgina Adam explained in this weekend’s Financial Times. The buyer was Richard de Unger. His family owns a collection of Islamic art called the Kier collection. He applied for a UK export license — which gives domestic collections the opportunity to match the price — but put the value of the object at five times the price he paid.
Turns out the UK government didn’t believe he could have bought something in October 2008 for £3.24m that so quickly appreciated in price five times over. So they all asked Sotheby’s its opinion. Their verdict: £20m.
The ewer will soon go on display in Berlin.
The Art Market: Modigliani & Co. (Financial Times)