Sharjah sheikh in legal battle with Sotheby’s over bronze sculpture

Sharjah-based sheikh and Middle Eastern art collector and commentator, Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi has launched a court case against auction house Sotheby’s, claiming it overvalued a sculpture by around ten times its alleged worth, according to Arabian Business.

Sotheby’s has responded by saying it is confident it acted “appropriately” when providing the valuation of a sculpture to buyer Al Qassemi, who is also founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah.

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 Al Qassemi has filed a case in the High Court in London seeking repayment on a £725,000 ($934,000) sculpture he bought at Sotheby’s last year by modern Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mokhtar.

According to particulars of claim seen by Arabian Business, Sotheby’s had printed in its auction catalogue that Au Bord du Nil, a four-foot bronze figure of a woman carrying a water vessel on her head was “cast in circa 1920s”, and that a separate condition report said it was a “lifetime cast” (the artist died in 1934).

 However, according to the court papers, Al Qassemi now believes the work was likely cast in 1939, five years after the artist’s death, based on a marking on the bronze.

Posthumous casts are usually valued at a much lower price – this work could be valued at “as little as £70,000” ($90,272), Al Qassemi claims.

Al Qassemi, a collector of modern Middle Eastern art, founded the UAE’s Barjeel Art Foundation in 2010. He claims he relied on Sotheby’s expertise to make the purchase, and, after the sale, asked the auction house to confirm the exact date of casting with the foundry (a workshop or factory for casting metal) that made it.

Based on the contents of the report from the French foundry, Al Qassemi is claiming a refund of the total £725,000 plus expenses thought to be an additional £200,000, alleging that Sotheby’s was negligent and in breach of contract by misrepresenting the sculpture in its catalogue.

 Sotheby’s said in a statement to Arabian Business: “We never want a valued and respected client to be unhappy with our service, but in this case we simply could not resolve our good faith dispute, despite our very best efforts.

“We are confident that the court will find that Sotheby’s acted appropriately. In the cataloguing for this work we deliberately used the word ‘circa’, without suggesting an exact date.

“The available information strongly supports the view that this is a lifetime cast: of the six models produced, five were completed within the artist’s lifetime (1891-1934) and the sculpture sold by Sotheby’s does not bear the bronze stamp that was required by French law from 1935 onwards – a law the foundry had lobbied for.

“The foundry specified that its comments regarding the markings were a hypothesis. The foundry has since put forward two further hypotheses: one supporting the view that the absence of a bronze stamp on this sculpture supports the assessment that it is a lifetime cast; and the other that the marking of a ‘1’ or ‘I’ may refer to the model number rather than the dating of the cast.

“Based on the information we have received is not possible to draw conclusions relating to the dating of the piece from the markings in question.”

Responding to specific allegations about the work being posthumous, Sotheby’s added: “In our view, in circumstances such as this, a series of six casts that are produced by the same foundry during the sculptor’s lifetime and shortly posthumously would all be regarded as authorised period casts and there would be no material difference in value.”

A representative for Al Qassemi said: “Numerous meetings were held between officials from Sotheby’s and Al Qassemi’s office in an attempt to settle the matter out of court, but neither party could find a mutually agreeable settlement.”

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