Christie’s makes a fortune from sale of ex-royal objects

The auction at Christie’s turned out to be much ado about nothing. Greek Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis telephoned Christie’s 24 hours before the two-day auction started on January 24 to warn against the sale of objects «of historic and archaeological value as relics belonging to the Greek people,» as there had been two robberies at the villa and the catalog mentioned no provenance for the objects. Far from averting the sale, however, he drew attention to the event and make prices far overshoot initial estimates. In the end, Christie’s made more than 14 million euros from the 882 objects that changed hands. The collectors, ship owners and entrepreneurs who bid for objects with the royal insignia weren’t put off by the Greek government’s intention of reclaiming any items that did not appear on the lists officially handed over by former king Constantine to the National Gallery as well as a copy to the European Court of Human Rights. On the basis of those lists, the household items and valuable furniture and silver of Tatoi was loaded into containers and left Greece in 1991 by permission of the government of Constantinos Mitsotakis, in which Voulgarakis was deputy culture minister for sport. Speaking on television, Voulgarakis said: «I personally requested all the objects be bought and kept in Greece as historic relics but I was not heeded.» The auction attracted crowds of antique dealers, royalists and people who can afford to buy the saucers, egg cups, statuettes and vases that adorned the Tatoi villa in the 19th century. Then the royal summer residence, it received frequent visits from kings and princes from Britain, Denmark and Germany. The last-minute mobilization did not dissuade anyone; Christie’s went about its business as if nothing was amiss and made a fortune. British Museum officials were probably amused to see the outcome of an auction of objects that didn’t belong to the people of Greece, who, in truth, didn’t want them either. The general view here is that the objects could have stayed at Tatoi, to stock a museum there, and the former royal family to have been compensated. The public expects the ministry to focus on getting back the Parthenon Marbles, now that the new Acropolis Museum is nearing completion. The Faberge eggs and plates with the royal insignia are for antique dealers and collectors; they are not historical relics because that era has gone, never to return.

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