- Title: UK/GREECE: Greece wants Christie's Greek royal auction blocked.
- Date: 26th January 2007
- Summary: PAINTINGS
- Embargoed: 10th February 2007 12:00
- Topics: International Relations,Royalty
- Reuters ID: LVA1APRTCINVNK0Z4W4BAATPRRWX
- Story Text: The items on the auction block reflect the relations King George I had with many of the Crown Heads of Europe at the time. Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis says he has sent a letter to Christie's requesting the sale be suspended as the items may have been illegally exported from the country and may be part of Greece's cultural heritage. Greece said on Tuesday (January 23) it has asked auction house Christie's to shelve an upcoming London sale of a Greek royal collection until it proves the artworks were legally exported from the country.
Property formerly in the collection of King George I of the Hellenes - including silver, works by legendary Russian jeweller Faberge and works of art - are due to go on sale Wednesday and Thursday (January 24-25).
Christie's has said the collection of King George I, who ruled Greece from 1863 until 1913, comes from the summer palace of Tatoi near Athens. The items, some estimated to fetch up to 250,000 pounds (496,000 U.S. dollars), were released to ex-king Constantine in 1991.
More than 850 lots are up for sale, each offering a rare glimpse of royal life across Europe at the time.
"There's the silver, the furniture the Faberge, porcelain and pictures. But what's really exciting about them is the royal connection," said Christie's Director and Head of Silver Harry WIlliams-Bulkeley. "It gives you a complete overview of many of the royal families of Europe."
Danish silver features prominently, including a pair of striking soup tureens. A pair of large silver pilgrim flasks by British Royal goldsmith Robert Garrard are considered to be the finest royal silver to be sold publicly.
Given the close family links with Russia, the collection also includes about 100 Faberge items ranging in price from 120 British pounds (240 USD) to 250,000 British pounds (500,000 USD).
One highlight of the sale is a two-colour gold-mounted Faberge nephrite clock. A selection of the famous jeweller's enchanting miniature animals is also part of the collection.
"I think what's so wonderful with the Faberge is it's a wonderful market for new buyers. The Russian market is very strong at the moment and it's very natural for Russian collectors to want to buy things that come from Russia originally," WIlliams-Bulkeley said.
But Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis told reporters in Athens the auction house must say how it obtained the items or face legal action.
"Although the artefacts in the collection of King George I are many and very detailed, the exact origin and the method of how they came to be at Christie's auction house has not been made public," Voulgarakis said.
"The participants of the auction need to recognise that we will exercise our legal rights," he added.
Greece has made huge efforts to repatriate pillaged art from around the world but this row also highlights the country's uneasy relation with its former royals, who remain unpopular more than 30 years since the monarchy was abolished in a referendum.
Ministry officials said Greece had sent a protest letter to Christie's, warning of legal action unless the pieces are withdrawn from the auction.
Christie's released a written statement saying "no approach has been made to Christie's on behalf of Mr. Voulgarakis or the Greek Government until a telephone call at midday today, less than 24 hours before the auction, in which we were asked to withdraw unspecified lots on the unexplained basis that they belong to the Greek State and to agree a process for resolving that issue. No written communication has yet been received and we do not know how many or which lots are involved."
"The sale has attracted extensive international interest and we look forward to the two day sale starting tomorrow," the statement said.
Most of the Greek press has presented the auction as Constantine selling off the state jewels.
Constantine fled the country after briefly cooperating with the 1967-1974 military dictatorship and lived in exile for decades.
He has fought lengthy court battles to get back some of his property. In 1991, the then ruling conservatives allowed him to export the contents of Tatoi under the supervision of Greek officials.
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