Sunday, March 1, 2009

Update on Christie’s Sale of Chinese Sculptures

The sculptures of a rat and of a rabbit, originally part of the zodiac fountain of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, were each sold for close to $20 million at the Christie’s sale in Paris of the Yves St. Laurent estate. Despite China’s protests that Anglo-French forces looted the sculptures in 1860, the sale exceeded the pre-sale high estimates. Chinese authorities reacted angrily and, according to a Bloomberg News report, will require Christie’s to give details of the ownership and provenance of any artifacts it wants to bring in or out of China. A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry indicated that China will continue to seek the return of the sculptures, although, as the French court that heard a last-minute attempt to stop the sale evidently concluded, it is unlikely that any international conventions or domestic law will require these returns. And while it is desirable to seek more documentation and transparency in international art transactions, it is also not clear how China will carry out these additional requirements for Christie’s-related sales.