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The Sale of Misattributed Artworks and Antiques at Auction

Anne L. Bandle

The glamour and mystery of the art auction, gathering interested buyers from across the globe, makes it one of the most fascinating marketplaces in existence. ‘Sleepers’, artworks or antiques that have been undervalued and mislabelled due to an expert’s oversight and consequently undersold, appear regularly. This fascinating new book provides the first extensive study of the phenomenon of sleepers through an in-depth analysis of the contractual relationships, liability and remedies that arise in the context of auction sales.
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Chapter 3: Interim conclusion

Anne L. Bandle


An attribution works like a decryption device between the art object and the public’s perception. It enables the viewer to understand the art object and to place it in its artistic and historical context. Through its attribution, the viewer can differentiate the art object’s creator, age, provenance, technique, form and movement from other art objects. An attribution shapes our qualitative understanding of the art object in that it generates a certain esteem of the work’s aesthetic, historicity or technicality. At the same time, it may trigger a desire to own the art object.

An attribution forms the bridge between scholarship and the art object. It expresses the results of scholarly analysis on each of the art object’s attributes. Only once accepted by the expert authority will a new attribution prevail in the market. Thus, an attribution is not the outcome of a consensus among all scholars, but instead reflects the opinion of a single prevalent expert.

An attribution lies between the art object and the market. Every art object necessarily bears an attribution in order to be identifiable. It creates a basis for an art object’s marketability and its non-marketability. Moreover, an attribution reflects a certain economic value and therefore assists the seller in determining the art object’s price. Given the high economic stakes in attributions, auction houses can misuse them as a promotional tool in order to enhance the art object’s value and its sale prospects. The more valued and extended the information...

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