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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 10: Authenticity guarantee to consignors

Anne L. Bandle


While the volume of sales has continuously increased, the time spent on each consigned art object has diminished. Consequently, auction houses dedicate less time and effort to the authentication and examination of consigned property. To ensure that the art auction market remains attractive in safeguarding the auction house’s reputation, the auction houses must show a certain commitment to consignors regarding the attribution process. Auction houses are generally more inclined to rigorously examine consigned property if they have contractually agreed to answer for an established attribution, as they presently do for certain counterfeits. Therefore, auction houses should adopt authenticity guarantees towards their consignors similar to those offered to purchasers.1 By means of such an authenticity guarantee, the auction house warrants to its consignors that the established attribution is accurate. Such guarantees are likely to provide auction houses with a sufficient incentive to diligently and seriously assess the consigned property. Thereby, an auction house manifests to consignors and to the art market that they can rely on the auction house’s expertise and produced attribution.

Verifying the consigned property for potential sleepers is a challenging, but achievable, endeavour. The more an artwork or antique is traded and exchanged on the market, the more information is created and circulated by means of databases, catalogues and other documents. Practice reveals certain patterns with sleepers on the market.

Sleepers are generally “fresh” to the market, meaning that they have not recently, or ever before, appeared on the market. It also...

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