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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 12: Conclusions

Anne L. Bandle


The art market is shaped by a web of actors in which auction houses take a specific and important position. Through auction houses, attributions and values are put into the public domain. Indeed, auction sales are the most publicised sale platform for artworks and antiques. This exposure of auction houses and their sales operates to their advantage, as it offers auction houses a unique marketing platform for their services and sales. The difference in prices between art sold at auction and art sold privately proves the greater impact and success of auction sales.

The information auction houses produce in their sale catalogues and on their websites reaches not only potential clients, but also dealers, scholars and market analysts who refer to it when assessing the art object and its creator. This process implies that different actors insert an auction house’s misattributions and undervaluations into the art market by relying on the information’s accuracy. The actors’ confidence in the information auction houses produce is the result of the auction houses’ value-based marketing of their expertise and of the property they offer for sale.

However, by limiting their engagement and legal responsibility to consignors for the created attributions and prices, auction houses challenge the reliability of that information and their expertise in establishing it. The auction houses’ approach affects the sleeper consignor who stands in a vulnerable position. More broadly, it threatens the health and stability of the market auction houses profit from. Courts endorsing an...

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