" I was in Sotheby's [December 1996] on my way to an old master sale, when I noticed a bronze statue of a boy perched on top of an eight foot tall French armoire. They got me a ladder and I was able to see only the toes. Under the loupe I saw immediately that the statue was ancient. It had a magnificent underwater incrustation patina, and traces of the holes which held silver toenails. I nervously descended and got the sales room frisson you get at times like this. The catalogue said 19th century bronze statue, $6 thousand to $9 thousand. Property of Sotheby's. Exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and eight others, ex collection William Herbert Hunt. I saw this thing sell six years before [at Sotheby's for half a million dollars]. What's going on?
"Next day psyched up to go to seven figures I bought the bronze statue by phone for $75 thousand. The great sculpture expert Michael Hall was underbidder and was luckily tapped out at that moment. A group supposedly bid to $40 thousand planning to cut it up and sell the parts separately. The head would make $500 thousand, the torso $100 thousand, the hands and feet $10 thousand each. Everything you buy has an interesting tale, but that of the Roman boy is an odyssey. "
New York collector Stuart Pivar says the odyssey of his "nearly life-size" Roman bronze boy includes a chapter on an attempted "assassination" of the statue. He identifies the place of treachery as the Hunt-Sotheby's auction, June 19,1990. And he fingers the lead assassin: Bob Hecht.
Hecht is now on trial in Rome for another conspiracy, one to traffic in ancient art, including pieces from the Hunt-Sotheby's sale.
I covered the Sotheby's antiquities auction of the collection of Bunker and Herbert Hunt for The Economist magazine. Pivar's bronze boy statue, then owned by Herbert Hunt, was the most expensive piece on the block. Sotheby's billed it as 2nd C. AD, derived from a prototype of the 5th C. BC and estimated its value at $800,000 to $1.2 million. The catalogue noted the piece may once have been a Roman lampbearer.
The statue had been introduced to the international ancient art market in the 1970s by the late Swiss numismatist and antiquities dealer, Herbert Cahn of Munzen und Medaillen in Basle. It then went on consignment to New York dealer Andre Emmerich before being exhibited widely in the US and Hecht's partner at Summa Gallery, Bruce McNall, acquiring it.
McNall got it in Basle, almost certainly from Herbert Cahn -- although Cahn's son David says he doesn't know the details pertaining to his father's sale of the statue or where his father's files are. Quite odd, because Dr. Herbert Cahn was a scholar and his papers would likely be preserved.
In any event, McNall then sold the bronze boy to Herbert Hunt.
Pivar claims that it was Bob Hecht, the once unquestionable grand man of the antiquities trade, who spread the word in the market that the bronze was a forgery. And I do remember Hecht telling me and Turkish journalist Ozgen Acar prior to the Sotheby's sale that the statue was a fake, made in a foundry in Italy.