Running an auction house is not easy. If someone approached you to invest in a business that would start each year with very little idea about what it would sell you would be dubious. And any business which relies on expert judgement caries big risks (Standard & Poor’s $1.8 billion pay off this week demonstrated this nicely).
Lancelot Thwaytes’ case against Sotheby’s shows the risks that auction houses manage on every lot. Whilst Thwayte’s anger is understandable it is really hard to blame Sotheby’s – which would clearly have preferred the commission on a signed Caravaggio – for what is an art market problem.
Authentication has always been difficult, but it has never been so contentious. And there is no reason to expect it to change.
Unlike the subjects in the picture, there is no real winner in this story.
Alasdair Whyte, Editor, Private Art Investor