Middle East Art Collector takes Sotheby’s to court

One of the most prominent collectors of Modern Middle Eastern Art has taken Sotheby’s to court for allegedly misrepresenting the value of an Egyptian sculpture in their sale catalogue.

Sheikh Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi forked out £725,000 for the bronze figure of a peasant woman ‘Au Bord du Nil’ by Mahmoud Moktar. The Sotheby’s catalogue described the work as having been cast ‘circa 1920s’ during the artist’s lifetime. It carried a pre-sale estimate of £120,000-£180,000.

Now it has emerged that the cast may have been produced after the artist’s death. According to lawyers for Al-Qassemi, this would reduce the value of the sculpture to approximately £70,000. On the contrary, Sotheby’s has asserted that even if the cast were posthumous “there would be no material difference in value”.

The Sheikh also alleges that Sotheby’s consultant for the sale, Mai Eldib, did not disclose that her mother, art and antiques dealer Nesreen Farag, was the selling agent for the sculpture. Further to this, he claims that Eldib acted as a telephone bidder for the lot on behalf of an unknown client. Were this proved true, it would constitute a conflict of interest in violation of Sotheby’s Code of Business Conduct.

When Sotheby’s  refused Al-Qassemi’s demand to completely refund him the £725,000, he filed suit. The case is ongoing and it remains to be seen to what extent the court will hold the auction house responsible for correctly cataloguing the objects it sells or whether caveat emptor will hold sway.

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