SOTHEBY'S by Peter Watson


The Inside Story
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 An exposÇ of the Old Master laundering and antiquities smuggling that hide like pentimenti underneath the prestigious Sotheby's image--a story recently reported on 60 Minutes. Watson's revelatory investigations arrive opportunely, as the big auction houses are enjoying record sales and dodging government inquiries in both America and England. Sotheby's set itself up for whistle-blowing in 1989 when they laid off James Hodges, a not-too honest administrator in their London antiquities department. After Sotheby's later accused him of theft, forgery, and embezzlement, he went to Watson with three suitcases full of papers he'd accumulated over his tenure there, which showed his former employer to be deeply involved in questionable, if not outright criminal, behavior. In 1991 a jury found Hodges guilty of theft (a missing ancient helmet and bowl were in his possession), but he had provided Watson with a well-documented glimpse of Sotheby's shadier business dealings. The company did not simply fail to examine dealers' credentials and titles of ownership, but actually colluded in the act of smuggling paintings from Italy, pottery from Greece, and statuary from India, actions requiring false identities, secret bank accounts, tax evasion, and bribery. Watson went on to considerably broaden the scope of his investigation. Like his The Caravaggio Conspiracy (1985), this book includes episodes that seem to come right out of a Frederick Forsyth plot, such as Watson's participation in a nighttime police raid on Italian tomb robbers and his assumption of a false identity to probe a Delhi ``dealer.'' His piäce de rÇsistance details an elaborate sting in which he and some partners purchased an Old Master painting in Italy and presented it to Sotheby's there for sale. The house, deciding that the painting would fetch more at an auction in London, colluded, Watson claims, in moving the work illegally out of Italy. Part insider's investigation and part true-crime tale, Watson's work is a timely, shocking, and compelling look at the seamy underside of the trade in art and artifacts. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-41403-7
Page count: 311pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997


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