PARIS – Sotheby’s brought in more than 9 million euros ($11.7 million) on the first of two days of an auction of pre-Columbian art that Peru tried to block because of the suspected illicit origin of the pieces.
The partial result was less than expected, but in the two sessions held Friday afternoon in Paris, the auction house said, it had nonetheless beaten the world record for an art sale in that category.
Of the 162 lots that went on the block Friday, 77 were knocked down for a total of 9.13 million euros ($11.86 million), auction charges included, shy of the previously projected 11.52 million euros ($14.96 million), not including charges.
The session outdid four world records, including the sale of a “callipygous” goddess of the year 400 B.C. from the Mexican state of Guanajuato that went for 2 million euros ($2.6 million), the highest price ever paid for a Mexican ceramic.
An anthropomorphous statuette of the Olmec culture, from between 900 and 600 B.C., was taken for 481,500 euros ($625,365), surpassing the record for an Olmec stone sculpture, while a Brazilian burial ceramic dating to between 400 and 1,350 A.D. found a buyer for 325,500 euros ($422,755), the most ever for a South American ceramic.
The final record, according to figures provided, was for a Costa Rican sculpture representing a divinity with the head of a cat from between 1,000 and 1,550 A.D., knocked down for 721,500 euros ($937,074), an amount never equaled for a sculpture from that country.
Of the 313 lots to go on the block through Saturday, 69 are from Peru, a country that tried to stop this auction with a formal complaint to Sotheby’s and to French authorities.
The collection was started in 1920 by Josef Mueller and was continued by his son-in-law Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller. Peruvian authorities consider it very probable that the works were smuggled out of the country.
In a statement sent Friday, Sotheby’s let it be known that over the past few months it has researched the provenance of the pieces and is confident they can be put up for sale.