Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos


In June 2004, the Cleveland Museum of Art acquired a bronze statue of Apollo Sauroktonos (2004.30) attributed to the 4th century BC Greek sculptor Praxiteles. The museum bought the piece from Phoenix Ancient Art and may have paid up to $5 million for it (Litt 2004). The statue is said to have been seen on a German estate in the 1930s and still in Germany when it was sold to a Dutch antiques dealer in 1994. It then dropped out of sight until it reappeared on the Swiss premises of Phoenix Ancient Art in 2002. In the September 2004 issue of the Art Newspaper, the then Cleveland director Katharine Lee Reid was quoted as saying that the museum had exercised due diligence before the acquisition, but that Phoenix Ancient Art had not revealed to the museum details of the statue’s recent provenance. This reticence was understandable, she thought, because the company would want to protect its competitive advantage (Kaufman and Ruiz 2004). Rather confusingly, Phoenix Ancient Art’s proprietors Ali and Hicham Aboutaam subsequently stated in a letter published in the November issue of the Art Newspaper that “… it is acceptable and common practice, for obvious competitive reasons, to omit all but the last decade of ownership in publishing a history …”, though the last decade’s ownership history of the bronze was exactly what they had omitted to tell the Cleveland.
Apollo Sauroktonos
(Photo: Cleveland Museum)
The implication of these contradictory statements is that the Aboutaams were aware of the statue’s history from the time of its purchase by the Dutch dealer in 1994 to their own acquisition in 2002. They should also be aware that under EC Regulation 3911/92 on the export of cultural goods from the European Union (EU) any cultural object situated on the territory of an EU member state in 1994 (in this case the Netherlands) would have needed to be licensed for export, particularly an object as important as a Classical Greek bronze statue attributed to Praxiteles. The Aboutaams themselves would not necessarily have been responsible for acquiring a license if they had not exported the piece themselves, but any diligent search into provenance by either the Cleveland or Phoenix Ancient Art should have established its existence. Neil Brodie addressed a letter to Katherine Lee Reid in 2005 asking about the existence of a valid EU export license, but received no reply.
At the time of the acquisition, Cleveland announced plans for a symposium to be held in 2006 to discuss the statue (Kaufman and Ruiz 2004, 10). The symposium was postponed when the Louvre asked to borrow the piece for inclusion in a 2007 exhibition about the work of Praxiteles, though the Louvre subsequently withdrew its request after the Greek government claimed that the statue had been discovered in international waters between Greece and Italy (Harris 2007).
Harris, Lucian. 2007. “Louvre will not show Cleveland Apollo”, Art Newspaper no. 178, March.
Kaufman, Jason E. & Christina Ruiz. 2004. “Cleveland unveils its new Greek bronze”, Art Newspaper, no 150, September, 10-11.
Litt, Steven. 2004. “A god of myth cloaked in mystery”, Plain Dealer, September 12.