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Greek Royal auction goes ahead January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Auctions.

An auction of Greek Royal treasures went ahead as planned on Wednesday despite warnings from Athens that buyers could face legal action unless the auctioneers showed the works were legally taken out of Greece.

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said Greece had asked British courts to force Christie’s to say how it obtained the collection of more than 850 lots including silverware from across Europe, paintings, furniture and Faberge items.

This Faberge egg has been valued at up to £30,000  This Faberge egg has been valued at up to £30,000

“It has been going really well. The room is packed. There are many bidders on the phones and the Internet,” a spokeswoman for Christie’s said. “Lots of items are going at above estimate.”

Greece had asked Christie’s to shelve the auction until it explained how it obtained the collection of King George I of the Hellenes. Some Faberge items were forecast to fetch up to 250,000 pounds. Treasures that belonged to the country’s Royal Family are due to be sold in London. Such is the scale of the auction that it is due to take place on two days; today and tomorrow. More than 850 objects were owned by King George I of the Hellenes, Prince Philip’s grandfather, who reigned from 1863 until 1913, when he was assassinated.

The auction house insists all the works were legally obtained and said it saw no reason to cancel the sale of the collection, which comes from the summer Palace of Tatoi in Greece and was released to former King Constantine II in 1991. Reports have suggested that the vendor is George I’s descendent, the former King Constantine II of Greece, who has lived in exile in London for more than 30 years. He denies the suggestion vigorously.

According to the former King’s web site, the items were the personal property of members of the Greek Royal Family, which was closely related to many of Europe’s crowned heads, and were no longer in his possession.

It was common practice among Europe’s ruling families to exchange rare and valuable gifts. George I of the Hellenes was related to many Royals, brother to Queen Alexandra, who was wife of Edward VII of Britain, and to Maria Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Alexander III. His elder brother was Frederik VIII of Denmark.

Constantine fled Greece after briefly cooperating with the 1967-1974 military junta and lived in exile for decades. In 1991, the then ruling conservatives allowed him to export the contents of Tatoi.

Highlights of the sale include giant silver flasks, Chinese jade and a gold Faberge egg worth up to £50,000. Christie’s said much of the collection had come from the former Royal estate at Tatoi, on the northern outskirts of Athens, but declined to identify the seller.

Royal artefacts, items from the collection of King George I of the Hellenes  Royal artefacts, items from the collection of King George I of the Hellenes

A spokeswoman for the London-based former Royal Family said it no longer owns the collection. “The items to be auctioned were sold by the Greek Royal Family in 1991,” Aliki Strongylos told the Associated Press. “We don’t know who is currently selling them.”

The dispute highlights Greece’s uncomfortable relationship with its last monarch, the 66-year-old deposed King Constantine II and his family. In 1991, the Greek government allowed Constantine to remove hundreds of items from Tatoi, where his parents, King Paul and Queen Frederika, are buried. The Royal estates were confiscated in 1994, but in 2003 the council of Europe’s Human Rights Court ordered Greece to pay Constantine €12m (£7.9m) in compensation.

Voulgarakis said Greece was only interested in items illegally exported and would be satisfied if Christie’s proved their legal origin. Greek lawyers in London handed Christie’s a letter saying they were obliged to inform potential buyers of the risks involved, the ministry said in a statement.

“You are solely responsible of ensuring that all potential buyers know … of our clients’ strong reservations,” said the letter, released by the ministry.

The sale will end on Thursday.

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