A millionaire's collection of primitive art was sold at a London auction room yesterday to pay a $2-million debt - the money he had to find to ransom his 5-year-old daughter from her kidnappers.
The collection fetched a total of $2.95 million in what the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet said was by far the highest ever for any primitive art sale.
The kidnapped child, Graziella Ortiz, was snatched from outside her parents' exclusive Geneva home last October and held captive for 10 days by her Italian abductors. She was released unharmed after her father, George Ortiz, had borrowed the money.
Yesterday Ortiz watched glumly as the collection was sold off, saying he felt only sadness. At several points he appeared close to making bids himself but was restrained by his wife. He shouted out to handlers to hold the Pacific and African art objects the right way up.
One item, an angry-looking Hawaiian god made of polished wood believed picked up during Captian Cook's third expedition to the islands 199 years ago, sold for a record $462,500 to an anonymous buyer bidding by telephone from Brussels. The Bishop Museum in Hawaii had raised $100,000 from the public in an attempt to buy back the 10-inch-high Aumakua figure.
The previous high for a piece of primitive art at auction was $407,000, paid last week at Christies' here for a Benin wood carving from Nigeria.
Ortiz is a descendant of the Patino family, once described as one of the 10 richest families in the world. His grandfather, Simon Patino, died leaving $270 million which had come from his ownership of Bolivian tin mines, but the Bolivian government later seized the mines and when Ortiz was faced with finding the money to get his daughter back, he had to borrow from friends and banks.
To repay the loan, he broke up his collection of African and Oceanic art, which he had built up since the days when he was a student in Paris.Experts regarded it as the finest collection of primitive art in private hands.
A Sotheby clerk bidding for an anonymous buyer bought a leopardshaped Benin bronze from West Africa for $270,000. Ortiz rated it the finest bronze of its kind in existence. Another anonymous bidder obtained a bronze from Niger for $216,000. IT depicts a female figure holding a bowl.
Engraved African ivories fetched four times more than expected. A buyer bidding by telephone paid $82,800 for a slender 17th-century ivory handle topped with the carving of a head.
Sotheby experts said the prices generally topped all predictions. An engraved spear, expected to fetch $2,160, was auctioned off for $10,440.
Some of the best-known pieces, five Maori carved panels, were withdrawn just before the sale started. Sothebys said they were considered a national treasure by the New Zealand government and Ortiz had agreed to negotiate their sale to New Zealand authorities.
Before the sale, Ortiz said that the family fortunes "are no longer what they once were." It had been a choice he added, between selling the family estate, Chateau Elma, and the collection. "My family needs somewhere to live, so I had no choice.
"One gets to love these things when they are around you. But life must go on. I would do exactly the same next time, if it meant helping my children."
Graziella was snatched from a car driven by the family chauffeur, chloroformed and then driven away in a stolen sports car. Ortiz received a message from the kidnappers warning him to pay the money and not to cooperate with the police or his daughter would die.
He and his wife then went on television to plead for the safety of the child. After he had handed over the $2 million the girl was dumped beside the Geneva-Lausanne motorway, where she was found by a barkeeper and returned to her parents. Later two Italians were found - one of whom had been shot dead before the police arrived on the scene - but very little ransom money was recovered.