NEW YORK, JULY 9 -- A group of ancient Cycladic sculptures was sold today at Sotheby's in London after the Greek government's plea to stop the antiquities sale was turned down by the British High Court.
Following the decision last Friday, the Erlenmeyer Foundation, the consignor of the so-called Keros Hoard, agreed to privately sell three of the contested sculptures to the government of Greece for an undisclosed price. The trio includes the star lot of the collection, a "Cycladic Marble Fragmentary Male Figure" from the early Bronze Age. The headless and distinctly male torso carried a pre-sale estimate in excess of $340,000. The confidential selling price "reflects Sotheby's opinion as to current market value and the expressed concerns of the Greek government," said a Sotheby's spokesman in London.
Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer, the widow of the late collector, decided to honor the Greek government's 11th-hour request after a court-imposed temporary restraining order barring the sale expired. She said she sold the three sculptures "in honor of my husband's memory."
The joint press release issued by the three parties announced they had "resolved the issues between them. ... The proceedings begun by the Greek government ... will be discontinued and will not be pursuing any claims in relation to any of the material in the auction."
The statement went on to say, "The Greek government intends that these pieces will form a valuable and culturally important complement to the existing archaeological treasures of the Cycladic period."
The temporary restraining order covered approximately 40 of the 180 lots offered in the single-owner sale. Greece claims the disputed objects were looted from the Aegean island of Keros in the late 1950s and were therefore exported illegally, before the government began official excavations there.
According to Sotheby's, the late collector acquired the objects in Western Europe at about the same time. The High Court indicated it was "extremely doubtful" Greece would succeed in pressing its claim and refused to extend the injunction.
The sale of 168 bronzes, ceramic objects and sculptures realized $2.79 million, well above the pre-sale high estimate of $1.2 million. The estimate was adjusted to reflect the excised objects that were privately sold to Greece. Only nine works failed to sell. The proceeds will benefit the Swiss-based Erlenmeyer Foundation's activities in animal welfare and environmental issues.
The top lot among the auctioned items, a Cycladic pottery double vessel with heavily incised lines from circa 3000 B.C., sold for $157,520. It soared past its modest pre-sale estimate range of $21,000 to $31,600.
In a related development in Sotheby's recent antiquities battles in courtrooms here and in England, a New York antiquities dealer announced that a Roman mosaic he purchased at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1987 was apparently stolen from the Museum of Sparta the previous year. Demirjian was alerted by the U.S. Customs Service that the items were stolen.
Torkom Demirjian, owner of the Ariadne Gallery on Madison Avenue, said he bought the multicolored, four-foot-diameter circular panel for $11,000 in 1987 and was "almost immediately offered 10 times that" for the image of Medusa. Demirjian intends to personally return the sculpture to the Greek government in the next few weeks.
"I didn't even listen to my lawyer," said the dealer in a phone interview on Friday. "The most important thing for me is to get this piece returned to its rightful owner."
Sotheby's said the purchase price would be refunded to Demirjian, but would not cover additional expenses.
Demirjian purchased 12 of the objects in the Erlenmeyer sale today, including a 2 1/2-inch-tall winged sphinx from Crete for $40,480. He said from London that he spent $237,000 at today's sale.