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Guennol Lioness Auction: Brooklyn Museum to Lose Its Long-Term Loan

Hot Lot: The Guennol Lioness, Elam, ca. 3000-2800 B.C., estimated at $14-18 million
[NOTE: My follow-up post on the auction result is here.]
In the just published 30,000 Years of Art (Phaidon), the so-called “Lioness Demon” (above), a 5,000-year-old Elamite figure (from what is now Iran), is listed as belonging to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
It’s not surprising that even some experts thought it belonged to that institution: It’s been there for almost 60 years. But it was, in fact, on loan from a former chairman of the museum, Alastair Bradley Martin, and his wife. And now it’s left the museum, to be sold tomorrow at Sotheby’s by a charitable trust established by the Martin family. Sotheby’s has called it “one of the last known masterworks from the dawn of civilization remaining in private hands.” And this is not just auction-house hype.
In an online video, Sotheby’s executive vice president Hugh Hildesley tries to overcome whatever reluctance people may have to spend an estimated $14-18 million for a 3 1/4-inch limestone carving, now called the Guennol Lioness (after the Welsh word for “martin,” the bird, given by the Martins to their collection):
I have a theory that extremes in size are very important to the market….If it’s small and exquisite, it forces you to focus on that object.
Without mentioning the name of the buyer—the Metropolitan Museum—Hildesley also notes that Sotheby’s recently auctioned another small Elamite object—a copper figure of a horned hero, which the Albright-Knox Gallery sold for $3.18 million (presale estimate: only $150,000 to $250,000).
Could the Met be a potential bidder on the much pricier lioness? It exhibited the star lot of tomorrow’s antiquities auction in its 2003 exhibition “Art of the First Cities,” and also in a 1969 show devoted exclusively to the Guennol Collection.
As for the Brooklyn Museum’s chances of keeping the piece, Sally Williams, its public information officer, commented:
Barring an unknown and unexpected angel coming out of the blue, we do not expect it to return to Brooklyn. We are delighted that we were able to present the piece to the public at the Brooklyn Museum and grateful to the owners for that privilege.
Easy come, easy go.

an ArtsJournal blog