Just one day before the auction of an eighth century BC statuette of a horse—estimated to fetch between $150,000 to $250,000—the Greek culture ministry sent a letter to Sotheby’s demanding the work be pulled from the sale. The document, reviewed
by the Financial Times
, said that the ministry found no evidence the piece “had left the country in a legal way” and included the threat of legal action.
But Sotheby’s is the one hauling the mediterranean country to court in the auction house’s first suit against a country, asking a New York judge to “clarify the rights of legitimate owners,” the Financial Times reported. Sotheby’s did pull the piece from the sale—any title dispute can dampen a work’s performance at auction—but it asserts Greece does not have a legal claim to the piece. There are records indicating the piece was held at one point by Robin Symes, a dealer accused of trading in illicitly acquired artifacts, before passing to the current owners. But the auction house cited a prior Swiss sale of the horse in 1967 and argued Greece did not put forward any evidence that the object was actually looted.