The Latest

Latest AC Story Map Chronicles History of the Guennol Stargazer as its Case, Republic of Turkey v. Christie’s Inc. et al, Goes to Trial

April 5, 2021

A legal battle between the Republic of Turkey and world-renowned auction house Christie’s is scheduled to go to trial today, court documents indicate. Because this case’s outcome will cement the fate of the famed “Guennol Stargazer,” the Antiquities Coalition is releasing a story map that chronicles the masterpiece’s tumultuous history.

Republic of Turkey v. Christie’s Inc. et al centers on what Christie’s has described online as “one of the finest and largest preserved Anatolian marble female idols of Kiliya type.” According to the auction house, this figure—presumably dating back to the Chalcolithic period (between 3000 and 2200 BC)—is one of around 15 nearly complete female idols of Kiliya type remaining in existence.

Experts believe that the figure was illegally excavated and then smuggled out of Turkey in the early 1960’s. In 1961, Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife Edith purchased the antiquity from the John J. Klejman Gallery and added it to their Guennol Collection, a group of masterpieces widely renowned in the art community, having been loaned to a number of esteemed institutions and featuring works that have gone on to sell for millions.

In 1993, the figure, referred to today as the Guennol Stargazer, was purchased by Michael Steinhardt.

This billionaire collector is now known to have been involved in several high-profile cases for purchasing looted antiquities, having once described his hobby collecting antiquities to Forbes by stating, “It’s a little bit dangerous, but that’s what makes it exciting… But life is filled with risks, isn’t it?”

Steinhardt later consigned the Guennol Stargazer to Christie’s, which scheduled its “Exceptional Sale” for April 28, 2017.

Shortly before the auction, the Consul General of Turkey submitted a letter to Christie’s, claiming the figure as state property. The two parties could not reach an agreement, so Christie’s refused to halt the sale, and an anonymous bidder announced their intent to pay $14.5 million at the auction. 

One day before the sale was scheduled to take place, the government of Turkey filed a formal complaint in the Southern District of New York to halt the sale, reveal the identity of the anonymous bidder, and return the figure to Turkey, asserting that the figure’s removal from the country had been in violation of Turkey’s 1909 patrimony law. The original bidder pulled out of the sale in an attempt to maintain anonymity, but the Stargazer was nonetheless purchased for $12.7 million.

Turkey and Christie’s disputed whether or not the Turkish government knew of the figure’s location long before the auction advertisement. While Christie’s was able to cite numerous instances of the figure being prominently displayed years prior to the auction, on September 30, 2019, Christie’s motion to dismiss Turkey’s claim was dismissed, and Turkey’s motion for summary judgment against Christie’s counterclaims was granted. This landmark ruling established a legal precedent that prominently and publicly displaying a work of art for great lengths of time does not bar claims for recovery.

The case was originally scheduled to proceed to a bench trial on April 27, 2020, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the trial was postponed to April 5, 2021.

To explore the interactive Story Map about the Guennol Stargazer and its court case, click here.