“I’m sorry”, said the Christie’s receptionist, “but the Sackler sale has been cancelled for the time being...” She hung up the phone. “It hasn’t stopped you know”, she said wearily. Despite all of Christie’s best efforts to smooth the situation and make the best out of it, the last minute 6 January ruling that caused the cancellation of the eagerly awaited sale of Italian maiolica from the Arthur M. Sackler collection, scheduled for 13 January, gave headaches to all. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century maiolica has in the last few years returned to popularity (the recent exhibition of the maiolica collections of the Metropolitan Museum was regularly crowded, to the amazement of Met officials), though most of its present day collectors are Italian. There is never enough good maiolica to supply the demand, and Christie’s had anticipated strong prices. Dealers who had flown in just for the sale were bitterly disappointed (though they could privately view the works at Christie’s nonetheless), and the lavish, hard-bound catalogue became unobtainable overnight. The sale was appealed by the collector’s widow, Gillian Sackler, who, overturning a lower court decision authorising the sale at Christie’s, argued that the Sackler children had acted in conflict of interest with the estate’s wishes, and that the collection should have been kept together, on long term loan at the National Gallery, Washington, in compliance with what she believed to be the collector’s intent. Reportedly, the Sackler maiolica was only the initial offering, which would have been followed by the collector’s bronzes and terra-cottas.
Cyril Humphries, the dealer who supplied Dr Sackler with most of his maiolica, backs up Mrs Sackler’s claim, noting that “Dr Sackler always told me he would like to keep the collection intact...he wanted eventually to collect the entire spectrum of ceramic arts, and the maiolica was only the first part of it.” Christie’s is hopeful that the children’s appeal, scheduled for 1 March, will be successful, and that the sale will take place, perhaps sometime in the late spring.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Sackler maiolica off—for now'