Auction houses

Louvre makes an unexpected splash at Boisgirard auctions with E2.8 million purchase of Ancient Greek horse head

The piece could be a precursor of the Parthenon sculptures

At the “Art of the Orient” auction held at Hôtel Drouot by Boisgirard, led by specialist Annie Kevorkian, all eyes were on one object. Lot 136, an Attic Greek marble sculpture of the head of a horse, did not disappoint, as it soared to E2,792,859 ($3.46 million). In a surprise twist, the sixth-century BC marble head, which had been hammered down to the European trade, was then pre-empted by the Musée du Louvre, which like all French national museums has the right to buy lots after the conclusion of a sale, provided it can match the hammer price.

Broken at mid-neck, with a width of 52.2 cm and height of 62 cm, this sculpture depicts a powerful horse with open mouth, alert ears, large, oval-shaped eyes, deeply recessed nostrils and a cropped mane. The magnificent work of Attic Greek origin is considered by many to be a precursor to the famous horses found in the Parthenon sculptures, which date from the mid-fifth century BC.

Its provenance, of crucial importance to the Louvre, is described as being late 19th/early 20th century and from the collection of a “grand” French family. An early photograph of the head in the collection was included in the lot. Sources told The Art Newspaper that independent research concluded that the photograph does indeed date to the turn of the century.

The purchase of this head by the Louvre is a bold and expensive move for the museum, and especially for the Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Art, which is not known to have made any major acquisitions in recent years.

The sale itself comprised a total of 263 lots, that included Greco-Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern objects, as well as numerous Coptic textile fragments. While many lots failed to sell, several did quite well, including a 25th dynasty Egyptian bronze statuette of the god Amun-Re that sold for E41,900 ($28,900) against an estimate of e8/10,000.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Louvre buys E2.8 million Greek horse head'