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Man Ray, Christie’s, And Due Diligence

March 5, 2021

This week, Christie’s (Paris) offered an extensive collection of works (188 lots) by Man Ray that were in the possession of Lucien Treillard – an assistant of Man Ray. Before the sale started, the Man Ray Trust released a statement asking that the sale be halted and raised concerns about ownership. The Trust is calling into question 148 of the 188 lots, and they believe that Treillard “stole a substantial number of Man Ray’s works and possessions immediately following his death.”

a photograph of a naked woman

Erotique voilée

According to The Art Newspaper article, the Trust also claims that “at least 36 photographs bear a fraudulent stamp” allegedly fabricated by Treillard. “Having not been consulted by Christie’s,” the Trust was “alarmed by the sheer scope and size of this sale, which offers not only fine art photographs by Man Ray, but also unique contact prints, personal correspondence and artworks by Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst.”

Christie’s stated that “nothing has been provided that would give grounds to challenge the legality of the sale,” and they would not “offer any work on sale if it had any reason to think that there any issues for the works.”

And now for the actual sale (all prices include the buyer’s premium)

images of picturesThe overall results were pretty impressive, and taking the top spot was a set of 9 gelatin silver contact prints titled Erotique voilée from 1933. The group was estimated to bring €50-60K and made €312.5K ($377K). Coming in second was a Dark green imitation leather covered wooden and cardboard box containing 68 miniature replicas and reproductions of works by Marcel Duchamp, from an edition of 30, that carried a €200-300K estimate and sold for €275K ($331K). The third spot was held by Les doigts d’amour de Main Ray, la ligne, la couleur, la forme, l’espace, l’air, 1951, a rayograph, enhanced with ink, that was expected to bring between €50-70K and made €187.5K ($226K). Rounding out the top five were Les Trois pêchés, a painted wooden box, synthetic peaches, and cotton, at €175K ($211K – est. €20-30K), and À quoi rêvent les jeunes…, adhesive strips on four glass plates mounted in a wooden stand, brought €150K ($181K – est. €50-70K). To some, myself included, it might seem a little funny that four pieces of glass with some black tape on them could even sell, let alone bring more than $180K; but think of all the people spending millions on baseball and basketball cards. Those are just small cardboard pieces with a printed image on them, and many are not unique.

a hand with writing on itMost sales have a flip side, the works that fail to find a buyer; however, this was a White Glove sale — that means of the 186 lots offered, all sold. Obviously, that gave them a sell-through rate of 100%; it cannot get better than that. The low end of the presale estimate range was €1.79M, and the sale generated €5.93M ($7.15M), more than three times what was expected.

Of course, the wild card here is the Trust. Will they take legal action? If so, it will be a real mess. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

Source: Surrealist collection of Man Ray’s assistant sells out at Christie’s despite ‘serious concerns about ownership’ of most of the works