Antique tug-of-war over Italian painter’s work

Famous Italian painter Federico Andreotti (1847 to 1930), known for his historical figurative paintings, could be turning in his grave with his name being dragged into a legal dispute over the antique value of his masterpiece Reconciled that an Indian auctioneer had sold about a decade ago.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) says Reconciled being an antique piece is a national treasure, but auction house M/s. Bowrings Fine Art Auctioneers Pvt. Ltd contested this claim.

Bowrings had sold two paintings — Reconciled by Frederico Andreotti and The Kill by George D Rowlandson — to one Messrs Tony Haynes of England on November 20, 2002.

When the two paintings were being shipped to England the archaeology wing of customs on January 17, 2003, prima facie opined they were to be antiquities and referred the matter to ASI director-general for a final opinion and necessary action under the Antiquities and Art Treasures (AAT) Act, 1972. Accordingly, a panchnama of the paintings was prepared. These works of art were detained by the superintendent of customs.

The ASI on June 30, 2003, informed the Customs that a nominee of the director-general had examined the paintings and come to the conclusion that they could be registered as antiquities.

Later, an expert panel found that only Reconciled was an antique piece of art.

The CBI then registered a case against the auction house. The Delhi high court refused to quash the charge sheet and allowed the prosecution.

Aggrieved by this decision, M/s. Bowrings moved the Supreme Court (SC) but it couldn’t persuade the top court to drop the charges under the AAT act.

Besides the auction house, the two foreign nationals who had purchased the paintings are also accused in this case.

The SC said it’s for the trial court to determine whether a case is made out against them under the law.

Thus, during the awaited trial the rarely applied act would be the focal point of the arguments and the court is expected to judge whether Reconciled is an antique piece of art.

Federico Andreotti was born in Italy and received his training at an academy in Florence. There he studied with Enrico Pollastrini, the president of the academy, and Angiolo Tricca, another Italian painter.

His academic studies prepared him well for his chosen subject – historical figurative paintings set in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The late 19th century saw a resurgence of interest in this period of elegance and many artists, including Toudouze & Moreau in France, Marcus Stone in England, and Madrazo in Spain, worked towards satisfying the growing need for these art works.

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