This time round, it was a British painting that made the top price of the series by some distance – John Constable’s The Lock, which took £20m at Christie’s. Setting a record for the artist and making one of the highest prices ever seen for a British picture, it sold to a single bidder on the telephone after no other interest emerged on the night.
The anonymous buyer was also the third-party guarantor of the picture – meaning they had agreed to bid to a minimum level, presumably £20m, in return for a financial return if they ended up being outbid.
The latest example of the classic conflict of interest and deceptive practices with Sotheby’s (and by default Christies as the other half of the duopoly) has now been laid out with the bogus sale of the Constable painting. In exercising its third party guarantee, otherwise known as an irrevocable bid, this bidder with inside information clearly lays out the disadvantage and manipulation of “outsiders” to the rigged process.
How any government regulatory agency ignores this type of shenanigan can only be explained by the political power and influence the duopoly possesses. It’s not enough that the public auction process is already corrupted by a secret reserve and taking fees from both buyer and seller, but with the irrevocable bidding process a kickback is in order if the third party is actually outbid. Investment bankers could never dream up such a scam; if they did operate in this fashion, a prison sentence would fit the crime and not a slap on the wrist. In our dysfunctional industry, there is a casual acceptance.
I don’t know about the rest of the trade, but I will not and have not bought from these two crooked organisations in over a decade, and no matter how appealing an item might be at one of their sales, I’ll put my money where I know I am appreciated and not be taken to the cleaners.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.