Sotheby's Caravaggio case: Former owner of 'The Cardsharps' loses legal bid after Sotheby's claimed work – later valued at £10m - was fake

Lancelot William Thwaytes attempted to sue Sotheby’s for allegedly giving him negligent advice

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Friday 16 January 2015 17:56 GMT
The Cardsharps. Found in the collection of Kimbell Art Museum
The Cardsharps. Found in the collection of Kimbell Art Museum

Lancelot William Thwaytes, the former owner of a potential Caravaggio masterpiece, has lost his battle for compensation from auction house Sotheby’s after he discovered the painting he sold for £42,000 under their advice, had been valued at £10 million.

Mr Thwaytes sold the painting ‘The Cardsharps’ in 2006 after Sotheby’s informed him the image had in fact been painted by one of the Old Master’s followers.

The painting was then bought by Mrs Orietta Adam, believed to be on behalf of her friend and art collector Sir Denis Mahon, who had the artwork cleaned and restored. A year later, on his 97th birthday, Mr Mahon declared the painting was in fact a Caravaggio dating back to 1595.

Italian scholar Mina Gregori agreed with the estimation and after Sir Denis’ death the painting was placed on loan to the Museum of the Order of St John at Clerkenwell in London and insured for £10 million. The insurance value remains the same today.

Mr Thwaytes attempted to sue Sotheby’s for allegedly giving him “negligent” advice about the painting’s worth, and his lawyers accused the auction house of not consulting enough experts and not testing the painting sufficiently before the sale.

Sotheby’s has maintained that the painting is not by Caravaggio, and countered that many leading specialists had not believed the work was by the old master.

Lancelot Thwaytes leaves the Rolls Building in London

In addition, Sotheby’s own specialists in its old masters painting department (OMP) unanimously decided the work was not by Caravaggio, and said the copy of ‘The Cardsharps’ displayed at the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is widely credited as being the actual painting by Caravaggio.

But today Mrs Justice Rose ruled that Sotheby’s had been entitled to rely on the “connoisseurship and expertise of their specialists in the OMP” who were highly qualified and examined the painting thoroughly.

The Judge ruled that Sotheby’s own experts and its consultation process with others had meant the auction house had reasonably come to the view that the quality of the painting was “not sufficiently high to indicate that it might be by Caravaggio”.

Mr Thwaytes lawyers, who indicated he is considering an appeal, said: “Mr Thwaytes is extremely disappointed with the decision delivered this morning and maintains that Sotheby's failed to spot the painting's potential,” it said in a statement.

“He brought the case following the public announcement that the painting was an autograph replica painted by the hand of Caravaggio; a view which was supported by a number of leading experts, including Mina Gregori and Sir Denis Mahon.”

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