cover image Sotheby's:: The Inside Story

Sotheby's:: The Inside Story

Peter Watson. Random House (NY), $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41403-2

In 1995, the art world was electrified by a British TV documentary and its sequel that detailed rigged sales at the prestigious international auction house of Sotheby and its complicity in smuggling and selling old-master paintings and ancient artifacts from Italy, Greece and India. Although these practices were not news to many art world professionals, their impact was shocking when confirmed on film. The revelations resulted from more than five years of undercover investigation by journalist and art researcher Watson (The Caravaggio Conspiracy). Tipped off by a disgruntled Sotheby employee who provided damning internal documents, the author undertook an investigation worthy of Scotland Yard. He followed a labyrinthine trail that led to secret buyers, dealers, museum officers, couriers, Sotheby factotums and, ultimately, to the auction floor. Watson's book, an expansion of his TV scripts, provides such dizzying masses of detail that the moral drama is, for the general reader, overwhelming. The auction house maintains it has done nothing illegal, but Watson's expose may have an effect on its practices and alert otherwise unsuspecting buyers and governments attempting to protect their national treasures. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)