Caravaggio Misattribution Lawsuit: Court Clears Sotheby’s Of Professional Negligence

The court case involving a painting by the Italian baroque master Caravaggio, which Sotheby’s sold for a fraction of its value has been dismissed by a judge in London. The painting was sold in 2006 fro £42,000 and is thought to be worth around £10m. The Former owner Bill Thwaytes, of Penrith in Cumbria, had accused the auction house of “professional negligence” when it was misattributed as by a follower of the master by experts at the number two auction house.  Sotheby’s had maintained throught the trial that the painting was not by the artist.

Lawyers acting for Mr Thwaytes stated that Sotheby’s; “should have done more to determine whether it was by Caravaggio, who died in 1610”.The canvas titled ‘The Cardsharps’ depicts a nobleman falling victim to two cheats at a card table. It was purchased by the Thwaytes family in 1962 for £140. In 2006, Sotheby’s was given the task of valuing the work and experts concluded that the painting was a copy of a painting that is on display at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Thwaytes family sold a genuine Caravaggio, The Musicians, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the 1950s. Mr Thwaytes believed that his version of The Cardsharps was also an original and not a copy created by a follower. The judge at London’s High Court ruledthat Sotheby’s had “reasonably come to the view that the quality of the painting was not sufficiently high to indicate that it might be by Caravaggio”.They also stated that leading experts had attested to it not being by the artist and that it was the unanimous opinion of  Sotheby’s Old Masters painting department that it was an anonymous copy.

The painting was purchased by the late art collector Sir Denis Mahon who had it cleaned and restored. He later declared that the painting was by Caravaggio and dated it to 1595. The Italian scholar Mina Gregori agreed with his opinion.The painting is currently on loan to the Museum of the Order of St John at Clerkenwell in London.

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