As Stephanie Clegg tells it, Sotheby's led her astray—more than once. In 1994 she purchased a work on paper by Marc Chagall from the auction house for $90,000. In 2008, Sotheby's reappraised "Le couple au bouquet de fleurs" at $100,000. In 2020, as she was discussing thinning out her collection, Sotheby's advised she unload the Chagall. There was just one step that had to happen first: The work needed to be sent to France to be authenticated by Comité Marc Chagall, a panel of experts (some of them Chagall heirs) who have had the final say on the authenticity of his work since 1988. You know where this is going.
The panel determined it was not a Chagall, kept it, and wants to destroy it (which it has the power to do). Clegg thinks Sotheby's should compensate her to the tune of $175,000. It has offered an $18,500 credit she could put toward Sotheby's fee in the future—its commission on her 1994 purchase. Sotheby's is underpinning its argument by pointing to time: The purchase happened nearly 30 years ago, and Sotheby's only guarantees authorship for five. Clegg thinks the subsequent reappraisal and recommendation to sell should negate that premise. Colin Moynihan's piece for the New York Times looks not just at this case, but at the overall subject of attribution, how it has sometimes flipped back and forth, and why that makes the idea of destroying art "too final" for some. (Read the full piece.)