Sotheby’s Cleared of Negligence in ‘Caravaggio Painting’ Row

A man who accused auction house Sotheby’s of negligently selling a painting which could have been by Italian baroque master Caravaggio for just £42,000 has had his hopes of multi-million-pound compensation dashed by the High Court.

The painting of three card players closely resembled a celebrated work displayed in an American museum – known as ‘The Cardsharps’ – which is widely accepted to be by Caravaggio. However, Sotheby’s took the view that the man’s painting was a copy and knocked it down to an experienced collector of baroque paintings.

After cleaning and restoration work, the collector claimed that the painting was by the hand of Caravaggio himself, an announcement which potentially boosted its value well into the millions. Whilst not seeking to prove that the work was an original, the man sued Sotheby’s, claiming that he had been negligently advised as to its possible value and that the painting had been misattributed in the sale catalogue.

In dismissing his claim, however, the Court found that, in assessing the quality of the painting, Sotheby’s was entitled to rely upon the connoisseurship and expertise of its experienced specialists who were ‘certain’ that the painting was a period copy and not by Caravaggio. Even had the auction house commissioned infra-red analysis of the painting, nothing would have been discovered which would have cast doubt on the assessment of is experts.