Riesco heritage sale proves a damp squib

As enormous legal costs forced the abandonment of a legal challenge, the sale of 24 of the best items from the Raymond F A Riesco collection of Chinese art went ahead on November 27. The sale, at Christies in Hong Kong, did not, however, meet the high expectations.

Croydon Council, despite widespread opposition from ratepayers, the Museums Association and the British Museum, sought to sell the best of the collection, inherited by them in 1964, in order to benefit the local ‘cultural infrastructure’, to wit, a restoration of the notorious Fairfield Halls (the last time the present writer attended this centre of culture was for a concert by one Screaming Lord Sutch in 1968).

Accordingly, 24 items from the connection were offered for sale. They were expected by the Council to realise £13m. Christies estimated that the sales would total between £9m. and £14.2m. In the event, seven of the 24 items remained unsold after the sale and the total was just £8.24m. This total is likely to be reduced by around 20% after the auctioneer’s costs of selling so Croydon stands to be sitting on a net gain somewhere around half of its expectation.

As a result of this unique piece of civic vandalism, Croydon Council have been expelled from the Museums Association and the British Museum is understood to be recalling all items it has out on loan to Croydon. It is expected it will be similarly treated by museums and galleries worldwide.

Croydon will also fail to qualify any longer for any grants or assistance from either the Arts Council or the Heritage Lottery Fund. Some staff have left the Museum of Croydon in protest.

One of the most important items to be sold was a Xuande blue and white moonflask estimated at £1.8-2.5m. It got the highest price of the sale at £2.2m.

Riesco Xuande moonflask Xuande moon flask

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