PALM BEACH (CN) - A woman claims Sotheby's auction house let a Renaissance portrait sit in dusty storage for months while its canvas warped, then forged and backdated a damage note to give the impression it had been warped upon delivery to Sotheby's. Aila Goodlin claims the portrait of Robert Cecil, spymaster and secretary of state for Queen Elizabeth and King James I, was in "excellent" condition when she delivered it to Sotheby's.
Robert Cecil was the son of William Cecil, the 1st Lord Burghley, who was Queen Elizabeth's chief minister for decades, and the most powerful man in the Tudor court. His son, Robert, became Elizabeth's spymaster upon the death of Francis Walsingham in 1590, and became Elizabeth's chief minister upon the death of his father in 1598. He continued in his role of intelligence chief when James VI of Scotland became James I of England upon Elizabeth's death in 1603.
Goodlin's portrait, dated 1599, is attributed to Dutch artist John de Critz. She says she consigned it to Sotheby's in September 2010 for the auction house's October 2010 Old Masters auction in London.
But she says Sotheby's left the portrait in its Palm Beach office for 2 months.
Goodlin says she repeatedly reminded her local Sotheby's contact, David Ober, about the auction deadline, but the painting was never shipped. Ober missed deadlines for both the October and December Old Masters auctions, she says.
Fed up with the delay, Goodlin says she picked up the painting from the Palm Beach office and discovered it had been badly damaged.
The portrait was in a sorry state, Goodlin says, warped, "almost falling out of its frame," and the paint had bubbled in spots.
Goodlin says that when Sotheby's asked her to sign a release, she noticed a glaring difference between Ober's property description documents and the ones she had received from Sotheby's back in September: she says a handwritten damage note had been added and dated "9/1," to indicate that the painting was warped upon its arrival at the Palm Beach office.
Goodlin says that note is "fraudulent," and that if it had been written on September 1, it would have been on her old copies of the property description documents.
She demands that Sotheby's cover the cost of restoration - about $16,800 - but the auction house insists the painting was not damaged in storage.
Goodlin's complaint in Palm Beach County Court does not estimate the painting's value. Portraits by de Critz have sold at Christie's at prices ranging from $30,000 to more than $100,000.
Goodlin is represented by Jeffrey Pepin with the Law Offices of Paul Burkhart.
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