CRUISE SHIP ART AUCTIONS

Dear Kobi, While on a cruise ship last month we purchased what was represented as an original Picasso lithograph signed by Picasso. We asked to see a Picasso catalogue while on the ship, but the auctioneer did not have one. We purchased a Dali piece that was listed in the Dali catalogue and the auctioneer seemed genuine, so we decided to also purchase Le Clown, since their art firm had a written guarantee. I forgot about looking in a Picasso catalog until this week. When I couldn’t find the piece I contacted the art wholesaler and was told the piece was printed after a drawing donated to the Paris Peace Movement in 1968 and published the same year by Yamat Arts, NY and printed by Mourlot.

Since I can’t find the piece in the Picasso Project or in the Block catalogue Le Clown seems very suspicious to me. I came across your forum from the Picasso Project and after reading your comments and your web site I would really appreciate your thoughts on Le Clown. Once we get Le Clown settled I’d like to check with you on some other pieces we have an interest in. We are new to collecting art, and the more we learn the more we like Chagall, Calder, Miro, Dali and Picasso.

Thank you, Sharon T.

Dear Sharon, I have a weak spot for anyone who gets “taken” on a cruise ship. I do a fair number of appraisals and I’ve come across many instances of so-called art that was sold on cruises. I have occasionally encountered an original work of art by Picasso that exchanged hands in that venue. But the buyer ends up, without exception in my experience, with an overpriced print, a fake, or both.

The salient term describing your purchase is “after”. If you read Chapter 13, entitled “Collecting Pitfalls”, in my online manuscript A Guide to Collecting Picasso’s Prints, you should know all about them. Your piece is not original. The only questions are whether it’s a real “after”, i.e. a work of art created by an artist other than Picasso, or just a photoreproduction, and whether the work was actually signed by Picasso. Of course, the art dealer on the cruise was entirely fraudulent in initially claiming that the piece was an original Picasso. It is not an original Picasso in ANY sense of the word. You’re very astute to conclude that your piece is a fake since it’s not in Bloch. Very few original Picasso lithographs are not included in that catalogue, and those are generally exceptionally rare, not cruise ship material. -Kobi

15 thoughts on “CRUISE SHIP ART AUCTIONS”

  1. I purchased a Le Clown Litho recently for 5k. The certificate of authenticity
    provided is by Yamet Arts, Inc., which I thought was a reputable publisher. After reading about this exact piece in your blog, it is clear that I was probably taken. What do you recommend I do?

  2. You are doing the art community a huge favor in exposing the Cruise Ship art scams. I too am an art appraiser and it is so discouraging to recieve requests for appraisals of these items. As I told one recent collector who purchased the entire “Rembrandt” suite: “These works do not have any true value except to the uninformed”. What is most reprehensible is that the promotional wording for these items is technically correct but highly misleading. Isn’t there anything that the appraisal community can do about this? I will join you in any effort you suggest.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I share your fears and feel similarly powerless. Clearly the way I have chosen to combat art fraud and price gouging is through my manuscript and through this blog. I belong more to the community of art dealers than that of appraisers. (Though of course I appraise Picassos, I do so without a fee. ) Neither community is currently able to police itself to any significant extent, though occasionally one hears that membership in one society or another may have been revoked due to impropriety. The US Government is making some efforts, but they fall woefully short.

    The problem is compounded by the success and prevalence of cruise ship auctions. One dealer recently did the math for me: with 500 large commercial cruise ships on the seas at any one time, if each conducted but one auction a week, that would lead to almost two auctions every day. I’m not entirely sure that I buy this calculus, but clearly that’s a lot of Picassos (and other modern masters) to go through. No wonder these cruise ships seem to be the biggest players at print auctions. The unfortunate dual effect of the thousand-pound gorilla in the bidding room is to drive up auction and retail prices while limiting “quality control”. I suppose that for the while, the best thing a dealer can do is to encourage caveat emptor.

  4. Help us spread the word

    There is currently a huge story about to break regarding cruise ship art scams. We want to warn everyone on a national scale. I need your stories–especially appraisers looking to help the novice buyer. This will be a TV story. Please help.

  5. Dear Sirs,

    I wish to refute out-of-business appraisers and gallery owners who resent the business art companies do on cruise ships. I have appraised art for 35 years in London and Paris, and in fact have come to know many art buyers who got incredible deals from cruise ship art auctions. The reason being there is no overhead, bulk purchasing and land galleries simply cannot compete. The only questionable art company on cruiseships is ______. I would ward you off them based on their ethical principles. The other art companies on ships are fully backed by their cruise lines such as NCL and Princess. If truly a fake Picasso was sold on the latter cruiselines, don’t you think a multi billion dollar cruise line would be more careful on who they hire to conduct their auctions? In fact NCL and Princess do arduous research on every single piece using top authorities in Britain and North America. A single art gallery does not have the funds and backing that major cruiselines do.

  6. Dear Wolfgang,

    I thank you for your submission, but I would like to further investigate your claims. Regarding the “incredible deals” you’ve mentioned, limiting your response to original works by Picasso (since of course that is my field of interest), could you kindly supply their titles, catalogue raisonné reference numbers, and prices? I would be keen to assimilate such data, given that every other instance of cruise ship art sales that I have encountered involved high retail pricing.

    I agree that cruise ships engage in “bulk purchasing”, but most of these purchases presumably occur at auction, where the cruise ship auction proprietors proprietors have to pay the same prices as the rest of us do.

    As for the due diligence that you assume multi-billion dollar cruise lines have performed, I need only direct your attention to the “PiCostcos”, the fake Picasso drawings which Costco sold. To their credit, they offered refunds to the buyers after the fakes had been exposed, and they removed the remaining fake from their website. But they were caught with their pants down, obviously having done no real Investigation into their merchandise in advance.

    Furthermore, although some of the cruise ship auctions may properly vet their art, do you know how often they honestly differentiate their merchandise between original prints and “afters”?
    I am aware of more than one instance in which an “after” has been sold as an original print on the high seas (see above).

    By the way, are you employed by, or do you do business in any way, with the two cruise ship companies you mentioned, NCL and Princess? -Kobi

  7. GET SERIOUS!

    I am amazed and very interested in what is written above. It seems that there is a crusade against the art auctions at sea. But all these crusaders never actually been there, saw the art, the prices, invoices, frames, authenticity certificates … the all deal. However, they are too ready to declare as a scam the sale of works that were not actually inspected. Very interesting, indeed.

    Considering that I do my business on cruise ships, have worked on more than 30 in the last 8 years, and have been in the art market for over 20, I would be more than interested to participate in this discussion. Especially, because there are indeed very bad “art auctioneers” that would say whatever to get a sale: a second hand car salesperson would dropp the jaw seeing these auctioneers at work as it happened to me many times.

    There are also absolute rip-offs like the some Rembrants contemporary prints sold for the real life-time stuff. Unreal and fraudulent, I couldn’t agree more. But if those of you with knowledge and integrity really want to so something about it, you better get serious yourselves. And find out what is going on cruise ships.

    To start with, it would be good to understand that there aren’t 500 large cruise ships in the world, not even 1/5 of this number … and by the way, we usually conduct between 4 and 5 auctions per week. Secondly, it would be better to start looking at art dealers on land – these are the ones that supply ships (just in case you have not noticied ships are supplied by “land” galleries in the USA). Finnaly, before you start getting so excited and thinking of “exposing the Cruise Ships Art Scams” you better get serious and know what you are talking about, otherwise you are not much different than the con-artists themselves.

    These would be a shame, because I sincerelly belive that the scams do exist both on cruise ships and on land galleries (what about all those fake Dalis, Mattas, Matisses, Chagalls … et cetera being sold in “reputable” galleries in New York, Chicago and all over Florida???? The scams should be, indeed, exposed but, PLEASE, be serious!!!! -Roy R.

  8. I am not an art collector but I was recently participating in an auction while aboard a Princess Cruise last week. I smelled something fishy. I thought there was a few or at least one person in the audience who may have been compensated for building excitement by bidding, wining, applauding etc. throughout the auctions. I spoke with the woman who I suspected was a ‘plant’ and asked her a few questions. I did not like my answers. Please write me to learn more. I would love to expose this scam! BTW, I noticed several other scams while on that first and last cruise.

  9. I recently concluded a cruise aboard the _______ on June 17,2007. I attended an art auction and purchased two Norman Rockwell lithographs or so I thought. Upon my return home I researched one painting through the Rockwell Museum and found some discrepencies in the images of my painting. I also found that both paintings were titled differently from those provided by the museum. Luckily we discovered these flaws early upon our arrival home and were able to reject the delivery of one of the paintings and returned the other with an additional cost of shipping. These paintings were represented as lithographs and to our dismay found the signatures to be a stamped signature and not signed by the artist himself. Although _______, the representative auctioneer of _____ Cruises, agreed to refund the price of the art, they will not refund the 15% buyers premium we were initally charged. We are also responsible for the shipping cost both to us and the return charges to _____. We are accomplished Rockwell collectors and are almost embarrassed to have been deceived in the manor in which we were.

  10. Hello all.

    In 2000, Time Magazine stated that Cruise Ship auctions had changed the dynamic of the art world forever. No wonder – the volume of artwork being sold is astronomical. The traditional publisher to dealer to gallery to collector relationship was being upset, and the public could now buy from wholesalers and large dealers. Galleries and dealers who weren’t involved in this aspect of the industry were justifiably threatened – prices are lower. The fact that some pieces sold could have questionable authenticity is true – and the auction houses and cruiselines have remedied these instances with refunds.

    There will always be unscrupulous salespeople, in every industry. There have always been unscrupulous salespeople in the art industry… just ask anyone who owns a fraudulent Dali or Chagall or (insert name here) bought from a “reputable” dealer or gallery in the 1970’s or 80’s.

    To paint a whole industry as corrupt because of a few bad apples is irresponsible. Are there unscrupulous people in big business? Are there unscrupulous people in politics? Of course. But we don’t buy from them when we have the choice, and we don’t vote for them if we keep ourselves informed.

    Is Sotheby’s better?… hmmm… let’s call Alfred Taubman and ask him.

    The point is this: Do your due diligence and ask the right questions. If you are a neophyte in the art world, buy what you are comfortable with.

  11. Dear Ian,

    I’ve posted your comment because it is well written (that always scores points in my book) and to help provide a balanced perspective, but I take issue with most of your points. For example, there is little doubt that Sotheby’s holds itself to a higher standard of scrupulousness–and is more knowledgeable about fine art–than your typical cruise ship. Taubman was charged with price-fixing, but not fraud. I wish that art dealers, let alone cruise ship auctions, held themselves to as high a standard as the two major auction houses.

    Second, buyers have reported the failure to me of some cruise ships to provide refunds, despite claims to the contrary made prior to the sales.

    I disagree that prices are lower on cruise ships. Lower than where? They seem to be at par with your typical storefront retail art gallery, as far as I’ve seen. They are much higher than my prices, but my prices are typically rock bottom. I also object to your characterization of cruise ship auctions as “wholesalers and large dealers”. Large dealers, yes, but wholesalers, no. Wholesale implies lower prices, for which cruise ship auctions are not known.

    I certainly disagree with your parting comment most vociferously. Don’t buy what you’re comfortable with until you’ve done enough due diligence so that you’re convinced that you’ve earned the right to be comfortable with your decisions. You seem to imply that all is well just as long as the buyer feels good about spending his money, regardless of whether he’s overpaying or buying fake art. Typical of a huckster who tries to lull his unsuspecting marks into a false sense of security. Caveat emptor.

    I have not done an in-depth analysis of cruise ship auctions–I lack the means–and my sources of information are admittedly anecdotal. Yet it’s helpful to know something about those sources in order to account for a possible bias. The last person who submitted an argument in favor of cruise ship auctions failed to answer my email in which I asked him whether he works for or owns such an auction. Interestingly, you haven’t even supplied your surname. But perhaps you’ll turn out to be different. So…who are you, what has been your personal experience at these auctions?

  12. First let me say I only buy original oils or acrylic paintings so I have no comment on Litho, print, Giclee etc.
    I have purchased many pieces from Princess and have always found the prices lower than I could find anywhere on the net or in a gallery. I do my research before I buy admittedly I do not release my cash unless I know. The worst price I got on a piece was 18% below the best price otherwise and this was with all cost factored in plus the frames are free too. As you all know this can run another $200-$800 in addition to the work.

    I have gone to many of these auctions and never found anything fishy going on and I am a skeptic. I really do not think Princess or most of the other cruise lines need to rip any one off to make lots of money at this. Here are the reasons they can afford to give better prices…very low overhead, volume purchases and sales, in fact many artist give them pieces for free sometimes just so they can get exposure. Think of it with thousands of people a week viewing the artist work what better way to get your name out there if you’re an artist. I know some of this stuff because I have become friends with one of the art directors on one of the ships. He even buys his art from them (he saves the 15% by the way).
    I can understand if you’re a gallery owner trying to compete against these “wal-marts” of the art world but don’t throw them under the bus when they really do give good value at least when it comes to Original oils and acrylics.

  13. OK. You buy canvases by unknown artists. Could be a different story than prints by Picasso. But, in answer to your argument that “Princess or most of the other cruise lines [don’t] need to rip any one off to make lots of money at this,” it seems to me that the auctions are concessions farmed out to enterprising art dealers, not owned and operated by the cruise lines themselves. These are dealers are likely not as flush as their “landlords”.

    Your point about the cost of frames made me laugh. True, many commercial art dealers use cheap, faux gold frames. But good frames cost a bundle, much more than your stated range. The highest priced one brought in around a million dollars–just the frame, mind you. That was an antique. But even beautiful modern gold-leaf frames start today at around $1500-2000, depending on size and complexity, and go way up from there.

  14. I am an art historian by education. One of my professors was a well-known authority on Picasso. I once attended an art auction on a______cruise, and was astounded by the fake prints (the Picassos) and the basically worthless late edition Rembrandts (printed in 2000!). The very first item up for auction was sold by the auctioneer to the chandeliers within seconds. I was closely watching the audience and did not see a bid anywhere. The funniest part about it was when we received the morning newsletter next day admonishing the cruise participants that we should wear proper clothing to their “art auctions” ! I guess it was in response to the fact that I was wearing my swimming trunks and Grateful Dead t-shirt. I know exactly who the little twit was who complained, too. The young lady acting as cashier at the auction, who was herself participating in larceny.

  15. After doing a little research, I think it should be pointed out to this forum that all the auctions being conducted on Princess and P&O, and on some of the Carnival ships are, in fact, run by the cruiseline. For a number of years Princess has been conducting it’s own auctions, and owns P&O. When Carnival Corp purchased Princess, it adopted the “in-house” program on some of it’s ships (presumably for comparative reasons – to compete with the concessionary company that they are using).

    So, not all the auctions are conducted by independent companies. I have heard of very few negative experiences associated with the Princess auctions. Perhaps the black mark on cruise ship auctions is the cause of a particular company, who is consequently giving the whole industry a bad name…

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