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A ‘massive’ difference in value: Sotheby’s picks Freshfields to defend it against Caravaggio claim

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer litigator Paul Lomas is leading Sotheby’s defence against a professional negligence claim after the auction house sold a painting in London for £42,000 that is now claimed to be by baroque master Caravaggio and worth over £11m.

Boodle Hatfield’s head of litigation Simon Fitzpatrick, alongside Tim Maxwell, are representing Lancelot William Thwaytes in a claim that ‘the auction house failed in its duty to research and advise upon’ what is now argued to be a genuine Caravaggio version of the Card Sharps, with the original owned by Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.

Thwaytes inherited the painting in 1965 from his cousin, Caravaggio collector Surgeon Captain Thwaytes, who once owned The Musicians by Caravaggio which now hangs in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A specialist at Sotheby’s concluded that The Card Sharps was a copy, and not by the baroque master, before Thwaytes sold the painting at a Sotheby’s auction for £42,000. The painting being sold to the wife of Sir Denis Mahon, who revealed in November 2007 at his 97th birthday that it was painted by Caravaggio. The  Painting  is  currently  on  display  at  the Museum  of  the  Order  of  St  John in London and  is  insured  for  £10m.

Thwaytes claims that his requests for full x-ray and infra-red analysis were ignored before the sale and that the auction house ‘failed to consider the possibility of cleaning the Painting’, which would have revealed details that ‘should have led Sotheby’s to question its  approach’.

Lawyers for Thwaytes said in a court filing: ‘Proper research would have resulted in Sotheby’s consulting with experienced conservators and soliciting the opinions of Caravaggio scholars on the Painting… The difference in value between an anonymous copy  and an autograph replica was massive’

Boodle Hatfield have instructed Henry Legge QC of 5 Stone Buildings. Lomas has formerly led Freshfields’ global commercial disputes team and has instructed Andrew Onslow QC and Richard Edwards of 3 Verulam Buildings on the case.