Misleading Bronze Sculptures

Original Francisco ZunigaEnservio was recently asked to appraise three bronze sculptures which were stolen from an insured’s residence.  At claim intake, they were described as original Francisco Zúñiga sculptures which were purchased from an unnamed Los Angeles art dealer approximately 15 years ago.  Each sculpture had claimed values ranging between $10,000 and $14,000 for a total claimed value of $34,500.

Francisco Zúñiga (Mexican, 1912-1998) is an important and celebrated artist whose sculptures, drawings and prints can be found in major museums worldwide.  Currently limited edition bronze sculptures by Zúñiga range are offered though galleries representing the artist’s estate for $25,000-$40,000; his larger monumental works exceed $500,000.

Subject Bronze ReplicaBased on the photographs provided of the three subject bronze sculptures, we determined after market research with galleries representing Zúñiga that they would fall in the $25,000-$40,000 range for each, far exceeding the claimed values.  However, from examining the provided photographs of the sculptures, something seemed… off.  While they were created in the same style of Zúñiga with similar subject matters and titles, the details on the faces did not appear to be right.  Also, the insured was not able to provide additional photographs of the signatures, nor were gallery receipts or certificates of authenticity supplied.

Before we made any assumptions to their authenticity, we contacted the Francisco Zúñiga Foundation. We sent photographs of the subject sculptures to the Foundation and received a reply that the pieces were not original works by Francisco Zúñiga.  This was also confirmed by a gallery which represents the artist’s estate.

Because our initial concerns regarding the sculptures were reinforced by the Francisco Zúñiga Foundation’s rejection of the works, we priced the subject sculptures as bronze replicas created after the artist Francisco Zúñiga.  Bronze replica sculptures are heavily saturated in the market by bronze manufacturing foundries recreating famous works by Auguste Rodin, Frederic Remington, and other famous artists.  To recreate replicas of the subject sculptures would cost $1,500- $2,000 each. Had they been original Francisco Zúñiga sculptures, they would have exceeded the total claimed value of $34,500 by $60,000 or more.

In this instance, we do not believe any deception was taking place, as the sculptures could have easily been passed off as original.  Unfortunately the insured may have been victim to an unscrupulous art dealer, of which there are many in the bronze market as replicas are fairly easy to create.   In the end, our due diligence and additional research meant the carrier paid out $5000 for all three replicas rather than $29,500.

As appraisers we are not authenticators, but we always stress the importance of due diligence and utilizing resources and research.  In this instance our instincts and contact with the artist’s foundation led us to solid conclusions about the subject sculptures.

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