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Some auction items on view at Hôtel Drouot (via

The New York Times reports on a serious scandal that’s rocking the Hôtel Drouot, which is “France’s oldest, largest, most storied and most profitable auction site, a frenetic three-story bazaar of marvels and junk: Picassos and Basquiats, stamps and used handbags, dusty carpets, couches, clattering glassware.”

Insiders don’t seem surprised by the revelation but the authorities have discovered that the famous auction house, founded in 1851, has cultivated a “culture of casual corruption.”

It all started last December, when:

… the French police exposed what is said to be an extensive art-trafficking ring within the auction house. A dozen people were arrested on suspicion of coordinated thefts, most of them “commissionaires,” members of Drouot’s clannish corporation of handlers and transporters; since then, four more have reportedly confessed to stealing. The police are said to have recovered more than a hundred missing objects and artworks, including several Chagall lithographs and a Courbet valued at as much as $135,000.

Chatter of Swindles and Scams at Auction House,” New York Times (April 26, 2009)

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.