Christie’s announced on Thursday that a second sale of jewelry from the collection of the Austrian heiress Heidi Horten had been canceled, citing the “intense scrutiny” that the auction house had faced from Jewish organizations and some collectors.
Ahead of the initial sale in May, which generated a record $202 million from diamonds, emeralds and sapphires, The New York Times reported on the connections between the Horten fortune and Nazi-era policies that helped her husband, the German retailer Helmut Horten, expand his department store chain during that time at the expense of disenfranchised Jewish business owners. Helmut Horten died in 1987 and Heidi Horten in 2022.
The Heidi Horten Foundation said then that the proceeds would go toward medical research and to a Vienna museum dedicated to artwork the couple had owned. But some historians found the auction house’s decision to move forward with the sale distasteful, and employees had raised concerns internally about tarnishing its reputation.
After the criticism, Christie’s added information to the auction materials saying that Helmut Horten had bought Jewish businesses that were “sold under duress,” and said the auction house would donate a portion of the proceeds to Holocaust research and education.
Several Jewish organizations rebuffed Christie’s in the following months.
Yad Vashem, the organization for Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims, said it had declined a donation from the auction house because of the money’s source. The Jerusalem Post reported that other Jewish groups had also spurned the donations, though Christie’s has said that conversations are continuing.
The auction house declined to answer questions about its decision to cancel the sale, which was scheduled for November in Geneva. Anthea Peers, the president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a statement that “the sale of the Heidi Horten jewelry collection has provoked intense scrutiny, and the reaction to it has deeply affected us and many others, and we will continue to reflect on it.”
David Schaecter, the president of Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation USA and a survivor himself, said the decision was a signal to all auction houses about the consequences of selling what he called tainted goods.
“We are glad that they recognized the great pain additional sales of Horten art and jewelry would cause Holocaust survivors,” Schaecter said.
Though the canceled auction would have included some 300 lots, auction experts said it would have generated a smaller sum than the 400 jewels in the first sale, which included some of the greatest treasures from the Horten collection.