January 26, 2004

Issues raised in press coverage of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 2:00 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

Responses to some of the press coverage of the launch of the Marbles Reunited campaign.

The Times

January 25, 2004
Letters to the Editor: Riddle of the Elgin marbles

YOUR articles, Public shows huge support for return of Elgin marbles and Oi, hands off our marbles! (News, January 11 and News Review, last week), raised some controversial points. The British Museum’s claim to legal ownership of the marbles “because it paid for them in the 19th century” is incorrect. The marbles were purchased in 1816 by the government of the day, with £35,000 of public money, and vested in the British Museum.

The claim that the British Museum “has never had a formal written request for the marbles’ return” may well be true — but British governments over the years have certainly had formal requests from Greece.

The position is quite clear. The British Museum, by statute, does not have the authority to return the marbles. But they were purchased under an act of parliament, and any government has the power to alter the conditions of any act of parliament made by a previous government.

Speaking from the Labour front bench in 1994 the then shadow arts minister, Mark Fisher, committed a future Labour government to working out “ . . . the orderly return of the Elgin marbles”. Perhaps Tessa Jowell, the present secretary of state, can explain what we are waiting for.

William G Stewart
London SW15

FOCUS: Those who support the return of the marbles have not thought through the consequences. If the marbles were returned, pressure would mount for the return of all the other non-British exhibits to their country of origin. And, as Neil McGregor stated: “it is essential that there are places where the great creations of all civilisations can be seen together, and where the visitors can focus on what unites rather than what divides us”.

Millions of people have the opportunity to view collections exhibited here.

Derek Coggrave
London N3

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