December 14, 2014
In a move calculated to rachet up levels of Greek anger, Neil MacGregor has indicated that the loan of one of the Parthenon Sculptures to Russia is just the start of a larger plan.
Far from being the only time that one of the Parthenon Sculptures will leave the British Museum, he sees this as just the start, with them being lent to other institutions around the world. Apparently, some talks with other museums are already underway.
It seems that MacGregor is desperate to try & prove to Greece that if you [play by his rules, then anyone who asks is free to borrow one of the centrepieces of the British Museum’s collection. The question remains though – why should Greece stoop down & make concessions that they believe to be untrue, weakening their own case, while at the same time the British Museum concedes nothing.
British Museum to send more Elgin Marbles abroad despite Greek anger
Museum director Neil MacGregor says “conversations are in train” about loaning more disputed Parthenon masterpieces to world museums
By Tom Parfitt, St Petersburg
5:40PM GMT 06 Dec 2014
The director of the British Museum has said it is already in talks to loan more Elgin Marbles to foreign museums.
Neil MacGregor told The Telegraph that the negotiations would continue despite the angry reaction from the government of Greece this week when it emerged that the museum was lending one of the Marbles – a headless statue of the river god, Ilissos – to the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia.
“A number of other people, other institutions abroad have suggested that they are very interested [in borrowing Marbles],” said Mr MacGregor. “A couple of other conversations are in train.”
Mr MacGregor said the talks had been under way for “a year or so” and would continue in spite of Greece’s opposition to the loan of the Ilissos sculpture, which was unveiled in the Roman Courtyard of the Hermitage on Friday afternoon. He declined to give details of the timing or of which museums would receive the masterpieces.
Greece has long insisted the Marbles – collected by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, in the early 19th century and later passed to the British Museum – should be returned to Athens, where they once adorned the Parthenon.
Fresh loans to other countries are likely to infuriate the Greek government. On Friday, Antonis Samaras, the prime minister of Greece, said the British Museum’s transfer of the 2,500- year-old Ilissos statue to St Petersburg until January 18 was “an affront to the Greek people”.
“The British argument held until recently – that the Parthenon Marbles cannot be moved – is no longer valid; just as the existence of the new Acropolis Museum invalidated the other British argument that there was no appropriate space for exhibiting the sculptures,” he said.
“We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.”
The British Museum argues the sculptures were legally acquired and that it is up to the trustees to decide what to do with them. “This is a totally normal thing for the British Museum to do, to lend great objects to great museums,” said Mr MacGregor. However, the Ilissos statue is the first piece of the artwork ever to be loaned abroad since the Marbles were acquired.
Asked if Elgin works could be loaned to Athens, Mr MacGregor said: “To date, the Greeks have always refused to borrow [the Marbles] because they would not borrow what belongs to them. But were they to make a request, it would be reviewed in exactly the same terms as any other.”
Members of the British and Russian art establishments mingled in St Petersburg on Saturday at the opening of an exhibition of Francis Bacon paintings on the eve of the Hermitage’s 250th birthday.
The event was attended by David Sainsbury, the philanthropist and supermarket heir, and the Marquess of Cholmondeley, who lives at Houghton Hall in North Norfolk, which hosted a show of masterpieces from the Hermitage last year.
The Kremlin was represented at the event by Mikhail Shvydkoy, special representative on international cultural cooperation to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president.
Mr Shvydkoy said UK-Russia cultural ties were “taking on a special significance in the current climate”, in a reference to tensions between Moscow and the West over the Ukraine crisis.
“Culture is becoming an instrument to preserves some kind of contacts, some kind of atmosphere that might help revive a feeling of trust,” he told The Telegraph. “That is the main political problem, the absence of trust [between Russia and the West]. It’s not that we don’t understand each other: we don’t even hear each other.”
Mr Shvydkoy dismissed suggestions by some in Britain that the Ilissos marble should not have been sent to Russia because of the Kremlin’s support for separatist rebels in Ukraine.
“What if I were to say as the president’s representative that our relations with Britain are difficult, so let’s stop reading Shakespeare or Bernard Shaw?” he said. “I don’t think that would be right.” Meanwhile on Saturday, a steady stream of visitors passed the Ilissos sculpture in the Hermitage.
Igor Koryabin, an opera critic, 46, said he had come after the museum announced a mysterious “masterpiece from the British Museum” would go on display.
“It’s a surprise that it’s here despite the political undercurrents, of course,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any risk we won’t give it back to Britain. There are agreements, guarantees. And I think it belongs in the British Museum now – the Elgin Marbles are symbol of it, they’re in its blood.” Elena Khodza, head of the museum’s section on Greek and Roman Art, said: “When a masterpiece like this is shown in a fresh setting it gains a new life, a new aura. The fact it is here is a great and significant thing.”
British Museum to Loan More Parthenon Marbles
by Philip Chrysopoulos – Dec 7, 2014
The British Museum is discussing to loan more Parthenon sculptures to foreign museums, after loaning the statue of god Ilissos to Russia’s State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
British Museum director Neil MacGregor told “The Telegraph” that several museums from across the world are interested in borrowing the Parthenon Marbles and that he is discussing with them. He said that talks are underway for almost a year but declined to name the time of the loans or the museums, according to “The Telegraph.”
The sculpture of god Ilissos is the first piece of the Parthenon Marbles that has ever “left” the British Museum. The sculptures were taken by Lord Elgin from Greece in 1803, when the country was still under Ottoman rule. Despite the efforts of Greek governments of the past thirty years, the Parthenon sculptures – or Elgin Marbles, as the British like to call them – were never returned to Greece.
Last Friday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spoke of the Ilissos loan and called it “an affront to the Greek people,” who are infuriated that the Parthenon sculptures “travel,” but not to their home. The British Museum’s argument had so far been that the sculptures cannot be moved. Now that argument is invalid, Samaras said.
However, the British Museum insists that the marbles were acquired legally and that they can be loaned to other museums, if the trustees choose so. “This is a totally normal thing for the British Museum to do, to lend great objects to great museums,” MacGregor told “The Telegraph.”
Greece is in UNESCO-mediated talks with Britain over the sculptures’ repatriation, since the largest part of the Parthenon Marbles are on display at the Acropolis Museum. The Greek side firmly believes that the sculptures belong to their natural environment and they are part of a whole that is broken.
- British Museum can loan Parthenon Marbles, just not to Greece : December 5, 2014
- Turkey supports Greece in fight to reunify Parthenon Marbles : December 9, 2014
- Ilissos returns to British Museum, but not to Duveen Gallery : March 12, 2015
- Greece drags heels over sculpture loans to British Museum : January 9, 2015
- Arrogance & duplicity – the British loan of the Parthenon Marbles : December 7, 2014
- British Museum Director on Parthenon Marbles Hermitage loan : December 5, 2014
- Greece responds angrily to Russian Parthenon sculpture loan : December 8, 2014
- Against return of Marbles to Greece, but against loan to Russia : December 14, 2014