Quote of the Day

If the Mona Lisa had been sawed in two during the Napoleonic Wars and the separated halves had been acquired by different museums, would there not be a general wish to see what they might look like if reunited?

Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair magazine

June 4, 2005

Peter Hitchens supports the return of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 11:47 am in Elgin Marbles

In 1997, Christopher Hitchens wrote “The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece? “, a very well reasoned & persuasive account of why he felt that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned.
Christopher Hitchens has a less internationally known brother Peter Hitchens who agrees on very little with his brother. Reading their articles, it has always appeared that there is little common ground between the two of them.
At the Hay on Wye Literary festival last week though, during a joint interview session it transpired that one of the few subjects on which they do both agree is that the British have little right to keep the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

From:
The Guardian

[…]
Ian Katz (Guardian features editor): I want to ask you about a quote that has cropped up in the pages of various magazines in the conversations that you two have had around the world. [To Peter] you said to the Guardian, ‘being Peter Hitchens is about not being Christopher Hitchens, which is true to some extent, as Canada is about not being the United States. But it doesn’t mean I spend my whole time thinking: Christopher thinks this, how can I differentiate myself from him?’ Does that mean you spend some of your time thinking about it?
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June 3, 2005

What does the Feldmann case verdict mean for the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 8:15 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A lot of the articles appearing in the press in the last week about the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict have made a connection between this case & that of the Elgin Marbles. Both cases after all involve artefacts in the British Museum that people are campaigning to be returned. In reality though, how relevant is the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict?

Points arising from the Feldmann case

On Saturday, the story was in the following papers:
Guardian, BBC News, The Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times
Syndicated versions of the article from Bloomberg, AFP, AP & Reuters appeared in many US, Canadian & Australian Papers.
Copies of all these versions appear in the previous posts about the case during the last 2 weeks.

In total the story has been on over 25 different news sources in one form or another.

From reading through the articles there are a number of relevant points that I have noticed & summarised below. Some of the background details come from earlier articles from 2002 onwards. Anyway, there are some quite interesting points that we can get from this case & the media’s reaction to it.

Details of the case:
The case is HC04CO3885 : Her Majesty’s Attorney General v The Trustees of the British Museum.

Background:
The case was the first claim against a British collection demanding the return of artworks looted by the Nazis (there was a previous case against the Tate, but the owner’s descendents were seeking financial compensation rather than restitution.)
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Artefacts from German Museums now in Russia

Posted at 8:11 am in Similar cases

After the Second World War Russia had accumulated a lot of artefacts that were previously in German Museums. Germany has requested them back for a long time, now Russia is further antagonising Germany by putting many of these items together in an exhibition. One does wonder though how legitimate all the original acquisitions of “valuable pieces of Greek, Italian, Cypriot and Etruscan art” by German Museums were.

From:
The Moscow Times

Spoils of War
An exhibition of ancient artworks – once kept in Berlin museums, then seized by Soviet forces in 1945 – has revived an old dispute between Russia and Germany.
By Anna Malpas
Published: May 27, 2005

The statues and frescoes survived thousands of years, only to be smashed and burned in the aftermath of World War II. Now a collection of antiquities taken from Berlin by Red Army troops in 1945 has been restored and put on display in Moscow, opening up old wounds on both sides.
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The Looting of Iraq & what we should be doing

Posted at 8:10 am in Similar cases

The British Museum is putting pressure on the British Government to do more about the looting of the museums & archaeological sites of Iraq. Whilst this an admirable cause & has recieved less media attention since the initial looting after the fall of Baghdad, is it really that different from what the British were doing in many places in the last couple of centuries (with the results of this looting on display in the British Museum.)
I am certain that in response to this argument Neil MacGregor would argue that we have moved on from that phase. This is completely true, as we now have a greater awareness of these issues. However, the British People have moved on, but the British Museum does not. Neil MacGregor often speaks of the “Universal Museum” a concept of the age of enlightenment out of which the British Museum was born. On reflection though is it not also the right time to move on from this dated concept of the universal museum, to let it evolve into a new type of universal museum, one that is relevant to today’s values, understandings & the paradigms under which today’s society operates?

From:
The Art Newspaper

The UK government must act now
The director of the British Museum reflects on the looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, and what now needs to be done
By Neil MacGregor
Director, The British Museum

Another day, another report of death in Iraq. Or probably, several. As I write this review, the German press has announced that Fuad Ibrahim Mohammed, head of Baghdad University’s Institute of German Studies, who for the last two years has been working to re-build its library, destroyed by artillery when American troops entered Baghdad, has been murdered by unknown killers on his way to work. It happens all the time. It is hardly even news. The human cost of rebuilding Iraq’s cultural patrimony is, and will be, immense and is shamefully under-reported in the outside world. This is the context in which readers of The Art Newspaper must address The looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, which tells once again the familiar events and gives some idea of what will one day need to be done as a consequence.
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June 1, 2005

Further media coverage of the Feldmann case verdict

Posted at 12:26 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Following the judgement at the end of last week, there has been extensive media coverage of this case both in the British & International press.
I’ll post a summary / analysis of this shortly.

From:
The Guardian

3.45pm
Ruling tightens grip on Parthenon marbles
Press Association
Friday May 27, 2005

The British Museum is barred by law from handing back four Old Master drawings looted by the Nazis, the high court decided today, in a ruling that may obstruct Greek efforts to reclaim the Parthenon marbles.

The vice chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, ruled that the British Museum Act – which protects the collections for posterity – cannot be overridden by a “moral obligation” to return works known to have been plundered.
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May 31, 2005

Museums & the illegal antiquities trade

Posted at 12:50 am in Similar cases

The Age has an article following on from the Marion True indictment covered a week ago. It raises a number of interesting points about the way antiquities are acquired, not least in the comment: “In 1995, the Getty announced it would only acquire antiquities with sound provenance.” 1995? surely a reputable institution ought to have stopped doing this a lot longer ago than that?

From:
The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

Museum in firing line
May 31, 2005

The Italians want to stop the illegal trade in antiquities. Peter Huck in Los Angeles considers the consequences for the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Judicial proceedings can move at a glacial pace in Italy, but, after a 10-year investigation into stolen Italian antiquities, Roman prosecutors have in view a very high-profile scalp: the antiquities curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Last month, a Roman court charged Marion True, 56, with knowingly receiving stolen goods. She is also accused of using false documents to help launder artefacts acquired by the Getty from a private collection.

The case, which goes to trial in Rome on July 18, could have far-reaching consequences for the relationship between museums and international art dealers.
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May 28, 2005

Art dealer to return stolen Greek statue

Posted at 1:45 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

This is a complete change from the usual situation of lengthy arguments over repatriation of stolen artworks & whose responsibility they are. James Ede, a London art dealer on researching a kouros he had purchased discovered that it was stolen at some time during the Second World War. Not only is he returning it to the museum from which it was stolen, but he has refused to accept the reward that was offered (British Museum – are you listening?).

From:
The Guardian

Art dealer takes Greek statue back home
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Saturday May 28, 2005
The Guardian

Still smiling after 2,600 years, one small Greek youth, probably trousered by a soldier 60 years ago, is going home to the island of Samos.

“He’s in remarkable condition apart from his nose,” said James Ede, a London art dealer who has established that the figure was stolen from the island’s museum, probably during the second world war. “He got that biffing in antiquity, not in my care,” he added anxiously.
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May 27, 2005

Verdict reached on the Feldmann case

Posted at 1:42 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The courts have decided that the British Museum Act can not be overruled by any moral obligation on the part of the museum. Therefore the museum can not return the drawings the were looted by the Nazis.
As pointed out in previous articles, this could potentially have had implications for many other restitution cases involving the museum, not least that of the Elgin Marbles, had the courts decided in favour of letting the museum return the drawings.

From:
Bloomberg news

British Museum Can’t Return Works Looted by Nazis, Court Says
May 27 (Bloomberg)

The British Museum, which holds antiquities including the Rosetta Stone and sculptures from Athens’ Parthenon, is barred from returning art looted by the Nazis to the heirs of a Jewish collector, a London court ruled.
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Feldmann case decision expected today

Posted at 8:52 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

According to this article, judgement is expected today on the Feldmann case, that could allow moral claims to overrule the museum’s act.

From:
The Scotsman

Fri 27 May 2005
2:48am (UK)
Legal Ruling Could Loosen Grip on Elgin Marbles
By Stephen Howard, PA

Vice Chancellor Sir Andrew Morritt is ruling today on a point of law which could give the owners of stolen artworks a chance to reclaim them – a ruling which may give Greece a chance to reclaim the Elgin Marbles.
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May 26, 2005

Seminar on War & Cultural Heritage

Posted at 9:25 pm in Similar cases

The Institute of Art & Law has organised a number of seminars on cultural property in the past & this sounds like it will be a particularly interesting one, focussing on what is currently a very relevant subject. Of particular note is the fact that one of the speakers is from the British Museum. Unfortunately due to it being mid afternoon on a weekday I will be unable to attend.

From:
Institute of Art & Law

Forthcoming Seminars
War and Cultural Heritage

A Seminar to be held in association with the international law firm, Clyde & Co

Monday 6th June 2005, 3pm

In April 2003 the world was shocked to see the scenes of the looting of the Iraq National Museum. In fact, over the past decade the world has witnessed many scenes of cultural vandalism – the destruction of the Neretva Bridge of Mostar and the destruction of the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan being just two such examples. As a result, the ability of international law to protect cultural heritage in times of armed conflict has assumed even greater importance.
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Iran requests return of artefacts from Chicago Oriental Institute

Posted at 9:02 pm in Similar cases

Part of Iran’s ongoing attempts to recover items from their country that are held in foreign museums. This case is particularly disturbing, in that Iran lent the artefacts for 3 years to be studied in 1963, but they have still not been returned by the institute.

From:
Mehr News

Iran seeks return of artifacts from Chicago’s Oriental Institute

TEHRAN, May 25 (MNA) — Iran has renewed efforts to recover historical artifacts which were discovered in the Choghamish region of Khuzestan in 1963 and entrusted to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago but never returned to the country.
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Australia to return artefacts to British Museum

Posted at 8:53 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The case of the aboriginal bark etchings, has been going on for the last year. They were on loan in Australia from the British Museum, but prevented from being returned by the aboriginals. It seems now though that the state of Victoria has ruled that they should be returned to the British Museum.
In many ways this is a sad decision for the aboriginal tribes involved. However on the other hand the way that they went about achieving their goals by trying to retain the items while they were on loan could only have served to make the British Museum far more wary of loaning items in the future had they succeeded.

From:
ABC (Australia)

Thursday, 26 May 2005, 06:46:15 AEST
Artefacts decision ‘costs Indigenous people’

Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Gavin Jennings, has refused to prevent three Indigenous artefacts being returned to institutions in Britain.

The items were on temporary loan from the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens in London.
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