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More on the planned return of (some of) the Lewis Chessmen to Scotland’s Western Isles

Further coverage of the planned return on permanent loan [1] of some of the Lewis Chessmen to a new purpose built exhibition space in Lews Castle.

It has been pointed out to me following my questioning of why this was happening now [2], that there is of course a referendum on Scotland’s independence from the UK coming up some time around the return date – which may well have had a bearing on the decision.

The British Museum has also announced a series of regional tours of other artefacts – increasing its lending programme (within the UK at least).

Museums Association Journal [3]

Lewis Chessmen to return to Western Isles
Rebecca Atkinson, 14.06.2012
British Museum also announces series of regional loans

Six of the Lewis Chessmen are to go on permanent display at Lews Castle, Stornoway, from 2014 as part of a loan agreement between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) and the British Museum.

The medieval chess pieces will be displayed in a new museum funded by a £4.6m Heritage Lottery Fund grant and supported by National Museums Scotland (NMS) and the British Museum.

This partnership is expected to result in further loans to the new museum, which will be the first in the UK to use Gaelic as its first language.

Angus Campbell, the leader of the Comhairle, said: “The presence of the Lewis Chessmen on the islands where they were found is highly appropriate and significant for the Outer Hebrides, and will support the substantial investment committed to the Lews Castle Museum and Archive project.”

The Scottish National Party has previously called for the pieces to be returned to the Western Isles.

The new loan agreement follows last year’s touring exhibition of the Lewis Chessmen across Scotland, which was organised by NMS. A five-month exhibition at the Museum nan Eilean on Stornoway attracted over 23,000 visitors.

Since 1995 there has been an agreement between the British Museum and Museum nan Eilean to loan the chessmen periodically. NMS owns 11 pieces, with the remaining 82 held by the British Museum.

Regional tours

The British Museum also announced this week a new regional loan programme called Spotlight Tours.

The scheme is funded by the museum’s £100,000 Art Fund Prize, which it won last year for the Radio 4 series and exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects. Spotlight Tours will run for up to four years and include single loans, touring exhibitions, partnerships and skills exchange.

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill will be the first recipient of the programme with the loan of a Roman bronze of Herakles during the Olympic season.

David Rhodes, curator at the De La Warr Pavilion, said: “The pavilion is known primarily as a centre for contemporary art so this sculpture will provide an usual and surprising juxtaposition for our visitors.”

Other loans include a 13,000-year-old carved tusk artwork, the Swimming Reindeer, to the Ice Age cave site at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire. The Shetland Museum and Archives will also host a bronze cat sculpture in September, a follow up loan from the Lewis Chessmen tour.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “A single object can tell multiple and interconnecting histories. It can be used to cast light on a local or global story, or give a new perspective within the context of a different setting or collection.

“The British Museum is committed to sharing its collection as widely as possible and we are delighted to be able to use the Art Fund Prize funding to collaborate with local partners on this series of tours.”

The British Museum has previously lent objects from its collection to regional museums in England under the Renaissance-funded Something Borrowed initiative.