February 27, 2009
Seeing the difficulties encountered by China in recent weeks, is there any hope for recovering Indian artefacts located abroad, other than making direct efforts to buy them back (a strategy that China has been involved with in the past)?
Economic Times (India)
Hard to reclaim National Artefacts
27 Feb 2009, 0321 hrs IST, ET Bureau
The failure of a Chinese group to stop the auction of two bronze artefacts looted by Anglo-French forces from the Imperial summer palace at Yuanmingyuan during the second Opium War in 1860, has vast implications. The bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit caught the attention of a Chinese cultural and heritage association when they were displayed by Christie’s as part of the art collection of French fashion’s haute couple Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge.
Not only did the Paris tribunal reject the petition, it also ordered the Chinese organisation to pay Christie’s and Berge e1,000 ($1,274 ) each, as costs. Provenance — the record of origin — is the mantra by which the world of fine art survives, but all too often a blind eye is turned to the more shady aspects of their acquisition.
The most famous case, of course, is of the ‘Elgin Marbles’ or the priceless statues and architectural motifs from the Acropolis in Athens ‘removed’ between 1801 and 1812 and sent to England by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin.
Relentless controversy and a parliamentary debate led to the ‘collection’ being bought by the government in 1816 and they have been on display ever since in the British Museum in London. Emotions still run high in Britain and Greece on whether they should stay or be shipped back.
Some of the best Indian antiquities also lie in foreign museums and private collections abroad and are often put on display too. That they once graced temples and palaces in India is as well known as the likelihood that they were not sent out by fair means. Yet, official efforts to bring them back have been lackadaisical — and will now become even more unenthusiastic after this French precedent.
Then, India’s only recourse would be to buy back national treasures, like the 13th century Danilov Monastery bells which were removed by Stalin in 1929, found their way to Harvard University, and were restored to their homeland by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg last year. But India will have to dispense with the duty levied on historic items if Indian billionaires are to follow suit.
- Yves Saint Laurent and the Eighth Earl of Elgin : January 22, 2009
- Jackie Chan’s support for recovery of looted Chinese Artefacts : February 27, 2009
- The perils of art auctions : March 7, 2009
- The Chinese bronzes & Gandhi’s glasses : March 8, 2009
- China’s worldwide hunt for artefacts looted from Beijing’s Summer Palace : November 3, 2009
- Controversies over restitution claims : April 5, 2009
- Is China’s quest to recover looted artefacts from the Summer Palace likely to be successful? : November 22, 2010
- The problems of disputed artefacts : March 4, 2009