January 30, 2012
Another restitution story, only tenuously connected to that of the Parthenon Marbles via the Elgin name – but interesting none the less.
Statuette returned, but was it stolen?
Note says it was taken 50 years ago, although archives uncertain they ever owned it
By Ari Altstedter, Postmedia News June 7, 2011
Someone entered the first-floor men’s room of the Lord Elgin Hotel in downtown Ottawa on Saturday, carefully placing a shopping bag on the floor and leaving.
Inside was a century-old bronze statuette and an anonymous typed note.
The figure, of British General James Wolfe who died during the Battle of Quebec in 1759, was the property of the people of Canada and had been stolen more than 50 years ago, the note said.
“My conscience has bothered me for a very long time and I am now an old man,” it said.
The note was marked with a stamp requesting that whoever finds the package forward its contents to the Library and Archives Canada.
A guest found the package and gave it to the staff of the hotel. They were intrigued.
“It must have been quite something for him,” said Ann Meelker, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. “It [must have] niggled him for a long time.”
When the hotel contacted the archives the mystery deepened; curators there said it is not known if the archives were ever in possession of the piece, let alone if it had been stolen.
The story behind the unusual drop is only hinted at in vague outline in the note, which reads, in its entirety:
“This statuette of Wolfe was stupidly stolen in the 1950s from the old building that then housed the Public Archives of Canada on Sussex Drive. It is returned through the charity of strangers because my conscience has bothered me for a very long time and I am now an old man. I very much regret this act of foolishness and apologize to the authorities for having deprived the Archives of this artifact.”
The statuette, at least at first inspection, appears to be authentic.
At its base is an inscription that reads ‘Vernon March 1909.’ Vernon March is the English sculptor behind the Canadian War Memorial just down the street from Parliament in Ottawa and the Champlain Monument in Orillia, Ont.
Charlie Hill, curator for Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, says the statue seems like it could be an authentic March. He says that in 1911, the artist exhibited a statuette of Wolfe at The Royal Academy in London and made a number of casts for private collectors. Pictures of some of the casts can be seen on the websites of various online auction houses where they have fetched prices between $250-400.
The statuette that appeared at The Lord Elgin bears a strong resemblance to the pictures on the online auction houses, and Hill says it’s possible the statuette is one of March’s original casts.
- The statue at the Lord Elgin hotel : April 12, 2012
- The Elgin family busts in Ottawa : October 26, 2011
- The location of the Ottawa busts of the eighth Earl of Elgin & his wife : October 26, 2011
- Delays to Elgin family’s return of artefacts : April 28, 2008
- Elgin family to return some stones of no value to their country of origin : April 18, 2008
- Lord Elgin speaks about the reasons for returning artefacts to their country of origin : December 7, 2010
- Canada’s Governor General to visit the New Acropolis Museum : November 6, 2009
- Lord Elgin’s rocks on display in the Canadian Museum of Civilization : November 21, 2010