September 25, 2013
The story of the ring belonging to Jane Austen, purchased by Kelly Clarkson has been running in the news for some time now. First there was the initial outcry, then there was the temporary export ban, and now, the money has finally been raised to keep it in the UK.
After the campaign to keep the ring in Britain started, people from all around the world supplied donations to the Jane Austen Museum, helping them to raise the funds to prevent it from being sent abroad.
The same thing often happens – we hear about some priceless artwork or other, and then various people who are campaigning to stop it being sent to some foreign museum. But, when Greece asks for the Parthenon Marbles back, or Nigeria asks for the Benin bronzes, they are accused of (amongst other things) cultural nationalism. Museum directors look down on them & imply that they are not playing the game that they are meant to be playing – highlighting the spread of cultural knowledge etcetera that having these items outside their country brings about.
Now many comparisons have been drawn by people commenting on press articles and on twitter to the case of the Parthenon Marbles. However, I would argue that the cases are in no way similar. As I have often mentioned before, restitution cases are all unique – each has their own set of circumstances & each should be treated on its own merits.
The case of the Elgin Marbles is, I believe, far stronger than that of Jane Austen’s ring. Little is known about the origins of the ring. Nobody is sure whether Austen purchased it herself, or was given it as a gift. As such, although it is connected to her through her ownership, it could hardly be classed as inextricably linked. Similar rings could have belonged to many other people & without the full knowledge of the provenance, nobody would be able to identify which one had belonged to Austen & which had belonged to someone else. Furthermore, rings are inherently mobile objects. They are designed to be worn, or carried about. As a result, there is little that really links a ring to a specific location or region of the world.
Compare this to the Parthenon Sculptures – they were designed to be part of the temple of Athena on the Acropolis. In many cases, they were actually carved in-situ and some of them formed structural elements. They were clearly designed with a specific location in mind, not to be re-arranged, sawn apart & exhibited elsewhere. If Kelly Clarkson’s purchase of the ring had gone ahead, no damage would have been caused to it. The ring could be returned at a later point in time, and no harm would have been caused by its time away from the country.
When the Parthenon Sculptures were removed by Elgin, he only had a permit to remove loose items and to take casts. The permits he had, gave no mention of dismantling the building to remove still intact sculptures. As such, the legality of the removal of the sculptures is at best questionable. In the case of the ring, the sale was completely legitimate – there is no suggestion that anything about the process was not above board.
Bearing in mind the above, the Parthenon Marbles should be seen as a far stronger case, than that of Jane Austen’s ring. So, logically, if we are arguing for the Austen’s ring to remain in the UK, then the same museums, individuals & institutions should equally be arguing for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. But as it is a stronger case, the arguments should thus also be stronger.
Unfortunately I have not seen this happening. Many individuals support the return of the Parthenon Marbles – but the British establishment does not. More consistency and less hypocrisy is required. The British Museum should learn from the humility of Kelly Clarkson’s gracious response on learning that she would not be able to keep the ring “The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”
23 September 2013 Last updated at 15:37
Kelly Clarkson thwarted in bid to keep Jane Austen ring
US singer Kelly Clarkson has been thwarted in her bid to take a ring which once belonged to Jane Austen out of the UK.
She bought the turquoise and gold ring for £152,450 at auction last year, outbidding the Jane Austen’s House Museum.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey put an export bar on it until 30 September.
After worldwide donations the museum has since raised enough money to buy the ring and its bid has been accepted.
Contributions to the Bring the Ring Home campaign, set up by the museum in Jane Austen’s former home, included an anonymous donation of £100,000 in August.
The museum, in Chawton, Hampshire, was given until December to raise a further £49,000.
Mary Guyatt, curator of the museum, said it had been “stunned by the generosity and light-footedness” of those who had supported the bid.
Mr Vaizey added: “It’s clear from the number of people who gave generously to the campaign just how admired Jane Austen remains to this day.”
The museum already displays two other pieces of jewellery owned by the writer – a turquoise bracelet and a topaz cross.
The ring is accompanied by papers documenting its history within the author’s family.
It passed first to her sister Cassandra, who then gave it to her sister-in-law Eleanor Austen on her engagement to Jane and Cassandra’s brother, the Reverend Henry Thomas Austen.
It remained in the family until Clarkson bought it at auction.
The ring will now go on display at the museum in the New Year.
On hearing the museum had been successful in raising funds to purchase the ring, Ms Clarkson said: “The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”
The museum said it hoped to welcome Ms Clarkson there in the future.
Austen, who lived most of her life in Hampshire, is one of English literature’s most celebrated authors.
Fans are celebrating the 200th anniversary of her novel Pride and Prejudice this year.
Although out of copyright and available free on e-readers, it is estimated that Pride and Prejudice sells up to 50,000 copies each year in the UK.
- “Back to the county where it belongs” (Perhaps we call it “cultural regionalism”) versus “Cultural nationalism” : November 28, 2012
- Greece wants Elgin Marbles returned in time for Olympics : January 20, 2004
- Louvre asks for donations to restore the Nike of Samothrace : September 13, 2013
- Plaster replicas of Parthenon frieze used as teaching tools at Herron School of Art & Design : March 4, 2013
- The Elgin Coins? : July 22, 2009
- Elgin family to return some stones of no value to their country of origin : April 18, 2008
- Why keeping artefacts locally makes sense to Britain’s Cuture Minister : October 11, 2009
- Why the Parthenon Marbles are a special case for restitution : April 3, 2012