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YSL and Chinese Antiquities: Update

Today has been a busy day with interviews for the BBC World Service (World Update with Dan Damon) and BBC Radio 4 (World Tonight with Robin Lustig). Both have meant separate trips to the BBC Swansea studios in Alexandra Road (where Dylan Thomas once made his broadcasts). The topic has been the bronze hare and rabbit heads sold at the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale at Christie's Paris yesterday (for over US $40 million). Both pieces had been removed somewhat violently from the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. China had requested their return and Bergé had offered a negotiated deal if China reformed its attitude towards human rights.

As we went live at 10.20 am GMT it became clear that China was going to place restrictions on Christie's operations. This has now been clarified by a further report on Bloomberg: "China Slaps Controls on Christie’s After Bronzes Sale (Update3)" (February 26, 2009; 7.35 EST).
China said it will tighten control on the activities of Christie’s International, hours after the auction house sold a pair of Qing Dynasty bronzes in Paris for 31.4 million euros ($40 million), ignoring calls to return them.

London-based Christie’s must give details of the ownership and provenance of any artifacts it wants to bring into or out of China, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said today in a statement on its Web site. Antiques that are without papers won’t be allowed to enter or leave.

Would it best for these bronze heads to be displayed together in China as their Italian creator originally intended? The French courts may feel that there is no legal case to answer, but the moral cause is compelling. We wait to see what the new owner(s) of the heads will do with them.

Tomorrow's (February 27, 2009) Times (London) has a leader on the story, and notes the link between the sack and the death of one of its reporters. It is unsympathetic: "A rich and proud China should have seized its chance to raise its arm and bid for the sculptures like anyone else."


David Gill said…
See James Reynolds' comments on his BBC Blog from China.

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