Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The return of looted objects to their countries of origin



‘The return of looted objects to their countries of origin: the case for change’, in S. Hufnagel and D. Chappell (eds.), The Palgrave handbook on art crime (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 797–813.

Abstract
The journalistic investigation into the activities of a major London auction house in the 1990s led directly to the seizure of an important cache of documentation and images at the Geneva Freeport. As a result over 350 items have been returned to Italy from dealers, galleries and auction houses, North American public museums and private collectors. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has provided a benchmark for claims on the return of cultural property. There is a need to enhance the due diligence process undertaken by the market. Although some North American museums have changed their acquisition policies, some curatorial staff display open hostility towards enhanced ethical responsibilities and an unwillingness to comply with further investigations. [online]
 
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Friday, 12 July 2019

Viking: finds from the field

I recently visited the excellent 'Viking: Rediscover the Legend' exhibition at Norwich Castle.

One of the striking things to emerge from the exhibition was the number of hoards and collections derived from metal-detecting. These include the Vale of York hoard (2007) and the Great Camp Assemblage (2003) (also known as 'Ainsbrook'). It would have been helpful for the exhibition to have reflected on the value of scientific excavation for the contribution of knowledge on the Vikings in Britain.

The exhibition continues until September.

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Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Tutankhamun, Christie's and rigorous due dligence

It was announced today that the Egyptian authorities would be taking legal action against Christie's over the sale of the head of Tutankhamun ("Egypt to sue Christie's to retrieve £4.7m Tutankhamun bust", BBC News 9 July 2019).

The BBC reports:
Egypt's former antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the bust appeared to have been "stolen" in the 1970s from the Temple of Karnak. "The owners have given false information," he told AFP news agency. "They have not shown any legal papers to prove its ownership."
Christie's maintain the history of the piece as follows:
It stated that Germany's Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis reputedly had it in his collection by the 1960s, and that it was acquired by an Austrian dealer in 1973-4.
However the family of von Thurn und Taxis claim that the head was never in that collection [see here].

Christie's reject any hint of criticism:
"Christie's would not and do not sell any work where there isn't clear title of ownership and a thorough understanding of modern provenance."
All the auction house needs to do is to present the authenticated documentation showing the sequential history of the head as it passed from collection to gallery. This is all part of the rigorous due diligence process that auction houses are expected to conduct.


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An inscription from Kos

In 1983 the J. Paul Getty received the anonymous donation of a Greek inscription from Antimachia on Kos (J. Walsh, "Acquisitions/1983...