National Gallery of Australia to return stolen objects to India as part of largest art repatriation

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The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) will return 13 more works of art purchased from dealer Subhash Kapoor after concluding that many of them were likely looted or stolen in India.

This is the fourth time that the NGA has handed over to the Indian government antiques purchased from Mr Kapoor, who is awaiting trial after being accused of running a global smuggling ring.

This collection is the most important to have been repatriated by the gallery and includes six sculptures, six photographs, a painted parchment and a processional standard.

Thirteen of these items were purchased from Mr. Kapoor while another was purchased from a separate dealer.

NGA director Nick Mitzevich said the gallery believed six of the works of art were likely stolen or illegally removed from India.

Although the gallery could not establish the provenance of two other objects – and had no evidence that the six photos were stolen – Mr.

Untitled portrait of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. Purchased in 2009.(

Provided: National Gallery of Australia

)

“This is another step towards building an ethical approach to the management of our collections.”

The announcement means that the saga that has enveloped the NGA about Mr. Kapoor and the allegedly looted antiques may finally come to an end.

The NGA spent $ 10.7 million on 22 works from Mr. Kapoor’s “Art of the Past” gallery over several years, including a stunning 11th century Chola bronze sculpture, Shiva Nataraja, which the NGA purchased for over $ 5 million in 2008.

Arch for a seated Jain and Jina shrine
Arch for a seated Jain and Jina shrine from the Mount Abu area of ​​Rajasthan, India, 11th to 12th centuries.(

Provided: National Gallery of Australia

)

When Indian police arrested Mr. Kapoor in 2012, they listed the Dancing Shiva among the stolen items, and it soon became apparent that the sculpture had been torn from a temple in South India.

The NGA insisted it had rigorously investigated the provenance of the artwork, but ABC’s Four Corners revealed serious issues with the process.

The then Arts Minister, George Brandis, also criticized the NGA’s decision to purchase the sculpture, saying the gallery’s decision to go ahead was “reckless”.

In 2014, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott presented the Dancing Shiva to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to New Delhi.

Since then, the NGA has returned to the Indian government five other works of art purchased from Mr. Kapoor, including a 3rd century rock carving and a series of exquisite stone carvings.

Following the return of the last batch of 13 works of art to India, the gallery will only keep three of the 22 works it purchased from Mr. Kapoor.

The NGA has removed all three items from the exhibit and said they will also be repatriated when the gallery determines where they should be returned.

The NGA “takes responsibility” for artefacts

Mr Mitzevich said two separate reviews conducted by former High Court Judge Susan Crennan helped the gallery develop new frameworks that would help ensure it did not buy stolen items.

A portrait of the donor and the priests in front of Shri Nathji
‘Manorath’ portrait of the donor and priests before Shri Nathji, purchased in 2009.(

Provided: National Gallery of Australia

)

“We take responsibility for the works that have entered the collection,” he said.

The gallery has also introduced a new approach to assess whether it should return works of questionable provenance, by committing to return objects that are considered likely “on a balance of probabilities” to be stolen, illegally searched or searched. acquired unethically.

“We have taken this period seriously and have made major changes to the way we acquire works,” said Mitzevich.

“There has been a turn. The ethical and legal collection of works of art has become a priority, both in terms of the journal and the application of great rigor in terms of collection and provenance.

A 10th to 11th century statue of "the divine couple".
The divine couple: statue of Lakshmi and Vishnu, from the 10th-11th century.(

Provided: National Gallery of Australia

)

The NGA’s announcement was welcomed by the Indian government, which has launched a major international campaign to recover thousands of antiques that have been looted from temples and illegally sold abroad.

Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra hailed the decision to return the works as “an act of extraordinary goodwill”.

The gallery is still trying to recover the money it paid Mr. Kapoor.

In 2016, a New York court awarded him $ 11 million in damages.

Some lawyers say there is no guarantee that the NGA will ever receive the money.

The gallery is still investigating other items in its collections to make sure none have been stolen or illegally acquired, but Mr Mitzevich said it was not yet certain whether the NGA would repatriate more. works of art in the future.

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