The National Gallery of Australia will receive a refund of more than $1.2 million for a 2,000-year-old stone statue of Buddha after it was revealed it may have been stolen.
The Canberra-based gallery, which has been involved in provenance issues before, announced in January it would return the Seated Buddha statue to India. The dealer has now agreed to refund the purchase price ::::
The work, from the Mathura region of Uttar Pradesh, was purchased in 2007 from Nancy Wiener Gallery (NWG), a New York antiquities dealer, with funds from Roslyn Packer, the widow of the late Kerry Packer.
The NGA said that at the time of purchase, it regarded the information available about the sculpture as adequate.
But as a result of new research and in light of the recently published Australian Government guidelines for collecting cultural material, it was now “unclear” whether the work’s export from India complied with current Australian law, the gallery said.
“Given the passage of time, the NGA is of the view that further clarification on this issue is unlikely,” the NGA said in a written statement. “Accordingly, the NGA and NWG have agreed that the best course is to donate the work to a museum or other cultural institution located in India.”
NGA director Gerard Vaughan said while the NWG affirmed its confidence in the provenance of the Seated Buddha, it had offered to refund the purchase price.
“The Nancy Wiener Gallery wanted to do the right thing too,” Mr Vaughan said. “They said ‘look when we sold it to you, we sold it to you in absolute good faith. We see your problem and we’re going to help you out… You’ll get your money back and India gets the sculpture back’. It really is a win-win.”
NWG president Nancy Wiener said her gallery respected the new policies at the NGA and the new standards of the Australian Government towards the stewardship of antiquities.
“We have endeavoured to find an agreeable resolution for both parties,” Ms Wiener said.
An appropriate destination for the statue in India is still being determined. Last year the NGA announced it would investigate the ownership history of 54 items in its collection, as part of efforts to review the provenance and legal status of works.
It came after another statue, the so-called Dancing Shiva, a 900-year-old bronze statue from the gallery’s collection was returned to India because it was found to be stolen from a temple.
The NGA bought that statue for $5 million in 2008 from disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is now facing charges in India over his business dealings.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned the statue to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, along with another stone sculpture.
RELATED! NGA Caught-up in Art Scandal
The National Gallery of Australia – NGA – is talking to the Indian High Commission, after a New York-based art dealer was arrested for allegedly trafficking antiquities. The gallery says that it believes it’s one of 18 major international art institutions that have acquired works of art through Subhash Kapoor.
In 2008, the gallery says it purchased the statue, known as ‘Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance’ from Mr Kapoor. Other institutions which may have been affected include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Kapoor has been in the art business for almost 4 decades, he opened his Madison Avenue gallery in 1976, two years after arriving in the United States. Mr Kapoor was believed to be following family tradition. His father, Parshottam Ram Kapoor, had been an art collector. On his father’s death in 2007, Subhash Kapoor gifted 108 Indian drawings he inherited, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University.
The NGA says it followed a thorough due diligence process regarding the quality, provenance and time of its departure from India. In a statement the gallery says it is yet to be determined if this work is one that has been stolen. The gallery says it has not been contacted by Indian Police or any other authority about the matter. The NGA has begun its own investigation into the acquisition and the paperwork.
The allegations against Mr Kapoor are the latest in long history of theft of Indian art and artifacts. With its ancient civilization, India’s monuments and archeological sites have been robbed for hundreds of years. The line that divides theft and art collecting, including museums, is indeed fine.
Michael’s time is spent making other folks land softly, easing their days, so they’re able to enjoy their evenings: He Likes To Worry!
Overtly fond of driven people, loves the energy, his client list is diverse, an English Brain Scientist, a Hotelier on the up, a PR firm and a half dozen special individuals. As well, he runs online campaigns for several brands, throws his fifty cents in for Unruly Media, takes on the odd guest editorial and lunches out in Melbourne every second day and can often be found walking The Tan, mumbling stories out loud.
“…what I like most about my world? The anonymity, I like that others get the kudos.”