Thursday, 10 June 2021

Bonhams: How Are Collection Histories Vetted?

Five gilded copper-bronze Nepali sculptures dating back to the 16th century AD were withdrawn from a Bonhams auction in Paris after it was discovered that were looted from a temple in the 1980s (Khabarhub, 'Bonhams consignor withdraws looted Nepali sculptures from auction' Khabarhub, June 6, 2021)

The sculptures were included in an online auction of Himalayan and Buddhist art at Bonhams, which is ongoing until June 10. On Bonhams’ website, the lots in the sale include “Deities and Buddhas, Thangkas, Stupas, Ritual Ornaments, and Aprons – all dated between the 3rd and 19th century, and collected during the 1960s and 1970s by a private European collector.” The consignor, however, decided to withdraw five gilded figures, which were priced between €3,000 to €5,000 ($3,650 to $6,100) each, after the organization Lost Arts of Nepal pointed out that they were stolen on their Facebook page.
The objects were looted from the south door of Mulchok of the Taleju Bhavani Temple in Patan in 1984, eventually making their way to auction houses in Europe. The thefts were recorded in a 1989 book titled Gods are Leaving the Country: Art Theft from Nepal by German scholar Jurgen Schick, so it is surprising that their origins were not spotted during Bonhams' vetting of the items offered to them on consignment, especially as Schick describes the incident “one of the most odious cases of art theft in Nepal". The sale was spotted by the "Lost Arts of Nepal" organisation and reported to Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Though the consignor has now withdrawn the figures, The Art Newspaper reported that he did not respond to the question of whether he would negotiate with the Nepali claimants.
The consignor has not been named.
Recently, there have been cases of reparations of [other] stolen objects from collectors and museums to Nepal, including the return of an 800-year-old Laxmi-Narayan figure in April. The object was stolen from its shrine in Patan’s Pakto Tole in 1984. Though it appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990, it disappeared again and only resurfaced in 2007, when it was displayed at the Dallas Museum of Art.
I do not understand how this happens, can anyone just trundle up to Bonhams or Christies with three stone heads knocked off the lower register of statues on the facade of Wells Cathedral and two from the garden statuary of Hampton Court and not be asked to account for how they came into their posession before they are put on sale? Even if the theft from Wells was written up in a book? That's ludicrous. The British "antiquities" market needs a good cleanout and dealers need to start taking their responsibilities more seriously.


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