History & Culture

Australia returns stolen sculptures to India

Australia’s prestigious art gallery has returned to India three sculptures, including a third century rock carving worth $8,40,000, bought from an Indian art dealer in 2005.

Australian Arts Minister Mitch Fifield handed over a 900-year-old stone statue of Goddess Pratyangira and a third century rock carving of worshippers of the Buddha to Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma at Canberra-based National Gallery of Australia (NGA) on Monday. Mr. Sharma said the sculptures would now be placed in the National Museum in India. He is also bringing back another sculpture called the ‘Seated Buddha’.

The NGA had bought two pieces from disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor in 2005. Kapoor is currently lodged in Trichy Central Prison in Tamil Nadu. The ‘Seated Buddha’ was not from Kapoor.

Last year, the NGA research team examined new photographic evidence from the French Institute of Pondicherry that indicated a sculpture of Goddess Pratyangira, which was bought for $2,47,500, was in India in 1974. This contradicts the dealer-supplied provenance, suggesting the NGA was supplied with false documentation.

The Buddha carving was bought for $5,95,000 and the NGA was provided with and had verified new photographic evidence that indicates the sculpture was in India as late as the 1990s. “This new evidence means the NGA cannot legally or ethically retain these works, and returning them to India is unquestionably the right thing to do,” Gerard Vaughan, NGA Director said, adding “We have been working closely with the Archaeological Survey of India [ASI] and the Indian High Commissioner in Australia to find the best outcome.”

Mr. Fifield, the Australian Arts Minister, said there were at least seven more objects that the NGA is investigating. In 2014, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott handed over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi two antique statues of Hindu deities that were stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu before being bought by art galleries in Australia.

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