The trail of the stolen idols has reached Australia. The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra has admitted to The Hindu that it bought an 11th century Chola period Nataraja bronze idol in 2008 from Subhash Kapoor, the U.S.-based antiques dealer arrested in July for his alleged role in idol thefts.
In reply to queries, the Gallery in a release said it purchased the idol from Kapoor “following a thorough due diligence process.”
It contacted the Indian High Commission in Canberra “earlier this week to ensure a fully co-operative approach.” It had not been contacted by Indian authorities. Significantly, an image of the sculpture was removed from the National Gallery website on August 3, subsequent to the queries.
The Gallery did not reply to queries on the provenance details from its acquisition records. Provenance certificate is a record of ownership. Museums are expected to check the provenance of an artefact before acquiring it. The Gallery said in its release it was re-examining the documents supplied by Kapoor.
The New York Post first reported that a Nataraja idol sold by Kapoor, valued at $2 million, was on display at the National Gallery.
Ron Radford, Director of the Gallery, insisted: “It is yet to be determined if this work is one of the stolen works as has been speculated about in certain media outlets. The Gallery has not received any advice from Indian authorities to this effect.”
A scrutiny of the Nataraja image from the Sripuranthan temple in Tamil Nadu, recorded by the French Institute Pondicherry, and the image as it appears in the National Gallery of Australia Annual Report (2007-08) reveals a close resemblance.