The National Gallery has marked the occasion of Prime Minister Abbott returning their stolen sculpture of Shiva to India by explaining the steps they took to try and avoid the mess they’ve ended up in.
The precautions included:
- Consulting the Interpol Stolen Art database.
- Seeking and checking statements of the chain of ownership and receipts of original purchase that identified the sculpture was purchased by the former owner from a commercial gallery in India in 1970.
Three key documents were furnished:
— The receipt of purchase in India from Fine Art Museum (dealer), Delhi on 14 May 1970 to purchaser Mr Abdulla Mehgoub.
— A letter of provenance from Mrs Raj Mehgoub (in which she declares herself to be the wife of Abdulla Mehgoub) dated 15 January 2003 confirming events of the purchase.
— A receipt of sale from Mrs Raj Mehgoub (by then, widow of Abdulla Mehgoub) to Art of the Past dated 18 October 2004.
The Gallery was able to confirm that the people named in the documents existed and were at the addresses indicated on the receipts. At the Gallery’s request, Mr Kapoor supplied detailed biographical information on the couple, including explanations of changes of address.
- Obtaining an Art Loss Register certificate (this register is the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiquities and collectables) confirming the Shiva was not listed on the database.
- Regularly checking the Tamil Nadu Police Idol Wing website where thefts in this state of India are reported (no object resembling the work was listed on that site prior to its purchase by the Gallery).
- Undertaking extensive research of published Chola bronzes, including Archaeological Survey of India records, and other sources of archive photographs.
- Liaising with a Chola bronze expert in India, who was supportive of the acquisition and raised no concerns about its provenance.
- Appointing an independent legal specialist to review the due diligence procedures required to meet the Gallery’s legal and ethical obligations and taking that advice as practicable so that the Gallery could ensure that contractual, title and ethical issues were addressed.
- Entering into an agreement with Mr Kapoor and obtaining warranties and indemnities that specifically included warranties as to ownership, title and overall legality of the acquisition.
The Saturday Paper has a hefty background on the scandal that has befallen despite such great effort being undertaken.
UPDATE: The Gallery has now added a comprehensive questions and answers sheet to explain the affair and their part in it.