The National Gallery of Australia (NGA), in its single largest repatriation of art, has decided to return another 14 artefacts to the Indian government after concluding that many of these were likely to have been stolen or illegally removed from India, reported ABC News.
The artworks, worth nearly $3 million, include six sculptures, six photographs, a painted scroll and a processional standard. The collection is composed largely of “religious and cultural artefacts”, including some dating back to the 12th century.
According to The Guardian, the Canberra-based National Gallery of Australia had purchased 13 of the works from the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor and one from another dealer, William Wolff.
NGA director Nick Mitzevich confirmed that it is believed that six of the artworks were likely looted from India.
As quoted by ABC News, Mitzevich said that although the ownership of two other items could not be traced, they would also be returned to India as the NGA had “no faith in Kapoor’s ethics.”
“We have strengthened our processes and have zero tolerance now for any inconsistencies in the provenance of a work of art,” he said, and added, “This is another step towards us building an ethical approach to managing our collections.”
Meanwhile, Mitzevich has said that the works were set to be returned to the Indian government within months, AFP reported. “It’s a relief that they can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,” he added.
This is the fourth time the NGA has given the Indian government antiquities it bought from Kapoor, who was arrested in October 2011 in Germany over idol smuggling charges and is still an undertrial in India. Kapoor has denied all charges.
In September 2014, then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned a 900-year-old Shiva sculpture allegedly smuggled by Kapoor, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country. Following this, the NGA returned another five artworks it purchased from Kapoor, including a third-century rock carving and a series of exquisite stone sculptures.
Once the latest batch of 13 artefacts are returned to India, the Australian gallery will only hold three of the 22 works it has purchased from Subhash Kapoor.
Meanwhile, High Commissioner of India to Australia, Manpreet Vohra, expressed his gratitude to Australia and the NGA for their decision to return these extraordinary pieces of art.
— India in Australia (@HCICanberra) July 29, 2021
Over 30 years, Kapoor is believed to have traded in over hundreds of crores worth of antiques, including statues and paintings, many of them now believed to be stolen. His gallery, Art of the Past, was located at the heart of Manhattan’s art circle, and Kapoor himself was a celebrated donor of art and the toast of openings in New York and other major art capitals.
Many of the antiquities Kapoor dealt in dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Chola dynasty presided over a flourishing of Hindu art in Tamil Nadu.
Since Kapoor’s arrest in 2011, the United States has also returned several hundreds of artefacts.