Galleries Surrender Two Stolen Sculptures, Worth $6 Million, To Hand Back To India

The $5million Shiva statue, bought by the National Gallery of Australia, but stolen from India. Source: NGA

Antique sculptures stolen from India are set to be returned to the country by the Australian Government, leaving the National Gallery of Australia and Art Gallery of NSW millions of dollars out of pocket.

The works were purchased from disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing trial in India over the theft of the religious statues from the Chennai region in southern India.

The Indian Government wrote to the Australian Government on March 21 seeking the return of the $5.6 million bronze statue of Shiva, which the National Gallery of Australia also bought from Kapoor six years ago, as well as the stone Ardhanariswara idol, which the Art Gallery of NSW bought for $300,000 in 2004.

Both galleries were set a deadline of April 26 to challenge the request.

The Art Gallery of NSW Ardhanariswara idol.

In a statement the NGA said it decided it would not contest the Indian Government’s request for the return and relinquished responsibility to the federal Government. The National Gallery removed the work from public display last month but had continued to maintain that the provenance of the work was sound.

The Art Gallery of NSW was more forthcoming about its investigations into the sculpture India wants returned, saying “the Gallery has been able to conclude that [art dealer Subash] Kapoor had furnished the Gallery with a false 1970 provenance document and that, in fact, the sculpture had been in situ at a temple in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu until at least 1974.”

The office of Arts Minister George Brandis said “A final decision will be made by the Australian Government in due course” about the sculptures, in line with Australia’s Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act, but it now looks certain that the works will be returned to India.

The National Gallery of Australia commenced legal proceedings in the New York Supreme Court against Kapoor, to recover the US$5 million it paid for the work, after Kapoor’s former office manager admitted it was stolen during his trial for receiving stolen Indian artefacts.

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