Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Australia to return artwork to India

The Guardian

Australia is set to return a third artwork to India in a year, with a stone Buddha statue to be repatriated after the National Gallery of Australia realized it was stolen.

The Kushan Buddha statue, dating from the second century, will soon be returned by the gallery after it emerged the piece had been stolen from an archeological site in India, the Times of India reported.

The red sandstone Buddha, originally from the Uttar Pradesh region of India, was bought for the gallery in 2007 using funds provided by the arts benefactor Roslyn Packer.

The Kushan Buddha is the third ancient Indian artwork to be returned by the government of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Last year, the Australian prime minister used a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return a US$5.6 million, 900-year-old bronze dancing Shiva and a UA$300,000 stone carving of Shiva with Nandi to the Indian government.

Both of those artefacts were bought from the disgraced Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is in prison in the US awaiting trial, but it is understood the Buddha statue was bought from another dealer.

In November last year, the National Gallery of Australia launched an investigation into the provenance of its Asian art collection, which comprises about 5,000 items.

The gallery said a preliminary assessment had earmarked 54 “significant south Asian works” for further investigation into how they ended up in the collection. It expected this work might take several years.

The gallery did not respond to a request to comment on the return of the Buddha, but last month its new director, Gerard Vaughan, called the theft of items from India “regrettable.”

The return of improperly obtained artworks has been a key part of Australian efforts to strengthen relations with India, along with initiatives such as allowing uranium sales and direct flights between the two nations.

The elections of Abbott and the Modi within eight months of each other led to a warming of relations between the two countries.

In November last year, Modi became the first Indian prime minister in 28 years to visit Australia. He praised Abbott’s leadership and said Australia was “no longer on the periphery of our region, but at the heart of our thoughts.”

An Indian government official said the National Museum in New Delhi was working with the government to “effect the handover” of the Buddha, the Times of India reported.

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