Looted and Abandoned in an English Garden, the Goat Goddess Can Return to India | Art theft

For more than 20 years, those who lived in and around the village of Lokhari in Uttar Pradesh, India, prayed for the return of an important statue of a goddess that was stolen from a local temple. Now those prayers have been answered. The eighth-century goat-headed deity was discovered thousands of miles away, in an English country garden, covered with moss.

The sculpture will be officially handed over to the Indian High Commission in London. It’s a case that shames Sotheby’s, which offered the statue for sale in 1988, a few years before the auctioneer faced serious allegations of encouraging the looting of ancient Indian religious sites.

The recovery was made possible by Christopher Marinello, a leading expert in the recovery of stolen, looted and missing works of art. “This piece is considered a god, not just a sculpture,” he said. “Looted items are not just financial assets that can be enjoyed by collectors and auction houses. “

Vijay Kumar, co-founder of the India Pride Project, dedicated to the recovery of stolen religious objects, said: “It is such a unique sculpture. It was a dream to find her. In fact, I was starting to lose hope.

The two men criticized Sotheby’s for having offered it at lot 92 at its auction in London on November 14, 1988. It was estimated at around £ 15,000. Today, its value would be much higher, not that it could be legitimately sold.

Lot 92 in a 1988 Sotheby’s catalog.

In 1997, the statue was among the looted antiques featured in the old Observer the damning book by journalist Peter Watson, titled Sotheby’s: the story of the interior. Him and the Channel 4 investigators Dispatches The program also covertly filmed Indian dealers claiming to have provided an entire container of items, some of which were sold at Sotheby’s in London.

This led the auction house to end regular sales of antiques in London and tighten procedures to ensure it would not deal with an item if there was any suspicion that it might have been looted abroad.

The goat-headed deity was among the yogini – female religious figures – who died between 1979 and 1982. Originally part of a temple, they had stood on a hill near Lokhari.

Watson wrote that the site once had 20 images of sandstone gods, each about five feet tall and featuring animal heads. He quoted Vidya Dehejia, then curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, as saying: “Villagers report that in recent years a number have been swept away in trucks by vandals.

Watson added that Dehejia reproduced the goat in his book, Yogini: worship and temples: “It was identical to lot 92.” He said the smuggler was “someone whom Sotheby’s had good reason to believe was trafficking in antiques illegally searched and / or stolen and smuggled out of their country of origin.”

When asked if the piece actually sold in 1988, Kumar said, “As I understand it, Sotheby’s took this out of their auction, although it’s still not clear. What was shocking was that they did not reveal the sender or release the details to the Metropolitan Police, even during the 1998 inquiries when Watson revealed the story.

“And, even more shocking, is that he could stay in the UK for more than two decades after being listed as stolen and missing in his book.”

Marinello, lawyer and founder of Art Recovery International, has collected nearly 400 million pounds of art on behalf of museums, governments and religious institutions, among others. He expressed his dismay at Sotheby’s lack of help: “I wrote to them. They weren’t cooperative at all.

He added: “My goal is to call Sotheby’s for selling loot but above all to highlight the countless objects looted from English gardens and collections linked to colonial history. Collectors must come forward – a kind of amnesty – through us, and we will guarantee them anonymity. Otherwise, they risk being embarrassed or taken to court in the future when they or their heirs attempt to sell the loot on the market. “

The sculpture was rediscovered after the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided to sell her house. The sculpture was in the garden when she bought it 15 years ago. She immediately assured that the sculpture would be returned unconditionally.

A spokesperson for the Indian High Commission paid tribute to Marinello’s volunteer work and called the loss of such antiquities very painful: “These are our ancient heritage. When coins disappear from temples, it creates a void. “

Sotheby’s said: “This episode relates to something that allegedly happened almost a quarter of a century ago. Sotheby’s adheres to the highest standards in the industry, backed by a world-class compliance team, which works closely with external authorities to ensure that we operate at the highest level of business integrity.

Comments are closed.