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Stolen Nepali artefacts worth $1.8m under hammer
Publication Date : 06-03-2013
As the Nepali government remains a mere spectator, two of the world’s biggest fine arts auction houses are auctioning off stolen Nepali artefacts worth nearly US$1.8 million this month.
Christie's and Sotheby’s are auctioning these artefacts - mainly statues, manuscripts and thanka art - under the Indian and South East Asian Art category. Among the most expensive in the lot include the Standing Vishnu gilt copper, which is expected to fetch US$300,000, gilt copper figure of Durga Mahishasuramardini (around $150,000), parcel gilt copper alloy figure of Avalokiteshvara Padmapani and Avalokiteshvara gilt copper with polychromy ($120000 each) at Sotheby’s. Similarly, a 13th century Bronze Buddha and the 14th century Black Stone Stele of Vishnu and Laxmi are expected to fetch around $150,000 and $100,000 at Christie’s.
Other popular items include a pair of painted wood book covers with Saiva figures, a bronze figure of Amitayus expected to be hammered for $50,000 each. Together with these, more than 50 other items are being auctioned off for now. However, the powers that be in Nepal have neither claimed these artefacts nor approached foreign collectors to get them back home.
The Nepali government still lacks proper procedures and mechanisms to trace the lost artefacts. Officials at the Department of Archaeology (DOA) claim that they are unaware of such auctions. “Even if we are informed of it, it is impossible to bring these idols back due to budget crunch,” said DOA Spokesperson Ram Bahadur Kunwar. “The only thing we could do is collect evidences to claim the artefacts back.” added Kunwar.
In September last year, Christie’s had auctioned such Nepali artefacts worth $200,000 in a week. Nepali artefacts are usually auctioned by anonymous private collectors. However, a few conscientious foreign collectors have returned the artefacts upon discovering their origin. Among idols returned by an American collector to Nepal government were a Saraswoti (17th century), Buddha (9th century), Vishnu (10th century) and Surya (14th century).