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British Museum chair George Osborne says ‘deal’ can be done over Parthenon Marbles

17 June 2022

George Osborne, the chairman of the British Museum, has said that the museum and the Greek government should together seek a solution to the long-standing dispute over the Parthenon Marbles housed in London. ‘There’s a deal to be done where we can tell both stories in Athens and London’, Osborne said. He did not specify whether this could be achieved by loan agreement, shared title, or transferal of ownership. ‘If either side says there’s no give at all,’ he continued, ‘then there won’t be a deal […] Sensible people should come up with something where you can see them in their splendour in Athens and see them among the splendours of other civilisations in London.’ Of the surviving sculptural decorations that once adorned the great temple on the Acropolis, built in the fifth century BC, the majority are divided equally between the British Museum, which acquired the works after they were removed by Lord Elgin from the site in the early 19th century, and the Acropolis Museum, built in Athens in 2009. The Greek state has been calling for their return since 1983.

The Board of Regents at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has voted to deaccession a group of Benin Bronzes from the museum’s collections, paving the way for their restitution to Nigeria. All 29 of the sculptures to be deaccessioned were looted during the British Army’s notorious punitive expedition against Benin in 1897; provenance research is underway on 10 further Benin works housed in the Smithsonian. In April, the Smithsonian formally adopted a new restitution policy, calling for any objects found to have been ‘looted, taken under duress, or otherwise unethically sourced’ to be eligible for restitution. The 29 Bronzes, the first returns made under the new policy, will be handed over to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, on an as-yet unspecified date.

The UK government has placed a temporary export bar on Nicolas Poussin’s Confirmation, a painting that has been valued at £19m, to allow time for a UK gallery or institution to acquire the work. The work has been put up for sale by David Manners, the Duke of Rutland, whose ancestor first brought the painting to the UK almost 240 years ago. Part of the French artist’s Seven Sacraments series, commissioned by the Roman scholar and arts patron Cassiano dal Pozzo, Confirmation depicts a group of children affirming their faith before a priest. Christopher Baker, a member of the reviewing committee, said in a statement that the ‘restrained classicism [of the series] had a profound impact on many later artists.’ 

The director of the National Gallery in Athens, Marina Lambraki-Plaka, has died at the age of 83. Lambraki-Plaka has led the institution since 1992, during which time it has opened outposts in Corfu, Nafpolio and Goudi, and added some 3,000 works to its collection – among them two paintings by El Greco.

In Paris, Olivier Gabet is leaving his post at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where he has been at the helm since 2013, to take up the role of director of the decorative arts department at the Musée du Louvre. Laurence des Cars, director of the Louvre, recently praised Gabet’s work at the MAD, saying ‘he has made this place exciting again’. Gabet joins the Louvre in September; he replaces Jannic Durand, who is retiring after nearly four decades at the Louvre. And in New York, Kate Fowle, director of MoMA PS1, made the unexpected announcement last Friday that she is stepping down after less than three years in the role; she will leave her post on 15 July but has said she will continue to organise an exhibition of work by Daniel Lind-Ramos, scheduled to open in April next year.