Museums Antiquities and Archaeology Thefts Australia

National Gallery of Australia agrees to return dancing Shiva

The museum has surrendered the work to the federal government

The NGA bought the sculpture in 2008 for $5m from the controversial New York antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor. Photo: Ray Strange/News Corp Australia

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra has acceded to India’s formal request for the return of a bronze statue of Shiva. The Australian newspaper reports that the 11th- to 12th-century Chola-dynasty deity had been turned over to federal custody under Australia’s Movable Cultural Heritage Act.

The Shiva had been removed from view at the NGA on 27 March after India sought its restitution, alleging it had been looted. Earlier that week, the Australian arts minister and attorney-general George Brandis had appeared on the ABC television programme Four Corners, which investigated the dancing Shiva’s origins, and called into question the NGA’s efforts to trace the object’s provenance.

“The due diligence standards of the NGA, which are very high, in fact are world's best practice, were not in my view sufficiently complied with on this particular occasion,” Brandis said on television.

The NGA bought the sculpture in 2008 for US$5m from the controversial New York antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor is on trial in India on charges of smuggling antiquities, which he denies. He is also wanted by authorities in America. In an unusual move, the museum filed a lawsuit against Kapoor and his gallery Art of the Past for alleged fraud.

Another work claimed by India, a $300,000 stone Ardhanarishvara depicting Shiva with Nandi, from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, was also surrendered to the Australian government.

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