Deaccessioning Museums Antiquities and Archaeology United Kingdom

Northampton awaits Arts Council's response after controversial sale

Meeting to review museum's status after Egyptian statue ends up in private hands

The controversial Sekhemka statue (detail)

Arts Council England (ACE) will review today, 24 July, the Accreditation status of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery after the controversial sale at auction by Northampton Borough Council of an ancient Egyptian statue drawn from its collection. The Accreditation panel's decision is due to be announced 1 August.

The 4,500-year-old, painted limestone Sekhemka sculpture was sold to a buyer on the phone in a packed saleroom at Christie's in London on 10 July for £15.8m (with buyer's premium). According to the BBC, a private collector bought the sculpture.

Northampton Borough Council has said that its share of the proceeds will go towards a £14m extension of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. “The borough council is in the process of developing a funding package to take the extension forward, including putting together a bid for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund,” says a council statement. But the consequences of losing Accreditation could be that Northampton finds itself ineligible for a range of grants from ACE and other funders.

Scott Furlong, the director of ACE’s Acquisitions Exports Loans Collections Unit, says: “Those who choose to approach the sale of collections cynically or with little regard for the sectoral standards or their long-term responsibilities will only further alienate both key funders and the public who put their trust in them to care for our shared inheritance.”

The Sekhemka statue was given to the people of Northampton in a deed of gift signed by Northampton's town clerk and the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880.

Spencer Compton, the fourth Marquis's great-grandson and the current Lord Northampton, launched a legal challenge last year against the council's proposal to sell. The sale was made possible after he agreed to split the proceeds, with 45% (£6m) due to go to Lord Northampton and 55% (around £8m) to the council.

The disposal has also been condemned by the UK Museums Association (MA). David Fleming, the chair of the association's ethics committee, says: “While I have great sympathy for local authorities that find themselves in financial difficulty, the public has a right to expect that local authorities will behave in an ethical manner, that shows they can be trusted with public assets; not that they will seek short-term gain at the expense of long-term damage to a community's cultural richness." Northampton Museum and Art Gallery's membership of the MA is under review.

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