Northampton’s controversial sale of Egyptian sculpture
Local authority and Lord Northampton agree to split auction proceeds
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 29 April 2014
Arts Council England is threatening to withdraw accreditation from Northampton Museum, following the town council’s decision to sell an Egyptian statue. Christie’s, which estimates it to be worth £4m-£6m, claims it is “the most important Egyptian sculpture ever to come to market”.
The limestone statue of Sekhemka, around 2400BC to 2300BC, depicts a scribe of the pharaoh’s court. It is due to be sold on 10 July in what Christie’s bills as “The Exceptional Sale” of masterpieces.
Under an unusual arrangement, the borough council has agreed to split the proceeds of the Sekhemka sale: 55% will go to the council and 45% to Lord Northampton, whose great-grandfather donated the sculpture in around 1880. Until recently, Lord Northampton opposed the proposed sale, arguing that deaccessioning would contravene the terms of the gift, but he has now agreed in return for a share. (Lord Northampton is also the owner of half of the Sevso Roman silver hoard, which could be worth more than $100m on the open market.)
On 28 April, Northampton Borough Council announced that the proceeds of Sekhemka will be used to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum, which covers art, local history and the shoe-making industry. Abington Park Museum will also be refurbished, with displays on local links with Shakespeare and the county’s military regiment.
Assuming the Sekhemka sale goes ahead, Arts Council England will consider withdrawing accreditation from Northampton Museum. This would make it considerably more difficult for the borough council to raise the remainder needed for the expansion from outside funders. An Arts Council spokesman adds that if its accreditation panel decides that Northampton is in breach of museum standards, then funds which the institution currently receives “may be repayable”. The UK Museums Association also strongly opposes the sale.
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