Will Sekhemka remain in the UK?

Posted on: August 12, 2015 by

The famous Sekhemka statue is in the news again. This is the Egyptian Old Kingdom sculpture thought to represent a court official that had once been in the possession of Northampton Borough Council and displayed at the Northampton Museum. The statue sold at auction last year for £15.76 million, but not before garnering controversy on a number of fronts.

Statue_of_Sekhemka_1950sFirst of all, the question of ownership of the sculpture. It was not entirely clear from nineteenth century documentation whether the object had been gifted by the then Marquess of Northampton to the museum or whether it had been placed there on long-term loan. The Borough and the current Marquess settled the dispute by agreeing to share the proceeds of the sale on a roughly 50/50 basis.

By deaccessioning the statue, the Council also incurred the wrath of the Museums Association which promptly removed the Council from its membership, which meant that the Council wouldn’t be eligible for accreditation from Arts Council England (which in turn means that getting government funding will be next to impossible, as proved to be the case).

Now, even though the object sold at auction, the undisclosed buyer will not be able to export the work for at least another two weeks, possibly for even up to eight months. The export bar placed by the Culture Minister on its removal from the UK has been extended to 28 August. This means that within that period a UK institution may come forward with the funds to match the £15.76 million selling price, in which case the object will not be exported and will remain within the UK. The period can be extended until March 2016 if there is initial interest.

This being so, it is surprising that the Minister would bother extending the export bar at all. One wonders if this is being done as a poke in the eye of Northampton Council (not to mention the Marquess of Northampton and the mysterious buyer), rather than with any real expectation that the sculpture will ever be ‘saved’ for the British public.

Photo: “Statue of Sekhemka 1950s” by Bibilovski – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA