Cleveland Museum returns looted Cambodian sculpture
The Cleveland Museum of Art, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “announced early Monday that it voluntarily returned to Cambodia a much-beloved 10th-century statue of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, after uncovering evidence that it was probably looted during the country’s bloody civil war.”
The news was detailed in a museum press release.
The Plain Dealer article continues:
Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that Cambodian officials held a Buddhist ceremony at the airport to welcome the arrival of the 800-pound sandstone sculpture, which stands roughly 3.5 feet high and depicts a kneeling human figure with the head of a monkey.
A favorite with generations of schoolchildren who imitated its distinctive, kneeling pose during tours with docents, the sculpture has been on nearly constant display at the museum since the museum acquired it in 1982. The work was still illustrated on the museum’s website early Monday.
The Cleveland museum said it uncovered evidence late last year that the work’s head and body were sold separately in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968 and 1972, respectively, during the Vietnam War and the Cambodian civil war.
The Cleveland museum also learned in February, in talks that it initiated with Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh, that a government excavation showed the sculpture’s base matched a pedestal at the east gate of the Prasat Chen Temple, part of the Koh Ker archaeological site.
The excavation at the site, roughly 15 miles from the border of Thailand, uncovered fragments that match details on the Cleveland Hanuman, including the earring missing from the right side of its head, museum officials said.
Also from the article:
The restitution of the Hanuman is part of a rising trend in which “source countries” rich in antiquities are pressing for the return of allegedly looted objects, sometimes based on hard evidence, sometimes not.
Cleveland’s Hanuman is the sixth of the so-called “blood antiquities” returned to Cambodia by American institutions in recent years, including two from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one from the Sotheby’s auction house, one from Christie’s auction house and one from the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles.
The restitution also follows the Cleveland Museum of Art’s decision in 2009 to hand over 14 works of art to Italy.
Italian authorities said that evidence from a 1995 police raid in Geneva, Switzerland, showed that 13 of the objects were looted from sites in Puglia and laundered through a smuggling operation. The 14th item was a Renaissance-era crucifix stolen from a church near Siena.
The Cleveland museum also faced pressure from Greece in 2007, without hard evidence, to return an ancient bronze statue of Apollo attributed to Praxiteles.
In 2012, Turkey pressed the museum to return 22 objects that it said were looted and illegally exported. When queried by The Plain Dealer, Turkish authorities did not provide any proof of looting and smuggling.
Additionally from the article:
Unnamed Cambodian officials were quoted by The New York Times in 2013 as saying that the Hanuman had been looted from Prasat Chen and that the country wanted it returned.
A year later, the museum reported that Sonya Quintanilla, its curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art, had traveled to Prasat Chen with a mold of the base of the Hanuman. She found that it did not match any excavated pedestals there, and concluded at the time that it had not been looted.
Her investigation, conducted with permission from the Cambodian government, focused on excavated portions of the west gate at the site, [Cleveland Museum director William] Griswold said.
At the time, Cambodian authorities had not excavated the east gate, where government archaeologists later found the matching pedestal and the missing earring, Griswold said.
The museum said it bought the Hanuman in 1982 from New York art dealer Robert H. Ellsworth, who died in 2014 at age 85.
Ellsworth, in turn, acquired the work from the estate of New York financier and collector Christian Humann, whose Pan-Asian Collection was widely exhibited.
The Hanuman was published in a 1977 catalog for the “Sensuous Immortals” exhibition, which traveled to four American museums.
After Quintanilla’s 2014 trip to Cambodia, she continued to research the sculpture’s provenance, or ownership history, Griswold said.
Her research uncovered the sale of the work’s head in 1968 in Bangkok, followed by the body in 1972. Griswold said that the pieces were sold in Bangkok by Douglas Latchford, a British art dealer.
U.S. federal authorities in 2012 accused Latchford of having knowingly purchased a looted 10th-century Khmer sculpture that was later returned to Cambodia by Sotheby’s. Latchford denied having owned the work, according to news reports.