Christies evening auction of classical decorative arts has realised £31,048,500/ $53,186,081/€38,934,819, marking the highest total for any and breaking the previous record established by Christie’s Exceptional Sale in 2011 at £28.7million.
The top price was paid for a controversial Egyptian statue of Sekhemka, made of painted limestone. The statue dating to the Old Kingdom, Late Dynasty 5, circa 2400–2300 B.C. was probably from Saqqara in Lower Egypt. It realised a staggering £15,762,500/ $27,001,163/€19,766,175 (estimate: £4,000,000- £6,000,000). This has set a world record price at auction for an ancient Egyptian work of art. The piece was sold off from a regional English Museum and was “originally acquired by the 2nd Marquess of Northampton during his travels in Egypt in 1849-50. It was given to the Northampton Museum either by the 3rd or 4th Marquess of Northampton prior to 1880.
The return to Egypt of the statue has been advocated for ethical conduct by museums and museum professionals, ICOM CIPEG cites the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, and particularly its article 2.16 on the “income from disposal of collections*,” which called on the Northampton Borough Council (UK) to abandon the sale of the Sekhemka statue at Christie’s London. The ICOM joined ICOM CIPEG’s statement and supports the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities’ call to “stop the sale on the grounds that it goes against the Council’s ethics.”
ICOM CIPEG is also concerned that the sale of the statue, estimated at the undervalued price of 5 and 7.5 million euros,may result in an increase of illicit excavation and trafficking of antiquities in Egypt, an area already exposed to such risks. The fight against illicit trafficking in cultural goods is one of ICOM’s priorities and one of its most recent initiatives is the ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods. Since the 2011 uprising, ICOM has been following the events in Egypt closely.
In 2011, ICOM published an Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk as a tool to disseminate information and raise public awareness of the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects. ICOM’s Disaster Relief Task Force also reported on the burning of the Institut d’Egypte in December 2011. An ICOM/UNESCO/Blue Shield emergency damage assessment mission was also carried out from 30 January to 2 February, 2014, following a car bomb that caused extensive damage to the building that houses both the Islamic Museum and the National Library of Egypt at Bab el-Khalq Place. ICOM is currently coordinating an international museum relief effort to assist the two institutions. Most recently, in June 2014, ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods conducted a mission of experts in Cairo which confirmed the urgent needs of this vulnerable region.
This also raises many questions about council run museums being allowed to sell off the family jewels, where they are mostly aquired by private collectors, never to be seen by the public again. Any thoughts? Comment below.