The sale of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue to a private collector, by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum has breached Arts Council England’s accredited standards for how museums manage their collections. ACE have now removed the institutions from their accreditation scheme with immediate effect. They will now be excluded from future participation until August 2019 and are no longer eligible for Arts Council grants.
The statue was sold to help fund an extension to the town’s museum. Scott Furlong, from the Arts Council, said their decision was “regrettable”. Council leader David Mackintosh said the news was “disappointing”. There are now calls for Mr Mackintosh to resign.
The Marquis of Northampton whose family (4th marquis in 1880) gifted the statue to the museum has requested that the Egyptian collections be returned under deed of gift terms. Northampton Borough Council is facing a legal challenge from Spencer Compton, the 7th Marquis of Northampton, over ownership of its Egyptian and geological collections, including a statue of Sekhemka dating from 2400 BC.
The deed states: “The corporation covenant with the marquis… assigns at all times for ever hereafter to exhibit the same collection freely to the public… and at no time to dispose of any part of the collections. “In default whereof at any time the said collection shall revert and be restored to the marquis [or] his heirs… in as good condition as it was received.”
Ruth Thomas, a former registrar at Northampton Museum, who has seen the document, said: “You don’t need to be a lawyer to understand it. The deed of gift is a way of ensuring the collections were for the people of Northampton in perpetuity.”
An arts council spokesman issued this clarification: “In relation to the quote by Northampton Council about the arts council and the disposal of the statue of Sekhemka we wish to clarify that we are in discussion with Northampton Council officers regarding Accreditation compliance in relation to the sale.
The statue of Sekhemka, court official and priest, was sold at Christie’s London for £16m during an auction in July.