Auctioneer Christie’s, which sold the unique statue of the Egyptian Scribe Sekhemka for the World Record Price of £15.76 million, on 10 July, today confirmed that the buyer of the statue, which had been on public display for over one hundred years in Northampton Museum, was a Private Collector. Christie’s added that the buyer “wants to remain private.” The news came in an e-mail from Mr William Robinson, Christie’s International Head of Group, World Art, and was greeted with fury by the Northampton based “Save Our Sekhemka Action Group” who had asked the auctioneer to identify the buyer. A spokesperson for the group told Heritage Daily.
“Thanks to Cllr Mackintosh and Northampton Council, it looks as if Sekhemka may have been turned into the Egyptian equivalent of Gollum’s “precious” to be hidden away and even gloated over as a secret fantasy object.”
The news that the internationally important funerary statue, dating back four and a half thousand years to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, has, for the time being at least, vanished into a private collection is also likely to infuriate the International community of archaeologists, Egyptologists and museum professionals which had campaigned against the sale. The campaigners had argued that the sale by Northampton Borough Council, in partnership with the Marquis of Northampton, was both an “unethical” betrayal of international museum practice and a tasteless commercialisation of Egyptian culture. A view shared by the Egyptian Government which also protested against the sale, as well as by the famous graphic novelist Alan Moore who told the BBC the sale was a “gross betrayal of trust,” which would result in his never again donating anything to the museum of his Home Town.
The Paris based “International Council of Museums” [ICOM] also pointed out that the high profile sale of such a valuable object risked encouraging the theft, looting and trafficking of other antiquities.
Further responding to the news that Sekhemka was purchased by a rich private individual the spokesperson for the “Save Our Sekhemka Action Group” said
“This looks like the worst possible outcome for the world of Egyptology, not just the people of Northampton who have been robbed in broad daylight of the jewel in the crown of their museum by a shadowy, unaccountable partnership between their own political leaders and one of the richest men in Britain, the Marquis of Northampton.
Against all advice, local, national and international, the Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh has forced through the effective privatisation of one of the World’s most important Ancient Egyptian works of Art. As a result there is now no guarantee that the statue of Sekhemka will ever be seen again, even by professional researchers, let alone by the children who might be inspired to find out more about the riches of Egyptian history and culture.”
Asked about the forthcoming meeting of Arts Council England to discuss removing Northampton Council’s Accreditation as an ethically run Museum, a move which, if confirmed, could cost Northampton Council access to many Government, Lottery and Charitable funding streams, the spokesperson commented,
“This news makes it all the more important that Arts Council England and the Museums Association demonstrate the consequences of such unethical and damaging actions as selling publicly owned museum objects for short term profit, and punish Northampton Council by removing their Accredited status.
This will hurt and humiliate our Town in the short term, but at least it will serve as a warning to others who would try to cash in on the museum collections we hold in trust for the future. It might also prevent the Cllr Mackintosh and his Ruling Group from taking any more Government, Lottery and Charity grants under the false pretenses that they are professionally and ethically equipped to care for our culture and heritage.”
The critics of the sale of Sekhemka argue the only person to genuinely benefit from the sale is the Marquis of Northampton who received 45% of the proceeds of the sale, or some £6 million; although Northampton Borough Council point out he announced the donation of £1 million to local cultural good causes the morning after the sale.
Some critics of the profit share arrangement, arrived at to facilitate the sale by Northampton Council’s legal advisors, argue that the Marquis may even have been the genuine owner of the statue thanks to a 19th century Deed of Gift by which the Compton family appears to retain ownership rights on objects donated to Northampton Museum by the Marquis’s Great Grandfather. A situation which is contrary to statements from Northampton Borough Council and Christie’s, both of whom repeatedly stated that the Council was the owner and seller.
Heritage Daily asked Northampton Borough Council to comment on the latest developments and whether the news that Sekhemka had been sold to an anonymous private collector vindicated the campaigners against the sale and strengthened the case for the Council to be stripped of its Museums Association Accreditation. In reply a spokesperson for Northampton Borough Council repeated the councils original statement of the evening of 10 July 2014, welcoming the completion of the sale and the financial benefits to the Town’s Museum Service which the Council argued would accrue from its share of the proceeds. Some £8 million less taxes and costs. In that statement Cllr Mackintosh concluded by saying
“This money will allow us to realise our exciting plans for the future of the Museum Service. Every penny is ring-fenced for the Museum Service and we will now make our museum redevelopment plans a reality.”
The spokesperson concluded by saying the Council “nothing further to add.”
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