Centuries-Old Figure Recovered After 80 Years

     (CN) — Colombia has regained custody of an indigenous artifact that disappeared from one of its museums 80 years ago, the London-based Art Recovery Group said Monday.
     After it disappeared from a museum in Cartagena, the ceramic sculpture turned up earlier this year at Hampstead Auctions in London, according to a release from Art Recovery Group, whose ArtClaim Database it describes as “the world’s most advanced private database of stolen, looted and claimed works of art.”
     The consignor wishes to remain anonymous but purportedly claims to have received the sculpture as a gift in 1999 on a visit to Cartegena.
     “According to the consignor, in 1999 he was visiting his then girlfriend’s family in Colombia and was given the sculpture as a departing gift,” Art Recovery Group CEO Christopher Marinello said in a statement. “He was thoroughly searched at the airport for drugs, even including the shoulder pads of his jacket. But whilst the figure was presented to airport security, it was allowed to leave the country without a second glance.”
     Art Recovery Group notes that Sotheby’s rejected the sculpture before the consignore brought it to Hampstead.
     It was Hampstead’s art historian Beth West who contacted Art Recovery Group while researching the piece’s provenance.
     “Hampstead Auctions should be commended – it is a relatively small operation but they could teach the bigger players in the art market a thing or two about thorough due diligence,” Marinello said.
     Calling the sculpture’s ownership history checkered, Art Recovery Group says Colombia’s National Museum holds no record for the circumstances under which the sculpture disappeared.
     “The figure was last catalogued by the museum in 1939 though its location has been a mystery ever since,” according to the group’s press release.
     After museum director Daniel Castro confirmed the sculpture’s history within the museum’s collection, the consignor agreed to an unconditional restitution of the sculpture to the Colombian authorities.
     “The work was officially returned at a small ceremony at the Colombian Embassy in London earlier this month,” the group’s statement continues.
     It also says “the Quimbayan sculpture will now be sent back to Colombia to be received by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.”
     Metropolitan Museum of Art records on Quimbayan art say the ceramic “slab” figures like the one at issue came from people inhabiting the hills and valleys of the middle Cauca River during the centuries before the Spanish conquest in the 1530s.
     The figures are usually depicted as male but can be solid or hollow, and range in height from 4 to 20 inches.
     “Slab figures were included with ceramic vessels and metal ornaments as offerings in burials in shaft and chamber tombs,” according to Art Recovery Group’s statement. “They may have been considered guardians or companions for the deceased.”

Photos courtesy of Art Recovery Group, Fatima De La Espada

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