The National Gallery of Australia will return 14 works of art to India, including those allegedly stolen or exported illegally, AFP reported on Thursday.
The collection, worth about $2.2 million (approximately Rs 16.34 crore), comprises of portraits and sculptures. Some of them date back to the 12th Century.
“It’s a relief that they [the artworks] can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,” museum’s director Nick Mitzevich told the news agency.
Mitzevich added that the terms of the physical handover of the artworks will be discussed over the next couple of months, The Guardian reported. He added that given the Covid-19 situation, discussions will be held about whether the handover will take place in India or Australia.
The National Gallery apologised for the stolen art. “We are doing all we can to avoid any future missteps of this kind,” Mitzevich was quoted as saying by The Australian. “It’s a historic issue … The NGA [National Gallery of Australia] was part of an international fraud campaign that affected more than a dozen of the world’s leading institutions.”
Manpreet Vohra, the Indian High Commissioner to Australia, welcomed the move. “The government of India is grateful for this extraordinary act of goodwill and gesture of friendship from Australia,” he was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. “These are outstanding pieces: their return will be extremely well-received by the government and people of India.”
According to The Guardian, the National Gallery had bought 13 of the artworks from the a New York-based gallery run by Subhash Kapoor, an alleged smuggler of antique pieces. He is a US citizen of Indian origin.
Kapoor and his associates ran a network under which antique pieces or artwork were stolen from several Asian countries and put on sale at his gallery in New York after forging documents.
In July 2012, the Interpol had extradited Kapoor from Germany to India. He was charged with theft and illegal export of antiques and sent to custody.
The Australian gallery has returned works bought from Kapoor and his associates to India thrice before, according to The Guardian.