Monday 27 May 2024

Metropolitan Museum returns stolen artworks to Thailand.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York has returned two 11th century bronze statues to Thailand after learning that they had been smuggled out of the country illegally in the 1970s. The statues, a 129cm high statue of the God Shiva known as the 'Golden Boy' and a 43 cm high statue of a kneeling woman, were handed over in a ceremony in Bangkok on Tuesday 21 May 2024, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Metropolitan Museum and the Kingdom of Thailand in April.

The two statues returned to the Kingdom of Thailand by the Metropolitan Museum. Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Thailand/Bangkok Post.

The statues are believed to have been smuggled out of the country in 1975 by Douglas Latchford, a British-born, Bangkok-based antiquities dealer who had been under investigation by the United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations from 2019 until the time of his death in August 2020. The items came into the possession of the Metropolitan Museum in 1998, and were on display until 2023, when the museum became aware of their provenance, and contacted the Thai authorities. Latchford's records showed that the Golden Boy statue was excavated in the village of Ban Yang Pongsadao in Buri Ram province, though the origin of the Kneeling Woman is unclear.

The two artworks will be displayed in the National Museum in Bangkok, alongside a larger bronze statue that shows similarities in execution to the Golden Boy, This statue, thought to be of King Surayavaraman I, was excavated at Prasat Sa Kamphaeng Yai in Sri Sa Ket Province, 120 km to the east of the site where the Golden Boy statue was unearthed. This statue has been on display in the Phimai National Museum in Nakhon Ratchasima until now. All three items will later be moved to the Phra Nakhon National Museum.

The Metropolitan Museum has also returned fourteen objects associated with Douglas Latchford to Cambodia, and the Government of Thailand has approved the return of another 20 artefacts from its museums to the same country. These were part of a collection of 43 items smuggled into Thailand via Singapore in 2000. The other 23 items were returned between 2009 and 2015.

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