October 16, 2016

Who (in the USA) bought the Northampton Sekhemka in 2014?

Sekhemka, front (Christie's)
In July 2014 the BBC News reported on the £15.76m controversial sale at Christie's Auction house in London of the Northampton Sekhemka, a 4,000 year old sandstone statue of an Egyptian scribe, put up for auction and sold to raise funds to expand the regional museum:

Northampton Borough Council auctioned the Sekhemka limestone statue to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. However, Arts Council England had warned the council its museum could lose its accreditation status. The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it.

Sue Edwards, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, who travelled from Northampton at the time of the auction, said: "This is the darkest cultural day in the town's history. The local authority has made a huge mistake but we will continue our fight to save Sekhemka."

Sekhemka, side (Christie's)
Here's a link to a 1963 academic paper published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, titled "The Northhampton Statue of Sekhemka", where by T. J. H. James  describes the statue as having entered a museum collection in England about 1870.

Christie's sales catalogue described the Northampton Sekhemka as "AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA, OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C." The statue sold for almost three times the catalogue estimate. In Christie's notes on the statue, the piece is described as belonging to the tomb of the deceased; the scroll lists 'offerings that Sekhemka needs to subsist comfortably in the afterlife.' As for the portrait of Sekhemka's wife Sitmerit:

Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression are perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale should not be interpreted as a symbol of womens' place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.
Sekhemka, detail of wife (Christie's)

At the time, Christie's wrote that a similar statue also resides at the Brooklyn Museum

Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, now in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.

By April 2016, no matching offer was made in time to prevent the statue from leaving the UK and the object was cleared to be shipped to an unknown buyer – at the time heavily speculated to be a mysterious private collector in Qatar or museum in the Middle East.   

In a report presented to the UK’s Parliament pursuant to section 10 (1)(a) of the Export Control Act 2002 on the export of objects of Cultural Interest first reported on by the BBC it has emerged the Department for Culture, Media and Sport granted an export licence to the United States. 

Who the new owner is, is anyone's guess. 


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