Deaccessioning Museums Controversies United Kingdom

Sale of ancient statue goes ahead despite opposition from Egypt

Northampton council is selling sculpture at Christie's to fund museum expansion and refurbishment

The statue was donated to Northampton Museum around 1880, probably by the fourth Marquess of Northampton

An Egyptian statue of Sekhemka is to be sold by Northampton council at Christie’s today, 10 July, with an estimate of between £4m and £6m. The sale has been challenged by the Egyptian antiquities minister, Mamdouh El-Damaty, and also criticised by the International Council of Museums. A Christie's spokesman told us that "co-operative" discussions were held with the Egyptian embassy in London earlier this week and "the sale will go ahead".

The painted limestone work, billed as “the most important Egyptian sculpture ever to come to market”, dates from around 2400BC-2300BC and depicts the royal scribe Sekhemka with his wife. The statue, which probably comes from Saqqara, is believed to have been acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton, during a trip to Egypt around 1850. It was donated to Northampton Museum around 1880, probably by the fourth Marquess of Northampton. Earlier this year, the seventh Marquess argued that the museum should not sell the statue as it would break the terms of the donation, but he relented in return for a promised 45% of the proceeds.

The council says that its 55% share will help to fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and the refurbishment of Abington Park Museum. But the deaccessioning contravenes the policies of the Museums Association and Arts Council England. If a sale goes ahead, Northampton’s museums are likely to lose their Arts Council accreditation. A spokeswoman for the Arts Council says that they have received grants and that “funds may be repayable”.

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