Stolen artifacts: European museums for the loan of works from the former colonies

The Ato ceremony of the Kingdom of Dahomey is displayed at the Quai Branly Museum Jacques Chirac in Paris.

(Getty Images)

Museums in Western Europe are starting to re-evaluate how to deal with certain colonial artifacts added to their extensive collections of recent years-in spite of stolen or looted.

Some of the items reflect periods of history, that were, and still are, contested. As the Washington Post reports, a number of Europe’s leading cultural institutions consider to return artefacts to their country of origin, often in Africa or Asia.

The French President Emmanuel Macron nudged things along by proclaiming in Burkina Faso, in November that France would work in the direction of the “temporary or permanent restitution of African descent in Africa.”


France, as recently as March 2017, had they the efforts of Benin to demand the return of thousands of objects looted in the 1890s from what was then the Kingdom of Dahomey, including the royal thrones, scepters and images exhibited in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, the Post reported.

“Their refund is not possible,” the French government said at the time, according to the French newspaper Liberation.

Macron elections in 2017 requested a different policy.

“I can’t accept that a large part of the cultural heritage from various African countries is in France,” Macron said during the Burkina Faso visit. “African heritage can’t just be in the European private collections and museums.”

Benin has asked for the return of the sculptures and other objects from the Kingdom of Dahomey to see in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

(Getty Images)

In London, Victoria and Albert Museum in April held an exhibition of objects that a golden crown and chalice taken by the British army from Ethiopia in 1868.


“Even in the time, this episode was seen as a disgrace,” the museum stated.

Ethiopia a claim for the artifacts in 2008. But this year, the V&A director, floated the idea of returning the objects in a long-term loan.

Meanwhile, the German Lost Art Foundation, which was established to support the balloons of the Nazi-era looted art, said in April that it is expanding its mandate to include artifacts from other colonies, according to the Post.

For 2019, Germany reportedly has reserved $3.5 million to help museums determine the origin of any illegal or unlawful objects.

Although all of this seems to suggest that the attitude change, some art analysts have said that it may not lead to much of an overhaul of Europe’s collections — because there is more talk of long-term loans and less to speak of a completely and permanently back artifacts.

Christopher Carbone is a reporter and news editor covering science and technology for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.

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