The National Gallery of Australia returns sculptures to Cambodia

It has been announced that three 9th–10th century bronze sculptures from the Cham Kingdom will be returned from Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The pieces titled Avalokiteshvara Padmapani, Vajrapani and Avalokiteshvara Padmapani are being repatriated after a decade long investigation that has seen collaboration between the institution and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia after being removed from the NGA’s display in 2021 ‘due to the likelihood that they were illegally exported from their country of origin.’

Image: Champa Kingdom, Avalokiteshvara PadmapaniVajrapani and Avalokiteshvara Padmapani, 9th­­–11th century, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, Acquired 2011, deaccessioned 2021, repatriated 2023, On loan from the Kingdom of Cambodia, 2023–2026

The NGA explained that the pieces were purchased for USD 1.5 million in 2011 from the late art dealer Douglas Latchford. They added that ‘from December 2016 onwards, the vendor has been convincingly implicated in the illegal trade of antiquities. Charges were laid against him related to alleged trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities in 2019. Latchford died in August 2020 and charges have since been laid posthumously against works of art sold by him.’

In agreeance with the Kingdom of Cambodia the sculptures will return to display at the NGA towards the end of this year for up to three years, while preparations are made to welcome and display them back at home in Phnom Penh.

Image: (left to right) Ambassador HE Dr CHEUNBORAN Chanborey, Director Nick Mitzevich, and Ms Susan Templeman MP pictured signing loan agreement, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2023. Photo by: Karlee Holland.

His Excellency Dr Chanborey Cheunboran, Ambassador, Royal Embassy of Cambodia, commended the decision by the Australian Government and the National Gallery to return the works.

‘This is an historic occasion and an important step towards rectifying past injustices, reinforcing the value of cultural properties, and acknowledging the importance of preserving and protecting cultural heritage.’

‘The display and care of the sculptures at the National Gallery and their eventual repatriation highlight the power of international cooperation and more importantly signify a strong Cambodia-Australia cultural link, which is a cornerstone of our bilateral ties’, Dr Cheunboran said.