Two of the works, a pair of brass plaques from Benin Court from the 16th century of a “Warrior Chief” and “Junior Court Official”, were donated to the museum in 1991 by the art dealer Klaus Perls and his wife Dolly, while the third, an “Ife- 14th century head was recently offered for sale to the museum by another collector.
The museum decided to return the works after conducting research in collaboration with the British Museum and with contributions from the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The two panels were part of a 153-piece collection of African royal treasures donated to the museum by the Perlses 30 years ago, including brass figurines, carved elephant ivory, masks, jewelry and musical instruments.
According to the museum, the panels were removed by British forces from the Royal Palace of Benin in what is now Nigeria in 1897 and then entered the collection of the British Museum. Around 1950 or 1951, the London institution moved it, along with 24 other objects, to the National Museum in Lagos.
The works were somehow removed from this museum “at an unknown time and under unclear circumstances,” the Met said in a press release, and were sold on the international art market, where they were acquired by Perls. Both plaques have now been revoked by the Met.
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/316484Recognition: Metropolitan Museum of Art
According to the Met, the person offering the head was “mistaken that the legal title for the work was bestowed by the NCMM”. Inquiries from the museum had proven otherwise, it added, and the Met “made an appointment with the seller and his agent for the ‘Ife Head’ to return to his rightful home.”
The Met said it will keep the works until the NCMM’s general manager Abba Isa Tijani can travel to New York to pick them up. “We sincerely appreciate the transparency of the Metropolitan Museum of Art regarding issues leading to the return of these objects,” Tijani said in a statement.
Max Hollein, the director of the Met, said in a statement that “keeping these works in Nigeria’s national collections is critical to the well-being of the museum community and to fostering ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the Met and our Nigerian colleagues.” Among the projects the Met would like to work on with Nigeria, he added, is the planned Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City.
“We welcome the rapprochement that is developing in the museum world and appreciate the sense of justice of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” said Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture. “Nigeria urges other museums to orientate themselves. The art world can be a better place if every owner of cultural artifacts takes into account the rights and feelings of the dispossessed.”