Denver Art Museum removes looted Benin Bronze from its collection


The royal palace of the oba or king of Benin was adorned with hundreds of elaborately ornamented plaques, such as this one. It was taken by Sir Ralph Moor from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 and sent to the British Foreign Service office collection. The Denver Art Museum purchased the plaque from the Carlebach Gallery in New York in 1955.

Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

The royal palace of Benin was adorned with hundreds of elaborately ornamented plaques, this sort of as this a single. It was taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 and despatched to the British Foreign Services office environment collection. The Denver Art Museum bought the plaque from the Carlebach Gallery in New York in 1955.

The Denver Artwork Museum has formally eliminated a looted Benin plaque from its assortment — the to start with phase towards repatriating a prized relic that the British plundered in West Africa extra than a century in the past.

The shift to “deaccession,” or take away, the merchandise from the museum’s assortment previously this thirty day period arrives as collections all over the globe are reexamining, and outright returning, goods in their possession that ended up pillaged for the duration of colonial rule.

Denver’s storied art museum in 1955 acquired the 16th- or 17th-century bronze plaque from the Carlebach Gallery in New York. It is one of the so-known as “Benin Bronzes” that once adorned the royal palace of the oba, or king, of Benin in what’s now southern Nigeria.

“Cast in the missing wax method by a really experienced artisan, this plaque has the figure of a court nobleman or potentially a chief displaying facts of his regalia, including his helmet, an elaborate coral necklace, embroidered skirt, belt and anklets,” the museum suggests on its site.

In November, the museum advised The Denver Put up that it had not shown the plaque for many years, and was functioning with specialists to comprehend its finish provenance, or possession background. But the museum at the time declined to formally clear away the product from its assortment or repatriate it to Nigeria.

Now, as other American establishments are facing tension to return Benin Bronzes to their rightful proprietors, museum officials in Denver made the decision to take the item out of the museum’s collection.

The artwork institution is also searching into a smaller bronze pendant or belt mask in the “Royal Court docket Style” in its collection that would have place it in the Kingdom of Benin all through the 1897 British raid. That exploration is ongoing.

“The museum will keep on to act in superior faith as a worldwide partner on matters of art repatriation and restitution,” Andy Sinclair, a museum spokesperson, reported in an electronic mail. “To day, the museum has not been contacted by anybody in Nigeria about these is effective or requests for their return.”

All through the 1897 retaliatory offensive by British forces, officers confiscated scores of royal treasures from Benin’s colonial subjects. Some went to officers who took part in the raid, but most went to a London auction to assist pay for the expedition.

About the earlier century, those scarce Benin Bronzes had been dispersed to hundreds of establishments about the globe — from Denver to New York to Germany.

But now these exact institutions are rethinking the ethics of exhibiting will work they know to be plundered — a seismic shift in the art environment that will come amid a around the world reckoning over racial injustice and a reexamining of colonial rule.


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