An ancient bronze statue of Lord Shiva bought by the National Gallery of Australia from Indian-American artefact dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is in custody in Tamil Nadu for his role in idol thefts, has come under scrutiny.
63-year-old Kapoor had sold the Lord Shiva statue, which is now being suspected to be one of the works alleged to have been stolen, to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in 2008.
The 128.5 centimetre-high bronze idol depicting Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, is said to be dated from the 11th to 12th centuries.
Commenting on the statue, NGA director Ron Radford said "the gallery had done all the required provenance checks before acquiring the piece from Kapoor, owner of the Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue."
"As with all leading art institutions around the world, the gallery is committed to strict due diligence when acquiring works of art, particularly with regard to determining provenance," Radford said in a statement recently.
NGA officials had also met officials from the Indian High Commission this month. However, they had been unable to obtain any official comment from police in India.
"The gallery has commenced plans to undertake a comprehensive re-examination by a panel of internal and external art experts of the supplied documentation as well as
the provenance of work acquired from Kapoor, as many international galleries are also doing," the statement said.
Kapoor was arrested in Germany last October for smuggling antique idols allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. He had been extradited to India and was in custody in Chennai.
NGA is one of at least 18 major international art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC and the Art Institute
of Chicago that have acquired works of art through gifts or purchased from Kapoor.
The NGA statement said that it purchased the statue from Kapoor following a thorough due diligence process regarding the quality, provenance and time of its departure from India.
"It is yet to be determined if this work is one of the stolen works as has been speculated about in certain media outlets. The Gallery has not received any advice from Indian authorities to this effect at this time," said Ron Radford.
NGA adheres to the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
The Australian government is a signatory to this Convention. The Gallery is liaising closely with the Indian High Commission in Canberra to ensure that the internationally accepted protocols for dealing with such issues are followed.