Art Recovery Group have recovered an indigenous Colombian artefact 80 years after it dissappeared.
The ceramic sculpture was offered for sale at a London auction house earlier this year, after almost a century missing. It was last catalogued in a museum in Cartagena, Colombia in 1939 before disappearing inexplicably, and its location has been a mystery ever since.
In 2016, after supposedly being rejected by Sotheby’s, the sculpture was consigned for sale to Hampstead Auctions in London. While researching the provenance of the piece, Hampstead Auctions art historian Beth West saw a number of red flags which prompted her to contact Art Recovery Group.
Using the Art Claim Database and after further research the disjointed ownership history of the sculpture was revealed. The consignor, who wishes to remain anonymous, was contacted by Art Recovery Group, they then learned who learned that the sculpture had been obtained by the consignor as a gift.
“According to the consignor, in 1999 he was visiting his then girlfriend’s family in Colombia and was given the sculpture as a departing gift. He was thoroughly searched at the airport for drugs, even including the shoulder pads of his jacket. But whilst the figure was presented to airport security, it was allowed to leave the country without a second glance.” said Christopher A. Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery Group.
Art Recovery Group contacted the Colombian authorities and, shortly thereafter, the Director of Colombia’s National Museum, Daniel Castro, to confirm the sculpture’s history within the museum’s collection. With the object identified from the museum’s inventory, the consignor agreed to an unconditional restitution of the sculpture to the Colombian authorities and the work was officially returned at a small ceremony at the Colombian Embassy in London earlier this month. The museum holds no record for how the sculpture disappeared.
Marinello added “I am very impressed at the level of cooperation achieved in returning this important part of Colombia’s cultural heritage and I know how grateful they are to have it back. Hampstead Auctions should be commended – it is a relatively small operation but they could teach the bigger players in the art market a thing or two about thorough due diligence.”
Art Recovery Group offers its services to governments and law-enforcement agencies on a pro-bono basis, and the Quimbayan sculpture will now be sent back to Colombia to be received by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.