National Gallery of Canada Returns Tang Dynasty Treasure to China
Ottawa, Canada - April 11, 2001
« Le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada rend à la Chine un trésor de la dynastie Tang »
On the recommendation of the Board Acquisitions Committee and the Director of the National Gallery of Canada, the National Gallery of Canada's Board of Trustees has authorized the return of the relief sculpture Figure of an Arhat (c. 700-720 A.D.) by an unknown artist from the Tang Dynasty to the Government of China for ethical reasons.
The 84.3 cm high limestone sculpture is a fragment of one of the full-length Louhans (Arhats in Sanscript), or Buddhist holy men, from the Longmen Caves in the east bank of the Yi River. The relief was carved into the Kanjing Si, a temple cave commissioned by the empress Wu Zetian who reigned in 700-720 A.D. The area is one of the great artistic complexes of China and consists of a large number of decorative grottoes and niches, many of which have been pillaged and destroyed by antiquarians in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It is difficult to say whether Figure of an Arhat was broken off the wall before 1941, or after, during the Civil War or the Cultural Revolution, when several temples in the area suffered. The sculpture was first documented as detached from the wall in 1970 when it was sold with the collection of Chinese art assembled by Mrs. Mary Cohen and dispersed at Sotheby's, London, England. That same year, the sculpture was bought by a private collector from the United States. It was later acquired by the late Dr. Herman Levy of Hamilton, Ontario and donated to the National Gallery of Canada in 1978.
The National Gallery of Canada has received no claim for the work in question. However, in an effort to establish proper title and unquestionable provenance of works in its collection, the Gallery approached the Government of China to discuss the matter. In keeping with the Gallery's acquisitions policy to act in a responsible manner to preserve humanity's artistic heritage, the National Gallery of Canada decided that the rightful place for Figure of an Arhat is in its original home, at the Longmen Caves in China.
Chief, Marketing and Communicaations
tel. (613) 990-3142
fax (613) 990-9824