Image copyright Sotheby’s Image caption Members of the Cambodian government have inspected the Met’s displays of Cambodian artefacts
The Cambodian government has inspected at least 40 items from looted artefacts sent by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which faces tough questions over its collection of Chinese artworks looted in the late 1930s.
The Met has kept the artefacts out of its exhibition History of China: The Dynasties, written by an antiquities expert who died before he could see his collections formally repatriated.
The show opened on Thursday, with a signing ceremony in New York.
The Met has said that it is committed to meeting its legal obligations and ensuring the historical accuracy of the Chinese artworks it curates.
The Met disclosed details in November of the rare artefacts it had bought between 1936 and 1949, including well-known figures such as Confucius and Sun Yat-sen.
The museum has also said it believed that all of the 11 paintings in question, worth between $15m and $50m (£10m and £36m), were legally acquired.
It is, it says, committed to seeking restitution for any looted artwork that it is unable to identify by methods like DNA analysis and a review of the available documentation.
Image copyright Sotheby’s Image caption A portrait of King Suryavarman II from the Met’s collection Image caption The Met has told the AFP news agency that there are 94 items from the Song Dynasty on loan
A spokesman for the Met said on Thursday that the museum had asked its Chinese intermediaries to investigate the provenance of at least 40 objects, which arrived in New York between 2015 and 2016 and have been displayed in the Met’s China exhibition.
“None of the objects in this exhibition have been taken from Cambodia without the consent of the Cambodian government,” he said.
“Cambodia believes that these objects are not illegally obtained and that they have no outstanding claims, as evidenced by documents requested in the possession and safekeeping reports.”
A Cambodian delegation inspected the pieces over the weekend, a spokesperson for the embassy in New York told AFP news agency.
Mr Thanh Pheaktra said that while Cambodia was happy for the museum to hold the artefacts, it wanted assurances that the items would not end up in private collections.
Prak Sokha, vice-minister of culture, and Mr Thanh Pheaktra were quoted by Reuters news agency as saying they told the museum’s director, Thomas Campbell, that they were appalled by the collection.
A 2008 UN Human Rights Council report said that an estimated 6,000 artefacts from Cambodia were stolen by German soldiers.
Image copyright Sotheby’s Image caption A painting by master of Confucian literature, Diao Kiangui (1076-1183), went to the Met in 1966 from the Museum of Fine Arts in Berlin
Rights groups are now raising the alarm about the Met’s arrangement.
“Global public museums have a responsibility to ensure their collection is not benefiting from human rights abuses, and the Met is known to have acquired such artefacts, suggesting its problematic management practices in the past,” said Patrick Dombey, from the Institute of Historical Art in Washington DC.
The museum has previously been criticised for wrongfully holding Cambodian objects, dating from the pre-revolutionary period, and trying to get the cash-strapped country to pay off its debts.
It is not alone in that regard. London’s British Museum, for example, has received it grants to buy some of its stock from local institutions.