The National Gallery of Australia said on Thursday that it will return 14 artworks to India, including at least six that are thought to have been stolen or illegally transferred.
The pieces, which include sculptures, photos and a scroll, were recognised as stolen, plundered or of unknown provenance by the Canberra gallery.
The collection is mostly made up of ‘religious and cultural artefacts’ valued at around $2.2 million, some of which date back to the 12th century.
The artwork will be returned to the Indian government within months, according to gallery director Nick Mitzevich. ‘It’s a relief that they can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,’ he said.
Thirteen of the paintings are linked to suspected human trafficker Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer who was the focus of Operation Hidden Idol, a large US government investigation.
Kapoor, who is facing accusations, denies all of them. The National Gallery of Australia has previously returned a $5 million bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva that was stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple, as well as many other items purchased via Kapoor.
Mitzevich said it has put in place rules to evaluate any legal or ethical concerns with the works it owns and was investigating three more sculptures from its Asia collection. ‘It’s very much a live issue with galleries around the world. And we want to make sure that we can resolve these issues in a timely manner,’ he added.
Many of the antiques Kapoor sold were from the 11th and 12th centuries when the Chola dynasty ruled Tamil Nadu and the Chola monarchy presided over a blossoming of Hindu art.
The US has also returned hundreds of artefacts after his detention in 2011.