You have 2 more free articles remaining

This 2ft 4in (72cm) high 19th dynasty
monumental red granite bust of a King, probably Rameses II, saw its £40,000-60,000 estimate more than tripled. At least three bidders in the saleroom – French dealer François Aronovich, London dealers Mansour Gallery and the antiquities consultant Oliver Forge, bidding for a client, contested the work with the hammer falling to the French dealer at less than £160,000. It was later revealed that M. Aronovich piece had secured the sculpture for a private museum.

The bust was discovered in Egypt in 1891 by the archeologist Edouard Naville, who was conducting excavations in the temple of Herishef at Ha-Khenensu near modern Beni Suef. The excavations were carried out by the Egyptian Exploration Fund and the fund’s founder, Amelia B Edwards, gave the piece to Charterhouse in that year.

One might feel that such a strong old
provenance played a part in the high price of this piece but after the sale it also appeared to stir up a controversy as the Egyptian Government announced that it was seeking an injunction on the sale. Summarising the story on page 2 of last week’s Antiques Trade Gazette, the Government’s view was that the piece should not be sold for profit since it was originally allowed to be exported on the understanding that it would not be sold for gain and therefore should only be gifted to a museum or returned to the original owner.

At the period when Naville was working, the Egyptian Government owned any discoveries made when an archeological excavation took place, but a small percentage of the finds was given to bodies like the Egyptian Exploration Fund, who conducted the excavations. The Gazette spoke to several antiquities dealers and specialists last week and all felt strongly that the Egyptian Government did not have much of a case. As the Gazette went to press, Sotheby’s said that they had not been contacted by the Egyptian Government about the injunction. But in a field where there is so much concern about cultural heritage and establishing provenance, the fact that a question mark can hang even over legally exported pieces will not add to buyers’ confidence.