The model of a seated Vishnu was one of 14 statues taken from an archaeological museum in Nalanda in the eastern part of India in 1961. It had changed hands several times before it was unwittingly offered for sale and both the owner and the dealer agreed for it to be returned to India.
The sculpture – among the first of the 14 bronzes to be recovered – was identified in March by members of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art and the India Pride Project, which aims to recover stolen artefacts.
Once the dealer and the owner (who had consigned it to be offered at the fair) were made aware of the Buddha’s backstory, they co-operated fully with the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit and agreed for the piece to be returned to India.
The identity of the dealer and fair have not been disclosed.
DC Sophie Hayes, of the Metropolitan’s art and antiques unit, said: “We have established there was no criminality by the current owner or the dealer who was offering it for sale. Indeed, from the outset they have co-operated fully with the police to resolve this matter and they have made the decision to return the sculpture via the police.
“This case has been a true example of co-operation between law enforcement, the trade and scholars. Particular credit must go to the eagle-eyed informants who made us aware that the missing piece had been located after so many years.”
The bronze was handed over to the Indian High Commissioner YK Sinha by Detective Chief Inspector Sheila Stewart, who was accompanied by officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, at a ceremony on August 15, coinciding with India’s Independence Day celebrations.