New York Museum Returns Rare Trafficked Antiques to Thailand

On Tuesday, the National Museum of Thailand celebrated the repatriation of two ancient sculptures that had been illegally removed from Thailand by a British antiques collector. The statues have been housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Douglas Latchford, a collector and art dealer, was suspected of running a vast network that trafficked antiquities throughout Southeast Asia, and these pieces were linked to him.

Two artifacts, a large bronze sculpture called the “Standing Shiva” or the “Golden Boy” and a smaller one called the “Kneeling Female,” are said to be about a thousand years old.

Concurrent with the current initiatives by museums in the United States and Europe to deal with the presence of artifacts looted from Asia, Africa, and other places during times of colonization or turmoil, there has been a new influx of artworks from these regions.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced in December 2017 that they will be returning more than a dozen antiquities to Cambodia and Thailand.

United States federal prosecutors accused Latchford in 2019 of planning and executing a multi-year scheme to sell stolen Cambodian antiques at international auction houses.

Latchford, who died the year after, had vehemently denied any involvement in smuggling.

John Guy, curator of Asian and Southeast Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, praised the returning artworks as remarkable examples of their period at Tuesday’s event. He said the transfer was a watershed event that recognized the importance of Thai art to world culture.

Thai Culture Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol expressed gratitude on behalf of her nation for the return of the relics.

The Met has pledged to undertake a comprehensive inventory of its artworks, hire more researchers to aid with provenance research, increase participation from staff and trustees, and use its public profile to encourage and join public conversations surrounding this issue, among other measures.