National Gallery of Australia Sues Dealer Over Stolen Antiquities

"Shiva as Lord of the Dance or Nataraja." Cica 11th century, Indian bronze statue.

The National Gallery of Australia is suing art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who sold the museum an allegedly stolen 11th-century Indian statue in 2008. The Chola-era bronze, titled Shiva as Lord of the Dance, or Nataraja, was purchased at Kapoor’s Art of the Past in New York for $5 million.

The lawsuit, filed with New York’s Supreme Court, accuses the gallery of fraud and seeks to reclaim the $5 million purchase price plus legal fees. The statue was allegedly stolen between January and November of 2006 from the Sivan Temple in the Ariyalur District of Tamil Nadu in southern India. All Indian antiquities are legally the property of the Indian government.

The artwork’s provenance came under question last year, when Aaron M. Freedman, office manager at Art of the Past, pleaded guilty on six counts of criminal possession of stolen property. Court documents for the case listed the Nataraja as having been illegally exported from India via a smuggling ring. The statue is one of 14 items that Australia’s National Gallery purchased from Art of the Past.

Kapoor was first detained on suspicion of stocking his gallery with antiques looted from historic sites in India in 2011. He is currently being held on charges of criminal looting in India.

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