Embassies 'lose' dozens of artworks

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Indy Politics

Dozens of artworks worth tens of thousands of pounds have vanished from British embassies or residences around the world over the past decade.

At least 42 paintings, prints and sculptures from the Government Art Collection have been stolen, lost or destroyed, according to information gained through the Freedom of Information Act.

None of the works were insured and apart from objects that were known to have been stolen, more than half the total simply disappeared for no known reason.

Mark Field, the shadow Culture Secretary, said yesterday that he would be calling on David Lammy, a Culture minister, to disclose what was being done to protect works of art.

"I will be tabling written questions of the Culture minister to determine what is being done to maintain security on the Government Art Collection and how many have been repossessed in the last five years through art recovery resources," he said.

The collection, which gets a £500,000 yearly grant and spends about half of it buying works of art, sends pieces to foreign missions to "promote British art, culture and history".

A David Nash wooden sculpture had to be burned in Japan when it was found to be rotting away and an inventory check of the High Commissioner's residence in Harare in 2001 revealed that a watercolour by Adrian Bury had vanished.

Three works were missing during a check at the embassy in Vienna, Austria, in 2003, while in Argentina, five oil paintings were stolen from the ambassador's temporary residence in August 2001. Other lost works include five prints of English scenes by various artists, which were to be shipped back to the British embassy from Tripoli in Libya but were reported missing by embassy staff in 2000.

Six watercolours or chalk drawings by William Simpson were destroyed in the terrorist bombing of Pera House in Istanbul in 2003.

In Uganda, a print owned by Jesus College, Cambridge, vanished from the walls of the High Commission in Kampala, while a print by Michael Ayrton disappeared from the embassy in Athens in 1998.

A government spokesman said they could not yet put a value on the missing pieces.

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