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Ancient Egyptian statue's £15.8m auction is 'catastrophic' for Northampton, says Watchmen writer Alan Moore

This is the latest in a trend of councils looking to raise money by selling their arts collections

Nick Clark
Friday 11 July 2014 06:36 BST
Members of the public and gallery staff examine The Northampton Sekhemka, an Egyptian painted limestone statue of Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes
Members of the public and gallery staff examine The Northampton Sekhemka, an Egyptian painted limestone statue of Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes (Getty Images)

The bestselling graphic novelist Alan Moore has hit out at the “catastrophic” sale of an ancient Egyptian statue held in Northampton Museum, saying it has brought “shame” on the town.

The author of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, who lives in Northampton, said the sale of the 4,500-year-old Sekhemka painted limestone statue – which went for nearly £15.8m at auction on Thursday night – would be “a resounding shame upon this town and the people who are governing it”.

The sale, at Christie’s auction house, was arranged by the council last year to help fund the £14m extension of the museum, which receives around 76,000 visitors a year. The proceeds will also be shared with Lord Northampton, whose family donated the sculpture in 1880.

It is just the latest case of local authorities looking to raise money by selling their arts collections. In November, Croydon council controversially sold 24 pieces from the Riesco Collection of Chinese porcelain at an auction in Hong Kong. Tower Hamlets council also met with outrage when it tried to sell the Henry Moore sculpture Old Flo.

The Northampton statue, which had been expected to fetch about £4m, was discovered in the burial city of Saqqara near Cairo, taken from the tomb of Sekhemka, Pharaoh’s inspector of scribes.

News that the local borough council, which runs the museum, was to push ahead with the sale caused howls of protest. The Save Sekhemka Action Group said the statue “is unique, there is no other statue like it in a UK museum”. Andy Brockman, an archaeologist working with the group, said: “It was gifted for the enjoyment and education of the people. It is held in trust for the future. This is selling the family silver.”

Egypt’s antiquities ministry, which focuses on recovering ancient treasures, also stepped in on Tuesday in an attempt to block the sale.

But a borough council spokesperson said the Egyptian government was contacted two years ago regarding the plans to sell Sekhemka and Egypt confirmed it had “no right to claim the recovery of the statue”. The Museums Association also appealed to the council to halt the sale, as did the International Council of Museums’ Committee for Egyptology. Arts Council England has warned that the museum could face losing its accredited status should the sale go through, which would see it lose out on funding.

Moore, whose work includes Watchmen, From Hell and V for Vendetta, said: “We should keep it or it should be returned to Egypt.”

He said the sale “undermines the entire principle on which most museums operate”.

The 60-year-old had previously donated a work of art by local children’s author Denys James Watkins-Pitchford, but he said: “I would not be able to do that again in the knowledge that at some point in the future gifts made in good faith could be sold off.”

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