Egyptian embassy could buy Sekhemka statue and loan it to British Museum

The Sekhemka statue was sold in 2014 by Northampton Borough Council. Now the Egyptian embassy is mounting a bid to buy it.
The Sekhemka statue was sold in 2014 by Northampton Borough Council. Now the Egyptian embassy is mounting a bid to buy it.

Egyptian officials are mounting a last-ditch bid to buy the Sekhemka statue sold by Northampton Borough Council in 2014 so it can be kept on show at the British Museum.

The 4,500 year old artefact used to be on display at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, but reached £15.76 million at auction in July 2014 when it was bought by an as-yet-unknown Qatari buyer.

The council plans to use the funds from the sale, which it is splitting with Lord Northampton, to extend and refurbish the museum.

But last year Culture Minister Ed Vaizey put a temporary export ban on the funerary monument to give time for a group to raise funds to buy it and prevent the item from leaving British shores.

An Egyptian official has confirmed to the Chronicle & Echo that a plan is in place to raise funds in Egypt to buy Sekhemka before the export ban runs out on March 29. The plan is being led by Nasser Kamel, the Egyptian ambassador to the UK.

The official said: “It is an important Egyptian artefact. If it goes overseas, it is gone and we will never know where it is.”

He confirmed that if the £15.76 million was raised, Egypt could buy the statue, with the embassy in London becoming the legal owner.

The embassy could then loan it to the British Museum for six months of the year as a compromise.

The proposal would see the artefact kept in Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo for the remaining six months of the year on a rolling basis.

The news comes after Egyptian Ambassador Nasser Kamel, told the Art Newspaper about his plan to save the item, which experts believe is one of the finest non-royal artefacts from Old Kingdom Egypt.

The Culture Minister’s decision to extend the export ban for Sekhemka, originally imposed in March 2015, marked an unprecedented step for the Government department.

It had never, since the export laws were brought in 1952, extended such a ban by a year to allow a UK purchaser to match the £15.76 million price.

In October, Mr Vaizey said a British buyer had expressed a serious intention to raise the funds.

The move to sell Sekhemka resulted in Northampton Museums losing their Arts Council England accreditation.