Great Britain

Pressure grows on UK to return looted colonial artefacts as France prepares to give back artworks

Pressure is growing on Britain to return artefacts looted during its colonial past after France confirmed it would return artworks taken from Benin.

Paris will hand back 26 stones and statues by 2021, culture minister Franck Riester said during a visit to the west African country on Monday.

Jean-Michel Adimbola, Benin’s culture minister, said the artworks would be handed back “in several stages”, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Download the new Indpendent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

He also welcomed “the opening of a broader discussion” about other artefacts.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, pledged to hand back the artworks last year after a report found thousands had been taken without consent during the colonial period.

Mr Macron’s pledge, and the report itself, heaped pressure on Britain and other former colonial powers to hand back similarly acquired artefacts.

Within the last few years, Ethiopia has demanded Britain permanently return all its artefacts from the V&A museum and Nigeria called for the return of the Benin Bronzes from the British Museum and V&A.

Meanwhile Britain has been resisting the permanent return of the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Athens by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.

Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman empire, which occupied Greece at the time, then sold them to the British government, which passed them on to the British Museum in 1817.

Earlier this year, the director of the British Museum appeared to rule out returning the marbles, otherwise known as the Parthenon Sculptures.

“The trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection,” Hartwig Fischer told a Greek newspaper.

A YouGov poll conducted in 2017 suggested the British public mostly backed the return of the marbles, with 55 per cent saying they should be returned to Greece and 21 per cent saying they should remain.