Three bronze sculptures will be returned to Cambodia in 2026 after a decade-long investigation revealed the treasured antiquities housed in Australia’s National Gallery were illegally traded.
Nick Mitzevich, Director of Australia’s National Gallery, said the decision to repatriate the three antiquities is the culmination of years of research and due diligence that would not have been possible without the support of the Cambodian Government through the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
Mitzevich said he is also grateful for the people involved in the research; Bradley Gordon and the researchers at Edenbridge Asia; and Nawapan Kriangsak, daughter of the late Douglas Latchford, through her advisor Charles Webb of Hanuman Partners.
He said, “We are grateful for their support in identifying the place of origin of these culturally significant sculptures and are pleased we can now return them to their rightful home.”
Dr Chanborey Cheunboran, Cambodian Ambassador to Australia, said that the decision is an important step towards rectifying past injustices, reinforcing the value of cultural properties, and acknowledging the importance of preserving and protecting cultural heritage.
Susan Templeman, the Australian Government’s Special Envoy for the Arts, said at a handover ceremony at the National Gallery on July 28 that the decision to repatriate the antiquities is a demonstration of respect between Australia and Cambodia.
“It is an opportunity to put right a historical wrong but also to strengthen our ties and deepen our understanding,” she added.
According to the Gallery’s consultation with Cambodia, the three works of art will remain on display at the Gallery for the next three years while waiting for Cambodia to prepare a new home for the sculptures.
Dr Mitzevich said he is grateful for this decision and is looking forward to working with Cambodia on the return of the antiquities in 2026.
In 2011, art dealer Douglas Latchford, who died in 2020, sold the works of art to the National Gallery of Australia for $1.5 million. In 2016, an investigation was conducted accusing him of illegally trafficking stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities in 2019.
In 2021, 17 works of art were removed because they were found to be connected to Subhash Kapoor and William Wolff. It formed a part of the Gallery’s commitment to its ethical management of collections.