Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Sir Joseph Hotung

As a Trustee of the British Museum I fully support the representations which have been addressed to the Select Committee on behalf of the Trustees as a whole. However, I believe that it may assist the Committee if I make a number of observations on my own behalf both as a donor of funds to the British Museum in the past and as a potential donor of objects from my own collections in the future.

  When I donated £2 million to the Museum in 1992 to refurbish the Oriental Galleries my main objective was to improve the lighting, so that the many people from all over the world who visit those galleries would be able to view, appreciate and enjoy the treasures which they contain to the fullest possible extent. It never occurred to me at that time that the objects permanently housed in those galleries might be "repatriated" but had I known that there was even a remote possibility of this happening I do not believe that I would have made the gift (or, I doubt whether I would even have contemplated making such a gift).

  Secondly, as a serious collector of archaic Chinese jades and bronzes who would like his carefully assembled collection to be kept as a whole, I naturally regard the British Museum, with its existing repository of Chinese art (and the expertise of its curators) as one of the prime possible recipients of a future donation. If, however, a decision is made to return non-ethnic objects to their places (or supposed places) of origin, then obviously I can no longer seriously consider entrusting my collections to the British Museum or, indeed, to any museum in the United Kingdom.

  New acquisitions are the lifeblood of an institution such as the British Museum, without which it can only atrophy. In the present situation, in which museums and galleries in the United Kingdom receive subventions woefully inadequate to fund any meaningful acquisition policy, they will have to depend increasingly on the gifts and bequests of private donors to expand their collections. Any policy by which museums are deprived of important objects in their collections to enable them to be "repatriated" can only have the effect of deterring potential donors from giving their own treasures from other countries to institutions which may be unable to provide them with a safe and permanent home.

  I would be grateful if this letter could be placed before the Select Committee in due course.

February 2000

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