The Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam opens discussions with Sri Lanka and Indonesia about controversial items in its collection that may have been stolen and become part of the Dutch 'colonial heritage', according to a report by Trouw. There are about a thousand pieces under discussion, including an antique cannon claimed by Sri Lanka and a diamond that once belonged to a sultan in Borneo.
Rijksmuseum says the move comes in response to last week's publication of a guideline by the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures (NMWC) for restoring colonial heritage.The guideline describes exactly how countries can claim objects in the collections of the NMWC, and which criteria apply.
Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum has said that however they will not wait for the former colonies to claim stolen art or art that is of great cultural significance to a country and are taking a different approach."As the Netherlands, we should have done this much earlier. There is no excuse," he said.
Dibbits said Martine Gosselink, head of the History Department of the Museum, will be leaving for Sri Lanka in two weeks to talk with scientists about further research of objects from the museum's collection."After all, half of the story behind those objects is not in the Netherlands."The talks with these countries are the result of a study that the museum started in September 2017 into the origin of ten controversial pieces.
In 1980 Sri Lanka has asked for the restitution of a bronze cannon of the king of Kandy, decorated with silver and ruby, which the Netherlands captured in 1765 during a military campaign.The Rijksmuseum has around four thousand objects of colonial origin. Not all objects came into the possession of the museum in a controversial way, Dibbits emphasizes.However, the Rijksmuseum cannot decide on its own initiative about restitution of objects. Since they are state property the Dutch Minister of Culture has the authority to decide on restitution.
Countries, organizations and individuals can report to the National Museum of World Cultures (NMWC) if they expect to claim objects in the collections of the museums that belong to the umbrella of the NMWC. The Amsterdam Tropenmuseum, the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal have laid down criteria for restitution in a guideline. These are objects that have been stolen or that are of great cultural significance for a country. The museums appoint an independent commission to assess claims. The final verdict is always up to the minister of culture.