The British Museum’s head of trustees announced on Saturday that the institution had recovered some of the 2,000 objects that were allegedly taken by an insider, but he also acknowledged that the 264-year-old establishment does not retain records of every item in its enormous collection.
George Osborne, the chairman of the board of trustees, stated that the museum’s reputation had been tarnished by the way the thefts were handled, which led to the resignation of the director and generated concerns about security and management.
Osborne said on Saturday that the 2,000 things reported stolen was a “very provisional figure” and that staff was working to locate all of the missing items. The objects include gold jewelry, precious stones, and 3,500-year-old artifacts. None had recently been on exhibit in public.
He claimed that in order to recover the objects, the museum was collaborating with professionals in art recovery and the antiquarian community. We think we’ve been the target of thefts for a while, and, to be honest, more could have been done to stop them, he said. “But I can assure you that we will clean up this mess,” she said. The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, resigned on Friday and apologized for not taking an art historian’s warning that items from the collection were being sold on eBay seriously enough. Jonathan Williams, the deputy director, also announced that he will step down while the issue is investigated.
Ittai Gradel, a British-Danish art historian and dealer, alerted the Museum’s administrators to his concerns in the early years of 2021, but they reassured him that nothing was wrong. However, the museum contacted London’s Metropolitan Police Service at the beginning of this year. Although the museum has fired one employee and filed a lawsuit against them, no one has been taken into custody. Gradel told The Associated Press on Friday that he started to have doubts after purchasing one of the three items that the eBay seller had offered. Gradel found the museum where the two objects he didn’t buy were kept. The item he purchased was not recorded in the museum’s catalog, but he later learned that its previous owner donated his whole collection to the institution in 1814.
According to the historian, he used PayPal to determine the seller’s identity. He proved to be the museum employee who was later let go. Williams had informed Gradel that a careful inquiry had turned up no irregularities. He essentially instructed me to shut up and take care of my own business. In his letter of resignation, Fischer stated, “It is evident that the British Museum did not respond to the warnings in 2021 as comprehensively as it should have.” He also expressed regret to Gradel. The crimes and the museum’s poor response have brought the organization to its knees.