Welcome to the site of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. These pages contain detailed information on the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, together with the case for their return to Athens, Greece. If you would like to find out about the various ways to get involved with the campaign, or simply to learn more about the subject, then please read on.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR VISIT
For full details on all our latest news items, please visit our Latest News page.
We wish Neil MacGregor success in his future career.
NEIL MACGREGOR RETIREMENT
The announcement of Neil MacGregor’s impending retirement gives us a welcome opportunity to clarify a possible misconception. The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles has been in open dispute with the British Museum over the retention of their collection of these marbles for the whole of his tenure and for some 20 years before. At no time has it ever been personal to Neil MacGregor or any of his staff.
We acknowledge that the British Museum, with its vast and important collection, is preeminent among the great museums of the world, particularly so for its standards of curation, display, research and education. We question however the concept of the universal/world/encyclopaedic museum and its justification for the continued impairment of one the most magnificent examples of world art.
We acknowledge the importance of cultural diplomacy but question how it squares with the British Museum’s refusal to deal seriously with Greece over the reunification of its national icon. In recent months we have been further concerned at the British Museum’s evident new policy of impairing still further the integrity of the Parthenon marbles by using individual pieces to support the theme of an exhibition and even by sending them abroad on loan.
We shall continue to campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles on cultural and ethical grounds, albeit perhaps this will not now happen on Neil MacGregor’s watch. In the meantime we are pleased to acknowledge the many tributes expressed about Neil MacGregor’ s qualities and achievements during his distinguished tenure as Director of the British Museum. We wish him all success in his future career.
The trustees of the British Museum have published a new statement of their position on the Parthenon marbles
THE PARTHENON MARBLES: RESPONSE TO NEW STATEMENT OF BM TRUSTEES
The trustees of the British Museum have published a new statement of their position on the Parthenon marbles. It consists mainly of a puzzling list of “common misconceptions”:
“ALL OF THE SCULPTURES OF THE PARTHENON ARE IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM”
This is puzzling given that the whole argument is about the reunification of the sculptures in London and Athens. Also puzzling is the statement that 30% of those that remain are in London and 30% in Athens. These figures of course refer to those which survive, divided approximately 50/50% between London and Athens.
“THE SCULPTURES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM WERE STOLEN”
No one doubts that the British government bought them in good faith from Lord Elgin and entrusted them to the Museum. No one questions that he had certain licence from the Ottoman authorities. The questions hang on whether he exceeded that licence. There is much evidence that he exceeded that licence. For understandable reasons the Greek government will not accept the legality of his actions. However for a complex of legal reasons including the passage of time, the loss of much evidence, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and thus of its legal system, and much else, it is highly unlikely that the legality or otherwise of Lord Elgin’s acquisition of his collection could be conclusively demonstrated in a court of law. A Select Committee of Parliament of course is not a court of law. Anyway, the case for reunification rests mainly on cultural and ethical arguments.
“THE GREEK GOVERNMENT HAS ASKED FOR A LOAN OF THE SCULPTURES WHICH HAS BEEN TURNED DOWN BY THE BRITISH MUSEUM”
This also is puzzling. Given that the Greek Government (as quoted) “has never acknowledged the legal title of the British Museum to the Parthenon Marbles”, this situation could not arise. Indeed it enables the British Museum to go through the charade of offering a loan in full knowledge that it will be refused, because “loan” implies “ownership”.
“THE BRITISH MUSEUM FEELS THAT THE SCULPTURES SHOULD REMAIN IN LONDON BECAUSE THERE IS NOWHERE TO HOUSE THEM IN GREECE AND THE GREEK AUTHORITIES CANNOT LOOK AFTER THEM”
They don’t now, but they used to, until both claims were demonstrated to be unsustainable.
THE DIVISION OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES IS A UNIQUE CASE. THE SCULPTURES CAN ONLY BE APPRECIATED AS A COMPLETE SET.
We accept that many cultural objects....from one “location” have been divided and dispersed. The trustees cite anonymous altar pieces. However they fail to cite anything remotely comparable with the Parthenon, a fixed monument acknowledged by UNESCO itself to be the most important UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe. We continue to argue that its case is incomparable and unique. We accept that it is not possible to bring together 100% of the original sculptures. However since when has is not been acceptable to recreate works of art to less than 100% of their original form? The British Museum exhibits many piece displayed in this state, not least their own collection of Parthenon sculptures.
THE SCULPTURES COULD NOT BE REUNITED ON THE PARTHENON
We do not advocate this. We accept that for reasons of conservation it is no longer possible. However it is common practice now for sites of fixed monuments to have museum annexes which display perishable parts removed for protection. The Parthenon is arguably better served in this way than any other monument. The whole area of the Acropolis and its environs is a pedestrianised archaeological park. It is possible to visit the Parthenon in its full context and in the same visit go the Acropolis Museum to view the sculptures in full context and correct configuration, in a glass walled roof gallery in full simultaneous view of the Parthenon itself.
THE MATTER COULD BE SOLVED BY THE BRITISH MUSEUM SETTING UP AN OUTPOST IN ATHENS
This is not a misconception. We firmly believe it is possible. It is rejected on the ground that the Parthenon sculptures “need” to continue to be seen within the context of the world collection of the British Museum in order to deepen our understanding of their significance within world history. Elsewhere in the statement this is described as “vital”. Not so. Of course the role they play is important. How could such magnificent works of art not be important to any collection? But in the end their role is contingent on the fact that, by an accident of history, viz the divorce of Lord Elgin and his consequent bankruptcy, they have ended up in the British Museum. If they weren’t there the British Museum surely has adequate alternate exemplars in its collection to make the same point in their world narrative. And if not, the Greek Government has a standing offer of a rolling programme of alternative exemplars to do the job.
In the end, we can accept that these sculptures play an important but not an indispensable role in the British Museum’s world narrative. However the price of this is the compromise of the integrity of a pre-eminent work of art (pace now sadly incomplete), the monument to which they belong, and the museum to whose narrative they ARE INDISPENSABLE as long as they exist.
Surely given the possibilities of modern technology, the establishment of an outpost in Athens is not only possible but a small price to escape the status quo, in which public opinion increasingly sees the stance of the British Museum as a vanity project and the Parthenon marbles as trophies in it.
UK declines invitation by UNESCO for mediation to reunite the sculptures from the Parthenon
Thusday, 26 March 2015
The British Museum, British Government (Department for Culture Media and Sport) and Foreign & Commonwealth Office have declined UNESCO's invitation for mediation of a peerless work of art - the fragmented sculptures from the Parthenon. Disappointing for most, it was predictable and disheartening, but we do hope - that dialogue to find a way forward - to reunite the sculptures might continue between the Acropolis Museum and the British Museum.
To read the letters, visit the British Museum web site here.
Chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, Eddie O'Hara commented:
The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles deeply regrets the decision of the British Museum to reject the invitation to submit to its mediation process the long running dispute over the reunification of its collection of sculptures from the Parthenon with those displayed in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Their formal response contains a number of familiar canards:
- "The marbles are distributed throughout a number of "European museums" disguises the fact that approximately half are in Athens and approximately half are in London. Apart from one metope and about a metre of frieze, these are miscellaneous fragments with little context in a handful of other museums.
- "6 million visitors..." - to the British Museum, yes, but to the Parthenon Gallery? And anyway, is this an appropriate criterion?
- The British Museum insists on the distinction between itself and the government - and in the next breath states its legal obligations imposed by the government and modifiable by that same government.
- "The totality cannot be reassembled and placed on the Parthenon". But the totality has been reassembled in the Acropolis Museum, with ghostly spectres occupying the places of those in the British Museum. And since when has it been a rule that a work of art cannot be displayed unless it is complete? As for their replacement on the Parthenon, since the advent of acid rain the world is replete with sites on which removable parts of fixed monuments have been brought indoors for protection. In the case of the Parthenon the Acropolis Museum is located, aligned and constructed to enable a simultaneous view of both the sculptures and the building.
The publishing of the letter is coordinated with the opening of the exhibition "Defining Beauty - the Body in Ancient Greek Art", unsurprisingly, because as previous arguments have been variously discredited this exhibition marks a new line of defence of the status quo. The visit of Ilissos to St Petersburg was a preview. The BCRPM congratulates the museum on this exhibition which will predictably have magnificent and merited success. But the inclusion of pieces from the sculptures of the Parthenon was not necessary and ignores an important principle. The campaign for reunification is based on the insistence that those in Athens and those in London are together an artistic unity. Hitherto the British Museum has at least displayed its collection as an integral subset. Hitherto the criticism has been of their refusal to restore the integrity of the whole. Now it appears that they no longer respect the integrity of their subset but regard it as a quarry from which to extract exemplars to support an exhibition in which many if not most of the pieces are Roman copies of Greek originals. Quite unnecessarily. In return for restitution the Greek Government has a standing offer of a rolling programme of originals.
Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the purchase of Lord Elgin's collection. The demand for reunification will predictably escalate in volume. This sophisticated diversionary tactic will not deflect it.
The Parthenon Gallery in the British Museum, London, holds over half the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon, removed from the Acropolis in the 19th century by Lord Elgin, when Greece was occupied by the Ottomans. These were shipped to England, destined to decorate Lord Elgin's home in Scotland. Due to finances, Lord Elgin was forced to sell them to the British government and this is how, for nearly two centuries, theses halves have became part of the displays in the British Museum. Greece has requested their return since their independence, a few decades after Lord Elgin removed them.This request has been repeated many more times since that time -but to no avail.
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, Athens displays the remaing half of the sculptures from the Parthenon with casts for the missing pieces, still on display in London. These casts were made by the British Museum and paid for by Greece.
Sense of Self: The British Museum’s Efforts to Disassociate the Marbles from the Monument
The two-hundred-year-old debate over the ownership and placement of the Parthenon Sculptures, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, is one that has renewed relevance in today’s world. Repatriation controversies have become a crucial facet of international museum law and relations, while the concurrent completion of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Greek economic crisis inject new factors into the specific case of the Parthenon Sculptures. The new museum allows for the conversation to be redirected towards achieving repatriation on the grounds of artistic and archaeological integrity and unity, rather than debates over purchase authentication and trustee ownership. My thesis reviewed the existing arguments for repatriation[i], but supplemented them by developing the underutilized argument of aesthetic integrity. I promote the concept of the Parthenon’s formal qualities and the need for cohesion among those qualities as the basis upon which the debate over placement and display of the sculptures should be governed.
Given the dearth of literature since the completion of the new Acropolis Museum (AM), I compare the authenticity and educational experience of the displays in the new AM and the British Museum (BM). Put simply, the estranged marbles cannot be considered or understood as autonomous artworks, as doing so ignores and diminishes the formal qualities of the Parthenon and the intent of its creators. My research examines precisely how the BM’s division of the sculptures continues to injure the integrity of the Parthenon, as well as how the museum’s presentation of the sculptures does a disservice to the archaeological record.
An examination of the Parthenon exhibit in the BM demonstrates a display that is contradictory to both the original structural and instructive aspects of the Parthenon. The displays in the BM are unnatural and serve to disrespect the Parthenon and its sculptures, inhibiting their unity both literally and conceptually. The layout also severely impairs both the viewer’s comprehension and the sculptures’ physical and iconological integrity. For example, in the BM, sections of the South frieze are estranged from the South metopes intended to accompany them. The South metopes are actually displayed along with the East and West pedimental programs (whose metopes are in Athens). The South and North frieze sections in the BM actually face each other, which greatly hinders the proper viewing progression of the narrative for all viewers unaware of the precise order of the Ionic (continuous) frieze.
One particularly interesting illustration of the connections that exist between the different types of sculpture on the Parthenon can be seen in an example that Olga Palagia points out, on the Northeast corner of the building. The metope on this corner (East side, metope 14) depicts Helios, the sun god who brings in the day, and his chariot with several horses. In the Parthenon’s original state, directly above this block, the horses of Selene, the moon goddess and sister to Helios, appear in the pediment facing the opposite direction.[ii] This juxtaposition of these opposing forces, who are related both by mythology and proximity, can hardly be random and is a poignant example of the methodical calculation and planning that went into the creation of the Parthenon. In comparison, in the British Museum, Selene’s horse faces a metope plucked from the South side of the building.
Figure 1 and 2: Selene's horse and the display map in the British Museum. Although not labeled, the metopes that the horse faces are from the South metope-triglyph frieze. Source: Parthenon Gallery, British Museum, London. Photograph taken by author, 2014.
During my time in the BM, I watched as viewers hopped from South frieze to West pediment, to North frieze, to South metopes, all the while believing that they had gleaned the true meaning and message of these spectacular sculptures. This is an easy trap to fall into—the BM’s entire exhibition program of the Parthenon Sculptures works to maintain the focus on the magnificence of the individual sculptures, and simultaneously aims to deemphasize their connection to the Parthenon. Indeed, throughout the BM exhibition, there are only two small photographs (roughly 5 in. x 7 in.) of the Parthenon. In addition, nowhere in the entire exhibition can the viewer see a reconstruction, either physical or virtual, of all the remaining sculptures reunified.
By intentionally emphasizing the sculptures and deemphasizing their connection to the monument, the BM exhibition protects the viewer from the more complicated ethical issues. The sculptures are so beautiful that this is rather easy to achieve. Viewers are so entranced by the magnificence of the sculptures that it becomes extremely difficult to contemplate the notion that something is wrong with
the picture, so to speak. The concerning presentation of the marbles is a symptom of the bigger problem, namely the idea that the sculptures are independent, autonomous works that are conceptually free-standing, as well as physically free-standing. This line of thought should not be allowed to be perpetuated—it delegitimizes the conceptual basis of the Parthenon, just as it literally detracts from its physical integrity.
As I continued to document the sculptures’ layout, two visitors made a remark that quickly cuts to the heart of this issue. We were standing in front of some of the South metopes, many of which are missing heads, feet, and torsos from the figures they depict. Numerous wall texts read “The head is in Athens,” or “The feet are in BM Gallery 18b” (there are 3 separate Parthenon galleries in the BM). The man standing next to me sarcastically asked, “So what, is there an exhibition of heads somewhere?” This little comment speaks volumes—it communicates the confusion and frustration viewers feel at the disunity of the Parthenon’s elements and the disorganization of their display in the BM.
This sense of disunity is only enhanced when one continues to read the wall texts, particularly the didactics for the metopes and pedimental figures. Numerous pieces are missing heads, torsos, or feet, not because the pieces are destroyed, but because they are housed elsewhere, mainly in Athens. For example, in the West pediment room, there are seven pedimental figures and eight South metopes. Of the fifteen sculptural pieces in this room, the wall labels state that ten are missing body parts (see fig. 3). The pieces are in either the Acropolis Museum in Athens, the Wurzburg or Copenhagen museums, or, as is the case with the foot from a suspected torso of Hermes, in gallery 18a. Gallery 18a, which is separate from gallery 18, has an entire case of sculptural fragments (see fig. 4), which serves to aptly highlight the disunity and fragmentation of the overall presentation of the sculptures in the BM.
Figure 3: Wall text demonstrating the problem with the division of the sculptures. There are many other wall texts similar to this one in the Duveen Gallery. Source: South Metope Wall text, Duveen Gallery, British Museum, London. Photograph by author.
Figure4: Display case of sculptural fragments from the West Pediment of the Parthenon. Source: Gallery 18a, British Museum, London. Photograph by author.
To remove figures from the composition, or sections from the frieze, is to inhibit the whole building’s success and detract from current understandings due to a lack of proper context for the removed pieces. The sculptures in the BM are fragments, which, as Jennifer Neils states, are “simply trophies that make little sense aesthetically or intellectually in isolation.”[iii] It is not for modernity to arbitrarily decide which elements can be “stand-alone” pieces after they have been destructively distanced from their context. By prioritizing the missions of even the most revered universal museums over that of context and archaeological and aesthetic integrity, one negates the significance, meaning, and value of artifacts and museum collections.
The irrefutable logic of unity and cohesion can no longer be ignored, as the AM offers a spectacular—and highly superior—display that acknowledges and exalts the formal qualities of the Parthenon. In contrast, the BM presents the sculptures as conceptually freestanding pieces—a choice which neglects their context and higher purpose in the sculptural program of the Parthenon. The BM’s Parthenon Galleries fail to encourage an accurate understanding of the unity of the Parthenon and the relationships among its parts, and fail to appropriately present, and therefore connect, the sculptures to the monument. Despite Neil MacGregor’s constant use of the phrase “different and complementary stories,”[iv] let us be clear: There is no alternative interpretation of the Parthenon in the sense that it was created as a single, unified, site-specific monument. The BM has shown its disingenuous stripes through its botched attempts at rationalizing the retention of the marbles in London. MacGregor would have visitors feel as though they are, in fact, seeing a “complementary” perspective; in reality, visitors are seeing nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy to downplay the sculptures’ proper context—a maneuver that serves no purpose other than to attempt to ethicize a continued wrong.
Figure 5: Ilissos sitting in isolation in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Source: Helena Smith, The Guardian, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/05/parthenon-marbles-greece-furious-british-museum-loan-russia-elgin.
Loan to the Hermitage
The BM’s disturbing efforts to force the complete disassociation of the marbles from the monument reaches new levels of audacity with the recent back-alley loan of Ilissos, the personification of the river of the same name, to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Aside from the egregious diplomatic implications of loaning a highly contested piece of art to a country which is currently annexing the Crimea, committing numerous violations of international law, and facing severe sanctions by world powers such as the European Union, the loan serves to epitomize the BM’s campaign to propagate the myth that the sculptures are iconologically independent works. While MacGregor congratulates himself and attempts to pass off the loan as a convivial Hermitage birthday celebration, Ilissos, now twice divorced from his context, is left to sit in isolation. The loan of Ilissos definitively proves the museum’s utter disrespect for the monument; one cannot venerate the Parthenon while distributing its already-fragmented elements across the globe, bereft of any context. Such an act is a direct violation of the formal qualities of the Parthenon.
The debate is lengthy and convoluted; however, offering a methodology based on respecting the formal characteristics of the Parthenon is the first step to guiding the dispute towards progressive solutions. Placing the emphasis back on the significance and formal traits of the Parthenon is the proper method by which the debate must be continued. This approach upholds the grandeur of the Parthenon and affirms the realities of its design and purpose. In contrast, arguments that fail to take into account the formal artistic and archaeological qualities of the Parthenon deny its importance and refute its validation. Claims based on dubious acquisition documents, false assertions of ownership, and colonialist entitlement attitudes are mere distractions and have no place in progressing the debate and achieving a resolution. Aesthetic and archaeological integrity irrefutably negate any and all arguments against reunification, and if museum specialists, art historians and archaeologists, policy makers, and legislators work collaboratively through this paradigm, there is surely hope for repatriation of the sculptures.
Neils, Jennifer. The Parthenon Frieze. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Palagia, Olga. “Fire from Heaven: Pediments and Akroteria of the Parthenon.” The Parthenon: From Antiquity to Present, ed. Jenifer Neils. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Smith, Helena. “Parthenon Marbles: Greece furious over British loan to Russia.” The Guardian. December 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/05/parthenon-marbles-greece-furious-british-museum-loan-russia-elgin. Accessed December 20, 2014.
“The Parthenon Sculptures,” The British Museum, 2008, http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and_press/statements/parthenon_sculptures.aspx.
[i] I use the terms repatriation and reunification interchangeably. These terms are not intended to mean the physical rejoining of the sculptures to the Parthenon, but rather the return of the sculptures to Athens, Greece, for their inclusion in the Parthenon Gallery of the new Acropolis Museum.
[iii] Jennifer Neils, The Parthenon Frieze, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 257.
Glenna Gray is a 2014 graduate of Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. She is passionate about researching art repatriation issues and the legal complexities that surround them. In her pursuit to gain knowledge in the field of cultural heritage preservation, she has worked with researcher Tess Davis from the University of Glasgow, assisting with research regarding the antiquities looting in Cambodia during the French explorations. Glenna recently completed an Honours Thesis on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures, and travelled to London and Athens to assess the museum displays, presentation authenticity, and educational outcomes of the British Museum and Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon galleries. In fall 2015, she will begin a Master’s program at Rutgers University, for a further degree in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies. Her current research interest pertains to the diplomatic tensions between Cyprus and the Turkish occupying forces, and the implications for the state’s rich material culture.
Bell Pottinger poll on the"Elgin Marbles". Caveat lector.
On the 18th of February 2015 a news item appeared on the ITV website to the effect that 60% of art experts think that the "Elgin Marbles" should stay in London. This catches the eye because it contradicts all the opinion polls taken over two decades or more. The story does not appear to have gained wide currency, but it exists out there in the ether and should be examined.
It appears to originate in the Arts Report of Bell Pottinger Arts, which had examined which city would be the Arts Capital of the world in 2015. They canvassed art experts of various specialisms who concluded that it would be London. So far so good. But then it gets a bit murky. They add what can best be described as a footnote:
"Bell Pottinger has no wish to to enter the public debate about the issues regarding the ownership and location of the Elgin Marbles - or the Parthenon Marbles as they are also known - however we were keen to understand the mood of opinion in the arts world on this perennially controversial subject. Sixty per cent felt they should remain in the British Museum while forty per cent thought they should be returned to Greece."
This poll is open to a number of questions about its purpose, its structure, its methodology and its findings.
- A "keenness to understand" does not really explain why a hard headed commercial player like Bell Pottinger, conducting a survey of the international markets of the art world, bothered to tack on a footnote about an issue of principle(s), especially as they "had no wish to enter the public debate".
- The sample (70) is miniscule.
- When it is broken down it produces a list of even more miniscule
- It is not random.
- Its geographical distribution is questionable.
- The specialisms included are heavily biased towards those which deal with art as a commodity for trading.
- The shadowy group called "political" requires clarification.
- No indication is given of the questions asked, as is normal in an opinion poll.
- Consequently no breakdown is given of the responses, by question or by category of respondent.
- The lists of "reasons" for supporting retention or return are similarly not broken down or analysed.
- They are broadly indicative of a superficial rather than a specialist knowledge of the issue.
- It would be particularly interesting to know more about the views of galleries and museums specialists, who might be expected to know more about the issues of principle.
In summary, this survey is an oddity. It claims to be disinterested. We trust that this is so, and that it will not be utilised by others with more vested interest. Its structure and methodology are too opaque and inadequate to allow any confidence in its findings. Caveat lector.
* The survey:
Bell Pottinger held 70 separate conversations with the arts communities in London, the Middle East and Asia. Respondents were invited to answer a number of questions anonymously.
Of the 70 correspondents 50 (74%) were UK based, and 20 (26%) were equally split between the Middle East and Asia.
The respondents were classified into five groups:
18 (26%) Galleries and museums
17 (224%) Advisors (fine art dealers, restorer, archivists, wealth
managers, insurers, legal experts, sponsorship brokers, event
14 (20%) Arts media
14 (20%) Other (Auction houses, collectors, artists, performing arts,
schools and universities)
7 (10%) Political (Those in the political world who advise on the arts or who have specific interests in art).
** Points made in favour of keeping the marbles:
- The dreadful precedent set for museums all over the world
- The length of time that had passed
- The "legality" of the original transfer
- The magnificent way in which the BM has looked after them
- The fact that over 6m people visit the BM every year
*** Points made in favour of return
- That they were stolen and should be returned
- Even if the law does not support this, the moral obligation exists
- Maybe copies can be made
- A more intelligent, respectful and co-operative conversation as
opposed to a purely nationalistic argument was probably the sensible
Christopher Price's contribution to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles was distinguished and distinctive
Chris Price, outstandingly educated among parliamentarians, and at the same time sympathetic and universally liked as a man, has died at the age of 83. From the moment of the British Committee’s foundation, now over thirty years ago, he was an active member. What made him irreplaceable, both as member and later as Deputy Chair, was his deep understanding of not merely the political, but the constitutional issues that arise in connection with the Parthenon Marbles.
This enabled him to see through, at best obscurity at worst frustration, between the roles, rights and responsibilities of the government, parliament and the Trustees of the British Museum. More than that, he was personally acquainted with and highly respected by a series of ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, most of them first elected to Parliament after his own time. Privately, at least, some of them were ready to acknowledge that, in the endless efforts to hold the ‘official line’, the voice of the British public was effectively being drowned.
His other great contribution, in later years, was in promoting the idea of ‘cultural mobility’, of free discussion, between cultural institutions, of the cases where cooperation and the acknowledgment of interdependence could take the place of stone-walling, non-communication and downright triumphalism.
After his first heart attack on New Year’s Day 2010, things were never quite the same again but, thanks in no small degree to his wife Annie’s untiring care, he rallied and participated actively for at least another couple of years. We too shall miss him sorely.
Chair, British Committee, 2002-2010
Athony Snodgrass, Eleni Cubitt and Chris Price in Athens June 2009 for the opening of the Acropolis Museum
Chris Price's contribution to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles was distinguished. It was also distinctive. His commitment was grounded in a rare combination of attributes.
Many classical scholars trace their first engagement with the issue from their education. Many were fired by early student experience in Greece. Many have been motivated by moral and cultural considerations. Many have had the gift of eloquent and persuasive argument by pen or tongue. Many have devoted long years to the cause. All this can be said of Chris. But he was also a politician, not tribal - that was perhaps a drawback - but deeply committed and able in the "art of the possible". He was one of that cohort of able Labour MPs who lost the opportunity of a distinguished career in government, quite likely with ministerial responsibility, during the Labour Party's long, lost years after 1979. He did however have the opportunity to show what might have been when appointed to Chair the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, as it was then called. What if he had had the opportunity to serve as Secretary of State with that portfolio? Might we have seen a response to the issue of the marbles based not only good political sense but also on deep understanding and empathy? We'll never know, but we certainly lost the opportunity to find out when Chris went into opposition and then lost his seat. Nevertheless we do have much for which to thank him, we mourn his passing and we offer condolences to Annie and their whole family.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman
Chris Price with Professor Pandermalis, Acropolis Museum 2009
Christopher Price's struggle for the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles was invaluable and will be missed. We offer our condolences to his family at this sad time.
The Board of Directors of the Melina Mercouri Foundation
To read the story on the Marbles Reunited's web site, please click here
"Chris Price was for many a years a champion of the cause to have the Parthenon Sculptures returned from Britain to Greece. He was a brilliant and passionate man and enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him." David Hill, Chairman, International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.
The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures extended their deepest sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Chris Price. Michael Reppas wrote: "Chris was a positive force in the campaign and his dedication toward the cause should always be remembered. It was an honor to have worked with him and we are all saddened by his loss."
Chris Price with Michael Reppas, President of ACRPS
Obituaries in UK newspapers:
Christopher Price on the sculptures from the Parthenon:
"The only thing British about them is the fact that one of our ambassadors filched them."
And more comments by Christopher:
Eleni Cubitt, Chris Price and Anthony Snodgrass, Ambassadors of Hellenism
The Marbles Campaign: Where do we go from here?
Christopher Price, 31 May, 2010
Over the past two or three decades, the campaign to re-unite the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens has received global publicity. It is now important, however, for us to consider how to put the issue in a wider international “cultural mobility” context.
“Cultural mobility” is become a common phase among those who want to see an atmosphere of cooperation supplant arguments in the past. A recent conference in Ohio put it like this: Globalization is now one of the most common terms to describe how we interact with other countries in the 21st century. Perhaps a better term is “interdependence.” Interdependence helps us understand how we can have shared opportunities to participate and enjoy a genuine sense of belonging. Collaboration and cooperation are becoming the approaches of choice, replacing the pursuit of short-term exchange. In this context, it is only a period of genuine cooperation between all sorts of institutions – governments, museums and international bodies – that will be able to find solutions.
A wider, even worldwide, discussion about the appropriate location of cultural objects might help begin a genuine bipartite discussion between the UK and Greece about the integrity of classical sculptures currently in the British Museum.
It follows that another priority for campaigning organisations and the UK parliament is to make sure that the respective powers and influence of the Trustees of the British Museum, the British government and the British Parliament are balanced in such a way that there can be a public discussion about how to take this issue forward. The British Museum was established by the British Parliament and not by the British Government; the Trustees hold their office in trust for the people of Britain but yet have made little effort to explain to the people the current position and arguments over the location of the marbles. The Government and Parliament have a similar duty. This is particularly important at a time when the Trustees will soon be seeking a new Director for the Museum. The current director, Neil MacGregor, is a superb communicator. If the Marbles issue is to be solved, his successor will need to be a superb negotiator.
Both the marketing of cultural relics and arguments about their ‘ownership’ are as old as the hills. We now need a new regime of discussions – open to all citizens of the world – which can take the place of insoluble haggling over history, location, ownership and legal status. This will require not so much recourse to national and international courts of law; instead we need a global environment of museums and nations cooperating with one another in which the mobility of cultural objects and agreements about their location and preservation can be discussed without pre-conditions.
Greeks hold candlelight vigil for the Parthenon marbles
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, is the one place on earth where it is possible to have a single and aesthetic experience simultaneously of the Parthenon and its sculptures.
It is not a matter of who owns them, it is a matter of where they should be.
Vigil held on Sunday 18 January 2015, at the Acropolis Museum is one of many more to come.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman for the British Committee adds "the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures rests on the fact that those in the British Museum are part of an artistic unity with those in the Acropolis Museum and together they are part of a unity with the Parthenon. Separated, their artistic integrity is impaired."