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

way forward