Looted Benin Bronzes to be returned to Nigeria

The government's top cultural official, Monika Grütters, says German museums have reached a deal on restitution of plundered Benin Bronzes.

Three bronzes from Benin at Hamburg's Museum of Art and Design.
Three bronzes from Benin at Hamburg's Museum of Art and Design.Photo: dpa

Berlin-It's one of the longest-running international cultural disputes: where is the rightful home of the works of art looted by British troops in 1898 from Benin City (in modern-day Nigeria) which were then sold internationally by London art dealers?

German museums in the Benin Dialogue Group have reached an agreement on restitution, government cultural official Monika Grütters (CDU) announced on Thursday evening. The first "substantial returns" are to take place "in the course of 2022". She added that the process would take place under the "greatest possible transparency".

Grütters said a complete registery of all works from Benin in German museums would be compiled and the circumstances of their acquisition clarified. Not all of them ended up in museums as a result of looting. Some objects were being traded long before 1898. Others entered the art market after Nigerian independence in 1960.

British looting, German responsibility

While Benin City wasn't plundered by the Germans, Grütters said it was nonetheless a matter of facing up to "Germany's colonial past". The decision was "a historic landmark in dealing with the colonial era". The project foresees close cooperation with Nigerian authorities, civil society groups and representatives of Benin's royal family. It's expected the first results will be presented towards the end of May.

The exhibitions in Berlin's Humboldt Forum, Hamburg's former Ethnological Museum (now the MARKK), Hamburg's Museum of Art and Design and Stuttgart's Lindenmuseum will certainly be affected. It is not yet clear to what extent German museums will try to obtain works of art from Benin on loan in future and what they might offer in compensation.

More Berlin news in English.