Museum denies Marbles report

The British Museum yesterday firmly denied a report that it had entered talks with Greek officials on the return, as a loan, of its Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon to Athens for the 2004 Olympics. Eager to get the fifth-century BC works back to Athens on any terms, Greece has repeatedly proposed such an arrangement, offering the London museum a reciprocal loan of significant Greek antiquities. The government has already conceded that, under such a deal, the works abstracted from the Parthenon between 1801-10 by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, would remain in the ownership of the British Museum, to which the collection was presented in 1816 by the British government – which bought the works from Elgin. «If that is the proposal, it is certainly not one that we would agree with,» museum spokeswoman Hannah Bolton told Agence France-Presse yesterday. On Sunday, the Sunday Times claimed the museum was engaged in secret talks with Greek officials on a loan which might be implemented under EU supervision. But the museum said the report «seriously misrepresents» the nature of the talks. «Conversations with Greek colleagues have focused not on the possible movement of the sculptures but on other areas of academic collaboration,» a statement said. «These discussions have also covered the significant loans the British Museum is making of Greek antiquities and European graphic art… to exhibitions to be held next year in association with the Cultural Olympiad in Athens.» The museum said its trustees «cannot envisage any circumstances» under which it could allow the permanent removal of the Marbles from London to Athens, and «do not normally consent to the loan of objects considered to be central to the collection’s purpose.»