Macron to return looted art to Benin 

Macron to return looted art to Benin 

France is due to return 26 works of art to Benin after President Emmanuel Macron ordered the pieces returned “without delay” to the former French colony. 

Macron has condemned colonisation as “a crime against humanity”. 

A report commissioned by Paris recommended the return of the pieces, which were seized 126 years ago from the palace of King Behanzin, who was exiled when France claimed the region as a protectorate in 1894.

Upon their arrival in France, they altered the European understanding of Africa and enraptured artists, including Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani. 

The report by French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese academic Felwine Sarr said French collections held at least 90,000 sub-Saharan African pieces, including around 70,000 works in the Quai Branly museum (pictured) in Paris.

It recommended “reopening the belly of the colonial machine” and that stolen artefacts be returned. 

“These works can be presented to the Beninese public and to the international public as part of the ambitious project of museums carried by the Republic of Benin,” a French government statement said.

And these 26 pieces may only be the start.

The report has been welcomed by advocates of the restitution of works which were bought, bartered or stolen.

It proposes legislation be drafted to allow the return of artefacts to the nations that request them.

The report called for a three-stage approach. 

The first would be for “several symbolic pieces whose return has been requested for a long time by various African nations”. 

Then an international inventory of stolen pieces would be made followed by African states submitting claims of restitution.

Conditions include a request from the country, precise information about the origin and the existence of a proper museum to house any items.

French law forbids the government from ceding state property, even in cases of pillaging.

In 2016 Benin called on France to return items, including statues, art, carvings, sceptres and sacred doors.

In November 2016, before winning the presidency, Macron raised hopes in a speech in Burkina Faso, pledging to “return African heritage to Africa”.

Macron’s office said museums would be invited to “identify African partners and organise possible returns” and should quickly establish “an online inventory of their African collections”.

Paris said there would be a meeting in early 2019 between African and European governments to develop a new policy on the return of looted treasures.

A statement said Macron wanted: “African youth [to] have access to its own heritage and the common heritage of humanity in Africa [and] build a new intellectual connection between France and Africa.”



The Quai Branly museum in Paris. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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