The L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem has canceled its plan to deaccession 268 items from its permanent collection that were set to be sold at Sotheby’s. When the sale was first announced for the end of October, a public outcry ensued, and the auctions of Islamic art and object of vertu, which were set to fetch £5.1 million ($7 million) were subsequently postponed.
In an unexpected move, the Al Thani Collection Foundation, which connected to a branch of the Qatari royal Al Thani family, has agreed to financially back the L. A. Mayer museum in a deal brokered by Sotheby’s that also involved the Israeli Ministry of Culture.
With the sale canceled, Sotheby’s is now returning the trove of artifacts from London to Jerusalem. Sotheby’s says its has reduced its original cancellation fee of £2 million ($2.8 millon) to an undisclosed amount, which will be settled by the Al Thani Foundation as part of the agreement.
As part of the agreement between the two organizations, in a long-term loan exchange program, one major work from the museum’s permanent collection of Islamic art from the 7th to the 19th centuries will be exhibited at the Al Thani Collection Foundation’s exhibition space at the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris, which is set to be opened to the public in fall 2021. Over the course of the 10-year long exchange program, the Al Thani Collection Foundation will also provide annual funding to the Islamic Art museum. (Details of the agreement were not disclosed.)
The L. A. Mayer museum had initially claimed it needed to undertake the sale because it had been facing financial troubles. In September, when the plan for the sale was announced, director Nadim Sheiban said, “These sales will allow us to continue our efforts to help build bridges between those in the region, with proceeds enabling us to expand our educational programmes while at the same time ensuring the long-term future of the institution.”
The Hermann de Stern Foundation, a trust based in Liechtenstein that provided a portion of the museum’s financial support, said the proceeds of the sale would go towards maintaining the museum. But critics in Israel opposed the sale, claiming it went against the museum’s mission. The Hashava Foundation, an Israeli art restitution organization, petitioned the state’s Supreme Court in November to stop the auction. In a statement on the settlement, Meir Heller, the organization’s founder, said the petition, “accomplished its goal and resulted in the return of this rare, valuable, collection back to Israel.”
The first item to be loaned to the Al Thani Paris space is an 11th-century silver jug discovered in the early 20th century in northeastern Iran and once owned by archeologist Ralph Harari. The museum acquired it from its founder, Vera Salomons.
In a statement, the Islamic Art Museum said the arrangement will “further our shared aims of increasing cultural exchange, while allowing the Museum to continue to enhance art and culture for the benefit of the Israeli public.” Hili Tropper, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, who was investigated the legality of the sale since its announcement in September, called the deal with the Al Thani Collection Foundation “a great tribute to the spirit of cross-cultural cooperation.”
The Mayer museum, which was established in 1974 and named for a prominent Hebrew University scholar, has earned a reputation as the one of world’s premier institutions for Islamic art, with more than 5,000 objects in its collection. The Al Thani Collection Foundation has held loan exchange programs with other international institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Tokyo National Museum.