There has been much ado in the media over recent efforts by the Greek government and Amal Clooney to retrieve the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum in London. With the loan of a sculpture to the Hermitage Museum in Russia, the debate has become even more heated. In 2014 the Times newspaper ran extensive coverage of these matters.

drawing of elgin marble by alan dedman
Drawing of Ilissos by Alan Dedman

The Daily Telegraph online published an article ‘ London is so over’ by Bryony Gordon, in which Ms Gordon observes the capital has ‘become nothing more than a playground for the rich’ – which in my opinion, is fair comment. London is supposed to embody the values of the British Constitution; relics of ancient statuary housed there express such idealism. Neil MacGregor makes this point in his article published in the Times: “as Britain fought to free Europe from the tyranny of Napoleon, it especially prized art from the city of its ancient inspiration. Athens and London: two champions of civic freedoms.”

At St. Martin’s School of Art we were encouraged to visit the British Museum and make drawings from the statuary there. Nothing so mundane or down to earth would cross the minds of tutors and students of art in the capital today. Nor would they carry flasks of coffee to avoid the exorbitant costs of taking refreshment after drawing in the dry heat of the museum. A more democratic London in the days of the GLC, Ken Livingstone, Routemasters et al, has gone. It costs money to stand on the pavement in London now (yes a pavement tax will soon be introduced to persecute pedestrians as well as motorists) as for cheap lodgings, a fairly priced pint, an affordable meal at ‘La Centrale’ or ‘The Three Lanterns’, no more – ordinary folk are penalized for daring to be there. If you can’t swish up to the British Museum in a Bentley wearing fashion accoutrements which say you are part of the ghastly elitism which plagues this country, you are almost an outcast.

London and the British Museum should retain the Elgin Marbles because these heavy material objects have become part of the British establishment, just as Stephen Fry has. Without them and other priceless relics at the BM, the capital will be further eroded – something which has been going on for some time now and which needs to be stopped. People from all over the World visit London to observe it as an emblem of British values; as Neil MacGregor rightly points out, the Elgin Marbles play their part in this. Additionally, the British Museum remains a free resource to everyone.

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