So says Patty Gerstenblith, quoted in today’s New York Times article detailing the efforts of China to prevent the sale of two bronzes taken during the burning of the imperial Summer Palace in 1860:
Liu Yang, a Beijing lawyer who is helping to organize the lawsuit threatened in France, said he had located a descendant of China’s royal family to serve as plaintiff in the case.
“The Old Summer Palace, which was plundered and burnt down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860, is our nation’s unhealed scar, still bleeding and aching,” Mr. Lui said. “That Christie’s and Pierre Bergé would put them up for auction and refuse to return them to China deeply hurts our nation’s feelings.”
Mr. Liu also asserted that the sale would violate a 1995 United Nations convention governing the repatriation of stolen or illegally exported cultural relics.
But Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago who specializes in cultural-property issues, said that France never ratified the convention and that even if it had, the agreement does not apply retroactively to objects looted decades or centuries ago.
“My view is this was looted, but it would be difficult to get that legally back,” she said in a telephone interview on Monday. “But it’s got great historical significance and ought to be returned.”
Professor Gerstenblith suggested that one solution might be for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Foundation to negotiate with China and offer it at a reasonable price. “It would probably be in the best interest of everybody if they made a deal privately with China,” she said.