Art News & Views

Interpretation of Antiquities and Art Treasure Act

by Sonali Panda

There is something soul stirring about a fine painting. It touches a chord deep down in most of us, often provoking unexplored depths of thought. India is blessed with a rich artistic legacy that boasts of some of the finest paintings in the world. The names of Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy spring to mind readily amidst a host of others. We are proud of this legacy, and wear our pride on our sleeves. However, in an age when imitation is often considered the best form of flattery, our pride must increasingly be tempered with caution.

The market for art and antiques has more often than not seen imitations of the masters. These are often fine fakes, hard to distinguish from the original. The original works face a far greater threat that of being weaned away from their country into the homes of art collectors across the world. These paintings sell for huge sums. Awakening to the magnitude of the problem, the Central Government enacted the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act in the year 1972. The Act had several objectives, chief among them being to regulate the export trade in antiquities and art treasures; to prevent smuggling and fraudulent dealings in antiquities and to provide a mechanism for compulsory acquisition of antiquities and art treasures for preservation in public places.

The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 aims to provide for the protection and preservation of antiquities and art treasures. The definition of an “antiquity” is wide and inclusive. It includes coins, sculptures, paintings and works of art and craftsmanship that are not less than one hundred years old.

An art treasure has been defined in the same Act as any human work of art, which is not an antiquity and has been declared by the Central Government to be an art treasure. Significantly, no work of art can be declared as an art treasure during the lifetime of the creator.

Pursuant to the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, the Union Ministry of Education and Social Welfare had promulgated the Antiquities and Art Treasure Rules, 1973 (the “Rules”). The Rules state that the Central Government before declaring any human work of art as an “art treasure” may constitute a committee of at least three members to submit a report on the artistic and aesthetic value of such human work of art.

The law does not prohibit dealing in antiquities or art treasures; it seeks to regulate the trade in such objects rather than impose a total prohibition on such activity. A person engaged in selling antiquities must obtain a license for the purpose. The Rules lay down the manner in which a license for the sale of “antiquities” can be issued and the conditions to be imposed on the licensee subject to which the license can be issued.

Ownership of valuable works of art comes at a price. The Government is empowered to specify specific antiquities that must be registered with a designated authority. Movement of registered antiquities from one person to another must be made known to the registering officer. This only points to the fact that there is no prohibition on trading in such works of art. The issue seems to be one of preservation of the rich canvas of Indian art work.

The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act empowers the government to compulsorily acquire for suitable compensation, antiquities and art treasures if it becomes necessary to preserve them in a public place. The owner of such antiquity or art treasure can make a representation to the Central Government against the compulsory acquisition of his antiquity or art treasure. There is an exception however, in that the Central Government is prevented from compulsorily acquiring an antiquity or an art treasure used for bona fide religious observance.

It is interesting to note that the Act does not impose any limitations and restrictions on the sale of “art treasures” within the country. Only the export of “art treasures” is regulated by the Act. As illustrated above the sale of “antiquities” within the country is regulated to a large extent.

The Central Government vide a Notification GSR No. 904(E) dated 1st December, 1976 declared the Paintings (including drawing, sketches, diagrams and the like) and objects of art by Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher Gill, Jamini Roy and Nandalal Bose to be “art treasures” under the Act.

On 10th August, 1979 the Central Government vide a Notification GSR 477(E) declared the Paintings (including drawing, sketches, diagrams and the like) and objects of art by Ravi Verma, Gaganendra Nath Tagore, Abanindra Nath Tagore, Sailoz Mookerjee and N. Roerich to be “art treasures” under the Act.

The effect of these two notifications with respect to the works of the named artists is that their works cannot be taken outside India without the express permission of the Central Government and if the Central Government feels that their works need to be preserved in a public place, then the Central Government can compulsorily acquire their works.

The Copyright Act, 1957 is also applicable in case of the “art treasures” by these artists. These “art treasures” would qualify as “artistic works” under the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 2(c)(i) of the Copyright Act defines an “artistic work” as a painting, a sculpture, a drawing, an engraving or a photograph, whether or not any such work possesses artistic quality. The Copyright Act, 1957 accords protection to these art treasures as the copyright in these works vests in the authors of such works. Copyright in case of an artistic work means the exclusive right of the author i.e. the artist to reproduce the work in any form, to communicate the work to the public, to issue copies of the work to the public, to include the work in any cinematograph film and to make any adaptation of the work.

The term of copyright in an artistic work is the lifetime of the author and for 60 (sixty) years from the date of the artist's death provided that the artistic work was published during the lifetime of the author.

Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Shergill died in the year 1941. Ravi Verma died in 1906. Gaganendra Nath Tagore died in 1938. Abanindra Nath Tagore died in 1951. N. Roerich died in 1947. All of their works which are “art treasures” can be reproduced by any one in India as it is more than 60 (sixty) years since their demise. However, the same does not hold true of Jamini Roy as he passed away in 1972, Nandalal Bose who passed away in 1966 and Sailoz Mookerjee who passed away in 1960.

The law as it stands today protects original works i.e. “art treasures” by certain artists. These original art works cannot be taken outside the country. However, the same “art treasures” can be freely bought and sold across India unless the Government compulsorily acquires them. Even copies of the “art treasures” by Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Shergill, Abanindra Nath Tagore, Gaganendra Nath Tagore and N. Roerich can be sold in India, although the discerning eye will know them as such.

As the dust settles on the works of great artists, we are acutely conscious of the need to preserve these glimpses of brilliance from the past. Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendra Nath Tagore, Amrita Shergill and painters of their ilk are no more just names buried between the pages of coffee table art books, but a very real part of our heritage that must be preserved and handed down to the next generation in all the grandeur of their creations.

Grateful to Mr Aneesh Sharma for his valuable inputs.


Tags: antique

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.