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Controversial Shelbourne statues could sell for €300,000

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Figure it out: The Shelbourne Hotel and one of the Egyptian princess statues. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Figure it out: The Shelbourne Hotel and one of the Egyptian princess statues. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Figure it out: The Shelbourne Hotel and one of the Egyptian princess statues. Photo: Gerry Mooney

A ready market exists for the statues removed from the front of the Shelbourne Hotel if the owners were to sell them, an auctioneer who has sold small figurines by the same sculptor said.

Ian Whyte of Whyte's auctioneers said bronze figures of about 10 inches high by the popular French sculptor Mathurin Moreau have sold for around €1,000.

"I would imagine the four life-size figures, sold together as a set, would probably go for €200,000-€300,000," he added. "Not only are they beautiful and valuable for the material in them but their history and their current notoriety would create a lot of interest."

However, Mr Whyte isn't expecting to have to clear a corner of his salesroom just yet as the statues are now the subject of a planning enforcement investigation by Dublin City Council.

The Shelbourne is a protected structure and the council said it did not have planning permission to make changes to its exterior.

The statues, dating to the 1860s, are of four African women, two understood to be princesses and the other two their shackled slave girls.

The hotel made a brief statement saying their removal was in light of recent events, a reference to the removal of statues which had become the target of Black Lives Matter protests abroad.

Conservationists, including the Irish Georgian Society and Dublin Civic Trust, criticised the move while the black community and immigrant support campaigners applauded it.

Art historian Kyle Leyden entered the fray to cast doubt over whether any of the figures were slaves, arguing the original catalogue from which the works were chosen listed them as Eygptienne and African women. He argued that if the women were intended to depict slaves, they would have been classified as such.

But Dr Dónal Hassett, a historian of French colonialism at University College Cork, said: "African people were depicted as exotic creatures, as objects of sexual desire and always as 'not European'.

"Depicting them as something 'other' than European fed the culture that fuelled the project of colonisation.

"I know people may say, they were just fascinated by African women at the time but they weren't fascinated enough to ask for their views on colonisation."

Ian Whyte said he found it hard to see the statues as offensive. "

To me they're just beautiful pieces of art," he added.

"I fear that if we were to look at all sculpture with modern eyes, we'd have to go to Rome and tear down half the statues."

Neither the Shelbourne nor parent company Marriott Hotels would comment.

Irish Independent