The Met Returns Looted “Golden Boy” Statue to Thailand

Among other repatriated artifacts from the museum, the 11th-century bronze figure arrived back home in Bangkok this week.

May 22, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
The Golden Boy statue at Tuesday’s repatriation ceremony in Bangkok. Source: AP Photo.


After a long process of repatriation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thailand’s historic Golden Boy statue arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, May 21. Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Department held an official repatriation ceremony that evening to celebrate the return of the Golden Boy and another looted artifact.


The Golden Boy and Kneeling Woman statues, both 900 to 1,000 years old, are among countless antiquities that ended up in Western museums after being unlawfully taken from Southeast Asia. In December 2023, The Met first announced its plan to return the two bronze statues to Thailand, as well as fourteen other looted artifacts to Cambodia.


Golden Boy’s Repatriation is “Not a Common Occurrence”

The official repatriation ceremony in Bangkok, photographed by Manan Vatsyayana. Source: Barron’s.


“We are honored to get these artifacts back,” said Phnombootra Chandrachoti, director-general of Thailand’s Fine Arts Department, during the repatriation ceremony at the Bangkok National Museum. “They shall be located in their motherland permanently.” The Golden Boy and Kneeling Woman statues were returned to Thailand following an agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and The Met.


The return of the statue is “not a common occurrence,” said archaeologist Thanongsak Hanwong, a member of the Thai government’s committee for the repatriation of stolen artifacts. Hanwong spent over three years working on the repatriation of the Golden Boy statue.


The Statue Was Taken from Thailand in the 1970s

Standing Shiva (known as the Golden Boy statue), c. 11th century. Source: Thailand Ministry of Culture.

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Widely known as the Golden Boy statue, Standing Shiva is an 11th-century, 51-inch bronze figure that was discovered near the Cambodian border over fifty years ago. It is one of a small number of metal sculptures depicting Hindu deities that have been found in the Khmer territories of Cambodia and northeastern Thailand. While the identity of the gesturing regal figure is not entirely certain, it has been tentatively identified as the Hindu deity Shiva in an unusual anthropomorphic form.


The Golden Boy statue was allegedly smuggled out of Thailand in 1975 by the late art dealer Douglas Latchford. He was indicted in 2019 for looting and selling Southeast Asian antiquities to auction houses and museums around the world. When the statue joined The Met’s collection in 1988, the museum described it as “the most important gift of a Southeast Asian sculpture ever made to our collection.” After several years of negotiations, The Met officially deaccessioned the Golden Boy statue in December 2023.


The Repatriation of Southeast Asian Artifacts “Doesn’t End Here”

Kneeling Woman at the repatriation ceremony, photographed by Manan Vatsyayana. Source: Barron’s.


Calls are growing for Western museums to return looted artifacts to their countries of origin. Pressure is especially mounting on European and American institutions whose collections grew through colonialism, such as the British Museum. Recent research demonstrated that The Met alone has over 1,000 items in its collection that were looted or trafficked.


The looting of artifacts from archaeological sites in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand was especially common from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s due to civil unrest. During a news conference on the Golden Boy statue’s return to Thailand, Chandrachoti declared, “The effort of returning looted objects doesn’t end here. We aim to get them all back.”

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.