The Artcurial auction carried out by Christie's comprises more than 40 pieces from the Mixteca, Aztec, Tlatilco and Colima cultures.

Mexico has been seeking for years to recover pieces of its national heritage in the hands of private collectors across the world
Mexico has been seeking for years to recover pieces of its national heritage in the hands of private collectors across the world (Henry Romero / Reuters)

The Mexican embassy in Paris has asked France to cancel two planned auctions of pre-Columbian art, saying that valuable Mexican heritage could be sold illegally.

The embassy said in a statement on Thursday that it had already told the French foreign ministry last week that it was concerned by the trade in its "national heritage on the occasion of these sales".

Private buying and selling "deprives these priceless objects of their cultural, historical and symbolic essence", it said.

Such sales also encouraged cross-border smuggling of art and plundering, it added, asking France to make sure auction houses could produce all the necessary legal national and international paperwork.

The UN's cultural organisation UNESCO said that it, too, had received a letter from the Mexican authorities "expressing their concerns".

In the letter, Mexico claimed that 78 of the objects at Christie's were going on sale illegally, a charge UNESCO said it was trying to verify.

The request concerns next month's auctions of "Antiquities, Islamic and Pre-Columbian Art" by the Artcurial auction house, and "Pre-Columbian Art & Taino Masterworks from the Fiore Arts Collection", by Christie's.

The Artcurial auction comprises more than 40 pieces from the Mixteca, Aztec, Tlatilco and Colima cultures, each valued at between 200 and 10,000 euros ($235-$11,700).

Christie's sale catalogue includes pieces over 1,000 years old, including an Olmec pendant estimated at a minimum of 150,000 euros.

Seizing national heritage

Mexico has been seeking for years to recover pieces of its national heritage in the hands of private collectors across the world.

Its efforts in France have been hampered by local legislation making it difficult to prevent such auctions, or to recover the art.

In February, some 30 works stemming from Aztec and Maya cultures fetched a total of 2.5 million euros at a Christie's auction in Paris despite Mexican protests.

This week, however, a French collector handed over an eighth-century Maya tablet, destined to go to auction, to its country of origin Guatemala instead.

A request by Mexico for a similar treatment of its pieces on sale was rejected because they did not feature in its national heritage list.

Source: AFP