V&A row: Californian museum insists seven-foot Frankenstein dummy was sold ‘without their consent’

V&A’s Frankenstein at centre of monstrous row: Californian museum insists seven-foot Boris Karloff dummy was sold ‘without their consent’ and should be returned to their collection

  • A dummy of Frankenstein’s monster has sparked a trans-Atlantic ownership row
  • It was given to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 1935
  • The mannequin is currently in the V&A’s collection after being auctioned in 1988
  • The Californian museum said it did not ‘consent to the sale of these objects’
  • But the V&A cannot repatriate the item under the National Heritage Act 1983

A dummy of Frankenstein’s monster being held at the V&A has sparked a trans-Atlantic ownership row after a US museum called for it to be repatriated.

The wooden mannequin, which stands at seven ft, is based on actor Boris Karloff, who played the creature in films created in the 1930s and 1940s.

It is dressed in the original costume worn by the late English actor, with the dummy detailed with bolts in the neck and metal fastenings on the skull.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) is contesting the monster’s ownership, stating that it owns both the mannequin and its clothes.

It has called for the V&A to repatriate the item, arguing that the NHM ‘did not consent to the sale of these objects’, The Telegraph reported.

In 1967, the dummy and its original costume were reportedly destroyed, with the pieces understood to have been lost

In 1967, the dummy and its original costume were reportedly destroyed, with the pieces understood to have been lost

The wooden mannequin stands at seven ft

Actor Boris Karloff played the creature in films created in the 1930s

The wooden mannequin (left), which stands at seven ft, is based on actor Boris Karloff (right), who played the creature in films created in the 1930s

But the London-based museum has said that the monster cannot be returned to the US under UK law, and was legally acquired for its collection.

The mannequin was donated to the NHM in 1935 by Universal Studios, the production company for Bride of Frankenstein.

It was then loaned to the Academy of Motion Pictures in 1949, according to V&A research.

In 1967, the dummy and its original costume were reportedly destroyed, with the pieces understood to have been lost.

A dummy of Frankenstein's monster being held at the V&A has sparked a trans-Atlantic row. Pictured, two primary school children from Bethnal Green look at the giant prop

A dummy of Frankenstein’s monster being held at the V&A has sparked a trans-Atlantic row. Pictured, two primary school children from Bethnal Green look at the giant prop

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, a role that developed his notoriety as a horror actor

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, a role that developed his notoriety as a horror actor

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and Elsa Lanchester as Frankenstein's Mate in Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster and Elsa Lanchester as Frankenstein’s Mate in Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

Horror actor Boris Karloff’s silver screen legacy 

Boris Karloff was an icon of horror cinema

Boris Karloff was an icon of horror cinema

Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, London.

He took the stage name Boris Karloff after emigrating to Canada and joining an Ontario-based touring company.

For more than a decade, he travelled the US, starring in low-budget theatre before arriving in Hollywood.

He went on to be recognised as an icon of horror cinema, having played the monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein.

The role continued in Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, Son of Frankenstein, 1939 and The House of Frankenstein, 1944.

Beyond the Mary Shelly adaptation, he starred in more than 170 films between 1919 and 1968, including Scarface.

The actor also spent time on the stage and in the television. 

He married six times and had one daughter, Sara, who he shared a birthday with.

During his later adult life, the actor struggled with chronic back trouble — a result of the heavy brace he wore as part of his Frankenstein’s monster costume. 

He died on February 2, 1969 in Midhurst, Sussex from emphysema.

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But 21 years later, both the mannequin and the ragged clothing were purchased at an auction by the Museum of Moving Image, London, in 1988.

This museum, run by the British Film Institute, then closed in 1999. 

After 15 years, Frankenstein’s monster was moved to the V&A, with Californian staff at the NHM stunned that both the dummy and its costume were unscathed — and more than 5,000 miles away. 

The NHM told The Telegraph that it ‘was not aware of and did not consent to the sale of these objects’.

However the V&A said that when the monster was bought at auction in 1988, there were no legal ownership claims.

The law in the UK prevents the V&A from giving items in its collection away because it is a national museum.

The National Heritage Act 1983 blocks museums from selling items held for the public.

They can only be removed from a museum’s collection by trustees if they are a duplicate or permanently damaged.

Similar issues with repatriation of museum collections have also been subject to this law.

The mannequin is due to be shown at the V&A Museum of Childhood in in Bethnal Green which is undergoing a £13millon revamp. 

The Los Angeles museum said that it would like an ‘open dialogue’ with the V&A over a possible ‘cultural exchange’ to benefit visitors to both museums.

A spokesman for the V&A said that they have suggested ‘a number of partnership opportunities’, and ‘welcome further discussion’. 

Boris Karloff was an icon of horror cinema, having played the monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein.

The role continued in Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, Son of Frankenstein, 1939 and The House of Frankenstein, 1944. 

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the V&A have been contacted for comment. 

The V&A (pictured) said that when the monster was bought at auction in 1988, there were no legal ownership claims

The V&A (pictured) said that when the monster was bought at auction in 1988, there were no legal ownership claims

Elgin Marbles could return to Greece under new ‘Parthenon partnership’ to establish greater ‘cultural exchange’, the deputy director of British Museum says 

Last month, it was revealed that the Elgin Marbles could be returned to Greece after more than 200 years as part of a ‘Parthenon partnership’ proposed by the deputy director of the British Museum.

The marbles are made up of 17 marble figures and are part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis, made by sculptor Phidias. 

The sculptures were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and have since been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed.

The Elgin Marbles are currently on display at the British Museum, but the Greek government has been demanding their return for years.

The British government has agreed to Unesco-backed talks on the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, pictured on display at the British Museum, which could see the artefacts brought back to Greece and resolve the long-standing issue

The British government has agreed to Unesco-backed talks on the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, pictured on display at the British Museum, which could see the artefacts brought back to Greece and resolve the long-standing issue

However in an interview with the Sunday Times Culture magazine, deputy director Jonathan Williams said the British Museum wants to ‘change the temperature of the debate’ around the marble works of art.

Mr Williams said: ‘What we are calling for is an active “Parthenon partnership” with our friends and colleagues in Greece.

‘I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.’

The British Museum has not said it will hand the sculptures back, with Mr Williams arguing they are an ‘absolutely integral part’ of the collection.

He added: ‘There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend. It is what we do.’

The Elgin Marbles (pictured) are a 17-figure collection of classical Greek marble sculptures made by architect and sculptor Phidias, a Greek sculptor whose statue of Zeus, the god of the sky in ancient Greek mytholgy, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world

The Elgin Marbles (pictured) are a 17-figure collection of classical Greek marble sculptures made by architect and sculptor Phidias, a Greek sculptor whose statue of Zeus, the god of the sky in ancient Greek mytholgy, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world

The Greek prime minister has called for the Parthenon Marbles to be returned to Greece on many occasions, even offering to loan some of his country’s other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis has restated that Greece is open to negotiations but said ‘baby steps are not enough. We want big steps’.

The director of the Acropolis Museum, Nikolaos Stampolidis, also said there could be a ‘basis for constructive talks’ with the ‘positive Parthenon partnership’ offer.

He added: ‘In the difficult days we are living in, returning them would be an act of history.

‘It would be as if the British were restoring democracy itself.’

The Elgin Marbles were were taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, between 1801 and 1812, and are now on display at the British Museum (pictured)

The Elgin Marbles were were taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, between 1801 and 1812, and are now on display at the British Museum (pictured)

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