Pinault's Summer Palace bronzes return to Beijing home

French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault has returned two bronze fountainheads that were once housed in Beijing's Summer Palace to China.

Chinese fountainheads auction pinault
These replicas of the fountainheads are on display at the Old Summer Palace

The statues, which were originally looted when French and English troops entered the Forbidden City at the close of the second opium War in 1860, were first put up for auction at Christie's in 2009, where they attracted a final bid of $19m.

However, the winning bidder was a patriotic adviser to China's National Treasures Fund, who refused to pay on the grounds that they should be returned to their home country.

Pinault, who also owns Christie's, acquired the fountainheads from late fashion icon Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge following the 2009 sale. He then promised to return the statues in April, after a meeting with Chinese officials.

The rat and rabbit fountainheads will go on display at the National Museum in Beijing, which is where most of China's treasures are now housed. They were originally part of a set of 12 such figures based on the Chinese zodiac.

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