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Punitive Expedition

The Punitive Expedition of 1897, in which a British force of 1200 under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson captured, burned and looted the city of Benin (now in Nigeria), incidentally bringing to an end the highly sophisticated West African empire of the Oba of Benin, is no longer regarded as the justified action of a civilized European Empire in redressing a savage native butchery, as it was regarded in British circles at the time. The sack of Benin distributed the famous Benin bronzes and other works of art into the European art market, as the British Admiralty auctioned off the confiscated patrimony to defray costs of the Expedition. Most of the great Benin bronzes went first to purchasers in Germany, though a sizable group remain in the British Museum, London. The Benin bronzes catalyzed the beginnings of a long reassessment of the value of West African culture, which had strong influences on the formation of modernism.

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