The lot has an estimate of between £4m and £6m. The sale has been challenged by the Egyptian antiquities minister, Mamdouh El-Damaty, and also criticised by the International Council of Museums. The piece is commented as being "the most important Egyptian sculpture ever to come to market", dates from around 2400BC-2300BC and depicts the royal scribe Sekhemka with his wife. The statue, which probably comes from Saqqara, is believed to have been acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton, during a trip to Egypt in around1850. The seventh Marquess argued that the museum should not sell the statue as it would break the terms of the donation, but he relented in return for a promised 45% of the proceeds.

The 55% share the council will receive will help to fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and the refurbishment of Abington Park Museum. If a sale goes ahead, Northampton's museums are likely to lose their Arts Council accreditation. A spokeswoman for the Arts Council says that they have received grants and that "funds may be repayable".

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