Chapter 10: Years of Hard Work and Travel
Between 1950 and 1960, many important events relating to Amarna occured. Several members of the family, including M. A. Mansoor and Mrs. Mansoor, kept commuting, so-to-speak, between Egypt, Europe and California. Some of the Mansoor brothers had already become American citizens and California had become their permanent home.
In the mid-fifties, M. A. Mansoor and his son William flew to Denver, and there M. A. Mansoor met Dr. and Mrs. Otto Karl Bach for the first time. Bach had seen most of the Amarna sculptures on several occasions, and was, from the start, one of their most fervent admirers. Bach and M. A. Mansoor communicated easily. When it came to discussing the sculptures, the old gentleman was still, unquestionably, as eloquent as ever. How the Mansoor brothers would have loved to see certain Egyptologists listening to him then! There is not only the knowledge that we derive from books, knowledge that is often common or routine, but there is the innate talent to understand and explain the depth of character and beauty of Egyptian art, the far reaching vision, feelings, his own spirit. Egyptian art breathed the air of freedom and versatility during the reign of Akhenaten. It is dramatic, joyous and humoristic. It is not, as Hans Wolfgang Muller of Munich would have us believe, authoritarian.
The Denver Art Museum was, as is often the case with young museums, a financially struggling institution. It could ill afford the purchase of expensive works of art. M. A. Mansoor stepped in. He offered Bach a sculpture of his choice for a token price. Bach could not afford to miss the opportunity. He said he would find the funds. Naturally, he was convinced of the authenticity of the sculptures. He trusted his own judgment and knew that they were outstanding masterpieces. He trusted Drioton, Gabra, Varillie, Boreux, Lucas, Iskandar and M. A. Mansoor. He did not believe Young or Cooney. He told the Mansoors: "Their opinions are flimsy, ill-conceived and unsubstantiated." Bach bought a delightful, slightly smaller than life-size head of Nefertiti in pink limestone, and received from M. A. Mansoor a small head of a princess, also from the collection, as a gift to the Denver Art Museum.
What M. A. Mansoor wanted most of all was to see one of the sculptures of his Tell-el-Amarna Collection in an American museum. They deserved to be there. They deserve to occupy a place of honor among other art masterpieces of man's greatest cultures. They deserve to be seen, and studied. Thus, the Denver Art Museum, an institution that did not exist until a few decades ago, became the first public home of these sculptures. All this, because of the far-reaching vision and the sane judgment of one man. The Denver Art Museum had but a tiny Egyptian Art Collection. Where were the Metropolitan, Boston, Brooklyn...? It was not the fault of these noble art institutions. Whose fault was it? M. A. Mansoor and his son William returned to Los Angeles.
Just as he had advised his sons in the past to donate Egyptian antiquities to museums, M. A. Mansoor requested that his sons send a small collection of Egyptian artifacts to Denver as a gift from M. A. Mansoor. To stimulate interest in Egyptian art was always one of his primary concerns. In fact, as early as 1949, M. A. Mansoor and Sons donated artifacts to several American museums. Mr. Richard E. Fuller, President and Director of the Seattle Art Museum, Washington, wrote on November 30, 1949:
Dear Mr. Mansoor:
Both Personally and in behalf of the Seattle Art Museum I wish to express my deep appreciation of your generous gift of the large New Kingdom Egyptian wooden scarab and the two fine Middle Kingdom wooden figures . . . .
On January 31, 1950, Dr. Otto Karl Bach, Director of the Denver Art Museum, wrote:
The list of gifts from M. A. Mansoor and Sons to the Denver Art museum is overwhelming. It will enable us to set up a permanent installation of Egyptian art, which will be of great value in stimulating appreciation of Egyptian art. I feel that this, in turn, will be a great incentive to the further development of this section of the Museum . . . .
On December 19, 1951, Mr. Francis W. Robinson, Curator of Ancient and Medieval Art, of The Detroit Institute of Arts, wrote:
Dear Mr. Mansoor:
Last Monday a meeting of the Trustees of the Founders Society was held and the statue of Sebek-em-Hat was once more presented and it was decided to acquire it. Will you therefore please send a bill . . . . Thank you for your letter of November with the translation of the inscription and the descriptions of the objects you are very generously presenting to the Museum. These were accepted with great pleasure by the trustees at their meeting on Monday and will shortly be presented to the Arts Commission of the city of Detroit. We are very grateful to you for these gifts which will add great interest to our gallery of Egyptian art . . . .
On September 28, 1959, Mrs. James E. O'Brien, Chairman, The Committee for Art at Stanford University, California, wrote the following to Mr. and Mrs. Edmond Mansoor:
This year's fall show at the Stanford Museum is to be called 'Acquisition: 1954-1959.' The community will be able to see for the first time in one display all the art objects which have been given to Stanford . . . .As a small gesture of gratitude to the donors of these treasures, the Committee for Art plans to hold a reception in their honor on Sunday October 18, . . . We hope very much that you will be able to be with us that afternoon, so that some of us who never had the opportunity to do so may express our appreciation to you . . .
The sale to Denver had revived the Mansoors' hopes. They traveled to Europe, but there was little money in the museums and much indecision. News of the controversy had reached many museums there and had already contaminated certain minds, H. W. Muller in Munich and others. Discouraged, they returned to Los angeles, nothing achieved.
In the United States, a new voice, Dr. Bernard Von Bothmer, first an Assistant Curator in Boston, then in Brooklyn, had added his voice to those of the originators of the controversy. He claimed that the sculptures were not genuine but never gave factual evidence to substantiate his opinion.
In a letter to a prospective buyer, Cooney had written to give the names of Dr. William C. Hayes of the Metropolitan Museum, Dr. William Stevenson Smith of the Boston Museum, Mr. Cyril Aldred of the Royal Scottish Museum, Mr. Jacques Vandier of the Louvre Museum and Professor Hans Wolfgang Muller of Munich as the Egyptologists most likely to help him decide to reach an opinion about the Tell-el-Amarna sculptures. The Mansoors do not contest the fact that these five Egyptologists are scholars of Egyptology. None though, to my knowledge, with the exception of Prof. Muller (his report will be discussed in a later chapter), has issued a written report on the Amarna Collection. Dr. Hayes examined the Sculptures in New York several times, but as far as the Mansoors know, he never formulated an opinion, possibly because it was "very unwise to ignore Mr. Young's report," as he is "the best authority in this country on technical problems connected with works of art." Dr. Smith of Boston declared to the customs official in 1947, that all Egyptian objects, including the Mansoor Amarna sculptures, are genuine antiques. Mr. Cyril Aldred to my knowledge had never seen the Mansoor Collection. Mr. Vandier saw few sculptures at different times, but he never wrote a report.
Cooney's choice, however, was strictly arbitrary, as many other Egyptologists were far more qualified than some of the individuals mentioned by him. In this letter, Cooney ends by saying, "I think it is unlikely that any of these individuals would be willing to undertake a technical examination for you, but I think that it is very probable that if you were to supply photographs of the objects, a firm opinion would be forthcoming. The names I have given you are recognized throughout our field as representing the best on opinion of Egyptian art." These Egyptologists and all others who have voiced an opinion on this collection will be discussed in later chapters.
In this letter, Cooney made certain misleading statements, besides the fact that he omitted mentioning several eminent Egyptologists of that time. The Mansoors say: "None of the Egyptologists mentioned by him are qualified to undertake any technical examination of any kind, this is because they are not scientists." When Muller, for instance, attempted to do this in his report of February 15, 1960, he portrayed a complete ignorance of the scientific facts. And an Egyptologist, like any other "eye expert," cannot, should not, and must not give an opinion on any work of art by just looking at photographs. Although photographs may help in the study of art objects, the effects of lighting, exposure, and other factors may alter in photography the true character, style or expression of sculptures in the round. It is a fallacy to believe that experts can tell from photographs if an artifact is genuine or not.
Other similar incidents occured. In Cooney's own words, "approached by many collectors and museums at various times concerning these sculptures," he admitted that he "always had to give an unfavorable opinion." When asked to elaborate, he was content to declare that the sculptures "give every indication of recent origin," but never cited any detail, stylistic, scientific or otherwise that would support his negative opinion.
Similar letters were written by other individuals over the years. Many were of very poor taste, and unworthy of true scholars. One Egyptologist questioned the honesty and the knowledge of the senior Mansoor to conclude "like father like sons." Some were filled with the most inappropriate and insidious remarks, still others questioned the good reputation of eminent Egyptologists, including Drioton and Gabra. What was astonishing was that many of these borish letters always referred to Cooney as the best authority on Egyptian Art.
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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