Chapter 7: A Plan to Bring a Part of the Tut-Ankh-Amon Treasures for Exhibit in the United States

Except for a few long-time friends such as Lansing, Stevenson Smith, William Hayes, John A. Wilson, Winifred Needler, William Robinson and Edgar Richardson of the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, most curators and directors of the Eastern museums of the United States tended to avoid the Mansoor brothers, obviously believing they possessed certain highly suspicious Amarna sculptures.

Thus, the Mansoors' business, and indeed their reputation, began to be affected on the East Coast, and perhaps in other parts of the country as well. They felt this very deeply. They tried to offer several important Egyptian sculptures and artifacts for sale to some of the museums that had the largest departments of Egyptian Art, but rejection after rejection came. Despite the lowering of their prices, Cooney, in the Brooklyn Museum, elected to turn down two Egyptian sculptured masterpieces that were, shortly after, acquired by the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, and that today, are the pride of the Egyptian Collection of this museum. One is a polychromed limestone statuette of a seated official, dating from the Old Kingdom, and the other is an outstanding indurated limestone statue of the priest Sebek-em-Hat of the Twelfth Dynasty.

In New York, Mr. Albert Gallatin, an ardent admirer of Egyptian Art who trusted the name of the Mansoor Firm, purchased important sculptures from their collection on several occasions. One, a black granite head, is one of the finest portraits of Amen-em-Hat III known anywhere. Another is a very fine hardstone head of an official of the Old Kingdom. And there were fine and rare ushabtis and wood carvings, and small polychromed terracotta animal figures of the Amarna Period. Mr. Gallatin had called Cooney to some meetings with the Mansoor brothers, and despite the fact that the latter showed little or no enthusiasm, Mr. Gallatin purchased these antiquities, trusting his very own judgment. A few more objects were sold to The Denver Art Museum, The Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, The Wadsworth Atheneum and the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery. In Seattle, the Mansoor brothers saw Dr. Richard Fuller on several occasions and met Dr. Sherman Lee, an Oriental Art specialist, and sold them several Egyptian and Greco-Roaman antiquities.

During this time William conceived a plan to bring some art masterpieces of The Cairo Museum for display in leading museums in the United States, specifically some treasures from the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amon, long before the Cooneys or the Lilliquists dreamed of the idea. When he suggested this to Lansing at the Metropolitan, Lansing immediately took him to Mr. Francis Taylor, the director of the Museum, and asked William to speak of his plan in some detail. Both agreed that it could be feasible and that The Metropoloitan Museum would support the idea without reserve.

One of William's friends, Ramses Nassif, who was working for the United Nations, knew His Excellency Kamel Bey Abdul Rahim, Egypt's Ambassador to the United States. He agreed to accompany William to Washington, D.C., to see the Ambassador.

Kamel Bey, an open minded gentleman, listened to William with great interest. William told the Ambassador that such an idea was possible. Visiting European exhibits were already in the United States. It would promote good will between the two countries. It would be beneficial to the cultural exchange. For the first time in history, some of Egypt's greatest masterpieces-namely those from Tut-Ankh-Amon's tomb-which had never left the country before, would be shown to an eager American public.

Thousands of Americans, entranced by the mystifying beauty of these artifacts would want to travel to Egypt to see the whole collection. They would travel to many parts of the country to visit its enchanting monuments, thereby causing a large flow of badly needed U.S. dollars to come to the help of the Egyptian economy. Kamel Bey paced the room, probably wondering why an antiquarian wished such a thing to happen. He told William that he would contemplate the matter and asked him to return the following day to the Embassy.

Kamel Bey was encouraging. He said that William's idea though highly idealistic, had merit, but that he was not sure how it would be received in Egypt. William replied that he knew personally many of the important persons to approach on this subject in Cairo, and whom he believed and hoped would look at this plan with favor. William mentioned the names of Taha Bey Hussein the Minister of Public Education, Dr. Etienne Drioton, Director General of the Antiquities Department, and several others. After some consideration, Kamel Bey stated that he would be delighted to patronize the plan. He called Mr. David Finley, Director of the National Gallery of Art and requested an appointment. Mr. Finlay received the Ambassador and William in his office the following morning. Mr. Finlay enthusiastically approved of the plan and dictated to his secretary a letter addressed to Dr. Taha Hussein. He promised transportation of the treasures by a U.S. Naval ship.

During the next few weeks, William traveled to Dallas, New Orleans, Denver, Seattle, St. Louis and Detroit. The directors of the major museums in these cities wrote to the Ambassador and to Dr. Taha Hussein, offering security, insurance and their share of the expenses in the United States. All expressed hope and the greatest enthusiasm for the project.

On May 9, 1950, Mr. E. P. Richardson, Director of the Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit, Michigan,wrote the following to the Egyptian Ambassador:

Mr. Mansoor has been kind enough to tell me about the exhibition of Egyptian Art from the Tomb of Tutankhamen and the collections of the Cairo Museum. May I say at once that this museum would be very much interested to show such an exhibit . . . .

On May 10, 1950, Mr. William Milliken wrote the following to the Egyptian Ambassador:

Mr. Mansoor has been good enough to tell me of his conversation with you and my friend and colleague, David Finley, at the National Gallery. I am writing at once to tell you of the enthusiasm of the Cleveland Museum of Art for the possibility of having an exhibition of Egyptian Art under the auspices of the Egyptian Government. We would be honored to have such a distinguished exhibit here.

On March 24, 1950, Dr. Otto Karl Bach, Director of the Denver Art Museum, wrote the following to His Excellency Taha Bey Hussein, Minister of Public Education, in Cairo, Egypt:

On behalf of Mayor Newton of Denver, Governor Johnson of Colorado, and the Board of Trustees of The Denver Art Museum, I wish to express the keen interest of the people of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain Area of the United States in the art of ancient Egypt . . . a considerable part of this visitation is directly due to the stirring of interest in Egypt through the recent accession of the Museum and fine work carried on in this area by William Mansoor.

Many more letters such as these are in the Mansoor files.

Unfortunately, the ambitious project ultimately failed because of the political unrest in Egypt at the time. However, two decades later, their dream came true, a good number of King Tut's objects toured the U.S., and no one ever remembered that the Mansoors were the first ones to start it all. But the Mansoors remained deeply involved in Egyptian art and committed to its preservation.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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