Met Rescues St. Louis’s Egyptian Artifacts From Auction

Banded travertine objects from the Treasure of Harageh, recently purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from Bonhams, after the St. Louis Society could no longer afford to maintain the collection. Photo: Bonhams.
Banded travertine objects from the Treasure of Harageh, recently purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from Bonhams, after the St. Louis Society could no longer afford to maintain the collection. Photo: Bonhams.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has saved the “Treasure of Harageh,” a collection of 4,000-year-old Egyptian artifacts, from the auction block, purchasing them from Bonhams for an undisclosed sum on behalf of the St. Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, reports Art Antiques and Design.

The 37-piece treasure was discovered by British archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie at a tomb at Harageh in 1913, and consists of five banded travertine vessels, 14 shell pendants, 7 silver cowrie shells, and various other pieces of jewelry inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian, and other materials. The St. Louis Society acquired the objects in 1914 in exchange for funding the excavations, and lent them to the St. Louis Art Museum until 1990. Two years ago, when the $2,000 annual storage cost for the treasure became too high, the Society made the decision to sell.

Lapis lazuli-inlaid jewelry from the Treasure of Harageh, recently purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from Bonhams, after the St. Louis Society could no longer afford to maintain the collection. Photo: Bonhams.

Lapis lazuli-inlaid jewelry from the Treasure of Harageh, recently purchased by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from Bonhams, after the St. Louis Society could no longer afford to maintain the collection.
Photo: Bonhams.

The decision to auction off the artifacts, most likely to a private owner, was widely decried as a loss of a public cultural resource, including by the Archaeological Institute of America, who issued a statement calling for “a solution that conforms to our firmly expressed ethical position concerning the curation of ancient artifacts for the public good.”

“If there had been any way that we could have reasonably kept these items in St. Louis, we never would have pursued this course,” Howard Wimmer, the St. Louis Society secretary, told the Associated Press. “One way or the other, we had to find a new home.”

Luckily, the Met stepped in, and the bulk of the treasure was withdrawn from the Bonhams sale at the last minute, rescued from the lonely fate of private ownership (a separate lot from Harageh, an alabaster travertine headrest, fetched £27,500, or about $44,182). The pre-sale estimate for the treasure was £80,000–120,000 ($130,000–190,000).

“We are very pleased with the outcome,” said a St. Louis Society spokesperson in a press release. “The Metropolitan Museum in New York is the best home for the treasure. We are looking forward to seeing the objects and jewelry on exhibition.”


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