Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robin Symes and the Berlin Hatshepsut

Earlier this month there were reports that the stone head of Hatshepsut in Berlin was a modern creation (Jonathan Stock, "Falsche Pharaonin", Der Spiegel July 20, 2009). The head was apparently purchased in 1986 for one million marks. Now the origin of the head is declared: "Die Skulptur stammt aus den Händen des berüchtigten Londoner Antiquitätenschiebers Robin Symes".

I would not like to comment on the authenticity of the head, though I will observe that the Hatshepsut head does not appear to have a recorded find-spot or documented collecting history.

Those interested in the issue would probably benefit from a read of Peter Watson's Sotheby's Inside Story (Chapter 7: "The Lion Goddess"). Watson discusses a statue of Sekhmet noted in memoranda and other documents in the period 1984-1986. This had been "the property of Xoilan Trading Inc., (Robin Symes)".

In New York it turned out, according to one of the memoranda, that the statue "was a cast, made of a mixture of Portland cement, charcoal, calcite chips and some wood" (Watson, p. 139). The origin of the piece was a dealer in Genoa.

Would the museum authorities in Berlin like to confirm the original vendor of Hatshepsut? Was it indeed Symes or one of his companies?

And what other high profile Egyptian pieces was Symes handling in the mid 1980s?

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