Tuesday 7 July 2020

Piecing Together the History of "The Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir Collection" from Dealers' "Documentation": Summary (As Things Stand Today)

Howard Rose
The several dozen posts below this consider antiquities being sold in the US, Netherlands and the UK that are mostly provenanced to the collection of an Egyptian national Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir, who in 1948 moved to the US. In or around 2013, his grandson started selling this material. It is possible that the sales started earlier, but they are more difficult to trace online and I have not had time to do this yet. I do not believe the Spanish dealer's claim that the sales started in the early 60s (before the birth of the current seller). This is an undocumented claim and I think totally invented.

The first sale that I have located at the moment (possibly there are earlier sales in New York, perhaps Arte Primitivo?) is the sale in London at Bonham's of four fragments of relief from an unlocated monument of Smenty Wahibrenebahet in May 2013. What is interesting is the provenance: 
Ashraf Eldarir Collection, USA, acquired by the present owner's grandfather Mr. Souaya in Egypt in 1948, thence by descent. Ashraf Eldarir's grandfather was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson, with whom he shared a passion for archaeology. The collection was formed during the 1930s-1940s, mostly gifts from Prince Tosson. The collection was moved to the United States in 1948 and remained in their possession until the present day.
Ashraf is Ashraf Omar (public records in the US that can be found online show that he seems to have used a number of names and lived in a number of places in central Brooklyn over the past 20 years), but the grandfather's name is given in a different form in the documentation of later sales. The 'brought to the US in 1948' theme is maintained throughout.It would be very interesting to know who put this material on sale.

In 2014 there was a sale of another sculpture, a Third Intermediate Period stele sold by Ancient Resource Auctions Glendale, California. I have not yet traced any New York sales from 2013-4. In 2015, however, there was the first (?) New York sale of Eldarir material, just across the river in Manhattan by Arte Primitivo Howard S. Rose Gallery (Auction 75, May 18th, 2015). Admittedly the seller's name is not given, nor the name of the collector, but the theme "Private NYC collection, brought to USA prior to 1948, to present owner by descent" as well as the range of material represented suggest very strongly what this is. It is interesting to speculate why the name is not given at this stage. :

In 2016 Charles Ede in London had a sculpted Old Kingdom piece which is sold with a variant of the Prince Tosson story (but this time with a new surname of the old collector) and with the name of the dealer " Mr Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir, Egypt; acquired 17th June 1941 from Salahaddin Sirmali". So far, I have only found these names in relation to these sales. It looks like Ede was shown a copy of a document of the same format as the one the map-seller received. Some time after 2015 (there is no date on the sale), Alexander Ancient Art (Alexander Biesbroek, Voorschoten The Netherlands) resold a relief fragment from the Ezeldeen Taha Eldaric collection that had come from the 2015 Arte Primitivo sale, but cites the Tosson story. He thinks it came from the same tomb as the Bonham's fragment.

In March 2017 Howard S. Rose in his New York Arte Primitivo Gallery (Catalogue 84) has only a few small items from the "exported to the USA in 1948" collection, amulets and jewellery and two shabtis, but also a wooden figure explicitly said to be from the Elzadeen Taha Eldarir collection. The latter turned up three years later in a sale by Christoph Bacher Archäologie Ancient Art Gallery in Vienna, apparently bought directly from the Arte Primitivo site, along with a number of amulets obtained perhaps by the splitting of lots.

Possibly I have missed some sales of this material from 2018 (?). Washington DC dealer Sue McGovern Huffman (convener of the Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art) had a sawn-up bit of coffin on sale in 2018 and 2019. This had been sawn off a mummy case at chest level for transport. Again we see a return to the Tosson theme and teh grandfather's alternative name:
Ashraf Eldarir Collection, New York, USA, acquired by the present owner's grandfather Mr. Souaya in Egypt in 1948, thence by descent. Ashraf Eldarir's grandfather was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson, with whom he shared a passion for archaeology. The collection was formed during the 1930s-1940s, mostly gifts from Prince Tosson [...].
The number of sales of material from this old collection picks up in 2019. Most of this was going through the Arte Primitivo Gallery on East 65th Street New York, with the September 16th 2019 sale (jewellery, an odd-looking plastered and painted mudbrick, amulets, wrenched-off 'mummy masks', lots of jelly-baby shabtis, mummy beads - some staged as found in a jar - some dodgy looking figurienes and a relief fragment). By now the provenance has developed to the form: "Sold to Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir from Salahaddin Sirmali on 5/15/1930. Authenticated and appraised by Mr. Hossen Rashed, head of the Egyptian Antiquities house", though this is not used consistently. But that sale of 15th May 1930 must have been a big one as it is mentioned a number of times subsequently. One of them was the 'jar of jelly-baby shabtis' sold separately by Arte Primitivo in December 2019.

On April 18th 2019 it is reported that Omar Eldarir was stopped with a single artefact (polychrome relief) from Egypt.in his hand luggage but apparently no paperwork for it.

Things start happening in earnest in 2020. On January 22nd 2020 Omar Eldarir arrived at JFK from Egypt with three 'dirty' suitcases, when Customs inspected them they were found to contain 590 bubble and foam-wrapped Egyptian antiquities. Eldarir did not produce any of the required documentation from Egypt authorizing the export of the artefacts.

A few months later, the Chicago coin dealer Harlan Berk sold a wooden shabti, allegedly from the old Eldarir collection in April 2020. It is a pretty naff piece and the patina is a bit odd. It's not clear how he obtained it. It was also one of the latest pieces acquired by the collector:
Ex collection of Mr Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir; acquired 1946 from Salahaddin Sirmali, Cairo. Authenticated and appraised by Mr. Hossen Rashed, head of the Egyptian Antiquities house.
Also in April 2020, Arte Primitivo has an 'Isis-Aphrodite' figurine and quotes a sales document:
"It is on August 6th, 1929. We the honorable Salahaddin Sirmali...bey sold to the honorable Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir ...bey A group of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. Authenticated and appraised by the ancient Egyptian expert and the head of the Egyptian antiquities house: Mr. Hossen Rashed [...]".
The document itself is not shown, and neither is the buyer informed that they will receive a copy.It is interesting that the same combination of individuals is involved, even though the activities were 17 years apart.

In June this year Bob Dodge of Artemis Gallery Erie, Colorado USA has been selling several items of the Eldarir grandfather collection that had previously been bought (when? How?) by a Honolulu collector
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir collection, New York, USA, purchased in December, 1946 and imported from Egypt in November, 1948; ex-Salahaddin Sirmali collection, Egypt; appraised by Mr. Hossen Rashed, head of the Egyptian antiquities house
Papyri that the same Honolulu collector had with the same provenence were bought in 1929. I feel if we knew more about that Hawaiian collection, we might have more of an idea about the beginnings of the dispersal of Mr Eldarir's material.

Another New York dealer (Howard Knowes, "Art for eternity" ) has a May 15th 1930 piece. A wrenched-off mummy case face. Nasty. I strongly suspect that a Spanish seller has just copied the provenance of something he's seen online and falsely claimed it for one of his over-priced fakes.

One of the more informative sales of this material is not by an antiquities dealer at all. It seems map-sellers are not aware that antiquities dealers tend to 'lose' any documentation - can't let the punter see some, or they'll all want some. Anyay a map seller in  Jefferson City, Tennessee found himself teh possessor of an 'Ancient Egyptian Polychrome Wall Painting New Kingdom, 19th-20th Dynasty', bought as lot 485 of the Arte Primitivo sale September 18th, 2019 (where it had an estimate of $25,000-$35,000). Anyway the new owner does not really want it and is trying to flog it off. One might surmise why, and why they ar willing to shift it at a price lower than the (admittedly over-inflated) estimate. As a buttress for the claim that this piece is perfectly legitimate, they've actually attached  what is supposed to be a sales document of April 24th 1929. Really worth a look, you'll not see many of those on eBay!

Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir was a collector that knew what he likes, and he liked a lot of it, he did not want a few mummy beads, he wanted and acquired heaps of them, jelly-bean shabtis he collected by the bucketful, amulets by the boxfull. He was not interested in the whole mummy cases, just the faces ripped off them, or even the bronze framed inlaid eyes gouged from them.  No wonder his heirs wanted to get rid of such monotonously repetitive material. Fortunately for his heirs, these big job lots are just what dealers love to split up and sell off singly, more profit there. So granddad's hoarding habit provided a nice little windfall. But why, pray, if he had these masses of stuff holed up in one of his Brooklyn properties to get rid of to make some space, did Mr Eldarir decide to go to Egypt to bring more stuff over? To fill the empty cupboards as a memorial to the old man? Once he was stopped, it seems he was risking a lot by doing it a second time. Why? Hopefully the upcoming court case will resolve the mystery.

All individuals mentioned in this post are, as ever, innocent unless proven guilty.


lalbertson said...

Add this one to your list (I think it is the earliest) or at least the ones using the same three provenances.

It is harder to catch as it does not list the name but turned up later with the name at TEFAF with Jean-David Cahn this year.


Paul Barford said...

Yes, I saw you were writing on this at the same time as me, but deliberately did not read it until after mine had gone up, to avoid overlap. When I did, I realised that I'd missed the Cahn ones, I will update this later on today. I think the early phase of marketing this stuff needs a closer look, but think we should wait and see what a court case produces. But I think this one reveals quite a lot of things about the antiquities market.

Paul Barford said...

And to reinforce the picture that I paint about a change in the story c 2005/6, when that piece appears at Christie's in 2012, it did not have those three names in the (published) "provenance".

lalbertson said...

Agreed on the approach (not reading before) as I use the same. It allows us each to develop non-parroting narratives. But having said that, you and I arrived at the same suspicion, without having talked or read one another's essays.

Rose, intentionally, in my opinion, left off the full consignor details on some of Eldarir's pieces. That only becomes clear when the same pieces resurface later WITH Eldarir being mentioned. This leads me to eliminate the possibility that Eldarir used a straw many to consign some of the objects to Rose, while consigning others directly.

Another hugely interesting thing is the verbage of all of the provenance across these sales. It reads as if it was scripted to be almost exactly the same, aside from the spelling of the names.

My question there is, at whose urging?

Was this a tactic Eldarir demanded when selling the objects, or was the copy and pasting something informally all the ancient art dealers arrived at individually and elected individually to use, hoping that it allowed for more simplified tracing should anyone choose to google the collection's origins, and so as making the collection easier to find in circulation showing the wider connection to a body of dealers who have cosmetically done due diligence when accepting this collection as legitimate.

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