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"Kindly Cable Me at the Earliest Moment"

Just in the year 2010 alone, 27 exhibitions have already come and gone at the Art Institute. This is to say nothing of the 12 temporary exhibitions that are currently on view. So it almost goes without saying that even if you’re a frequent patron, you still may miss some things. And it’s all too easy to miss the smaller shows, including exhibitions like “Kindly Cable Me at the Earliest Moment”: James Henry Breasted’s Role in Building the Egyptian Collection.

This politely titled exhibition tells the tale of the man who was integral in helping the museum form its Egyptian collection in the early 20th century. Breasted, who was the founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and a friend of the Art Institute’s then-president, Charles L. Hutchinson, took trips to Egypt to explore possible archeological sites and buy ancient works for the newly established Oriental Institute. On one of those trips in 1919, he agreed to be a purchasing agent for the Art Institute.

Breasted acquired bronzes, funerary fragments, plaques, and other pieces on behalf of the museum, often in dramatic fashion. When he found out that representatives from the Metropolitan Museum of Art were on their way to view Statuette of a Jackal, he paid for the piece with his own money because they surely would have “snapped [it] up.” He also searched far and wide to ensure he was purchasing the highest quality of work. He referred to Wall Fragment from the Tomb of Amenemhet and His Wife Hemet (above) as “one of the finest pieces I ever saw.” These works—along with more information on Breasted—are on view until August 29 in Gallery 154.

To supplement our exhibition, you can also visit the Oriental Institute’s Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919–1920, on view through August 31.

Egyptian. Wall Fragment from the Tomb of Amenemhet and His Wife Hemet, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12 (1976 -1794 B.C.). Museum Purchase Fund.