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"Kindly Cable Me at the Earliest Moment": James Henry Breasted's Role in Building the Egyptian Collection

January 29, 2010–September 1, 2010
Gallery 154

In 1919, Art Institute President Charles L. Hutchinson asked his friend James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, to act as a purchasing agent for the Art Institute during a trip to Egypt. A series of letters and cables between the men reveals the story of the antiquities trade in Egypt and of Breasted's heroic efforts for the Art Institute.

One dramatic account, recorded in a letter to Hutchinson, describes the events surrounding Breasted's purchase of the bronze Statuette of a Jackal. When he discovered that the piece was available, he mounted "a borrowed bicycle for lack of other conveyance" and bought the statuette for the Art Institute out of his own pocket, thereby securing it from the "Metropolitan Museum people [who were] expected hourly" and would have "snapped [it] up."

This display, focusing on Breasted's role in helping formulate the Art Institute's early Egyptian collection, coincides with and complements the Oriental Institute's exhibition Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919–1920, on view from January 12 to August 31, 2010. That exhibition traces Breasted's daring travels through Egypt and the Middle East during the unstable years following World War I.

Statuette of a Jackal, Saite Period, Dynasty 26, (664–525 B.C.).