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Press release


September 26, 2000-January 21, 2001
The Lila Acheson Wallace Galleries of Egyptian Art,
Gallery for Special Exhibitions

This fall, some 150 works from the Myers Museum — one of the world's finest collections of ancient Egyptian decorative arts — will travel outside Eton College (England) for the first time to form a landmark exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Named for Major William Joseph Myers (1858-1899), an alumnus who bequeathed his extensive and highly regarded collection of Egyptian antiquities to the college, the Myers Museum represents a rare example of a private 19th-century art collection that has remained substantially intact to our day.

Egyptian Art at Eton College: Selections from the Myers Museum will feature some 150 works that represent the entire range of ancient Egyptian history — from predynastic times to the Roman period. Among the highlights of the presentation will be stunning ritual bowls and chalices of blue and green Egyptian faience, an exceptional royal pectoral ornament of electrum, a finely carved wooden statuette, and a Roman mummy portrait. The exhibition will be on view at the Metropolitan from September 26, 2000, through January 21, 2001.

The exhibition is made possible by Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman.

The exhibition is organized by The Myers Museum, Eton College and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"The Myers collection of Egyptian antiquities is one of the most impressive collections of this material anywhere in the world," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, "whether regarded from the perspective of art history or from that of the history of collecting. It is especially fitting that we celebrate the centenary of the Myers bequest—which was left with the intention of inspiring future generations of pupils—by introducing new viewers to these wondrous works."

Egyptian Art at Eton College: Selections from the Myers Museum is the fourth and final exhibition in a series offered at the Metropolitan in 1999-2000 focusing on the art of Egypt.

Educated at Eton, W. J. Myers received his military training at Sandhurst and eventually obtained a commission in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. After service in South Africa during the Zulu War, he was posted to Cairo in 1882 at the age of 24. Myers did not begin to collect Egyptian antiquities until 1884, but a dozen years later — by the time of his last trip to Egypt — he had acquired more than 1,300 outstanding works of ancient Egyptian art, characterized by exquisite workmanship, beautiful color, and — often — historical significance. Although Myers collected works in a wide range of materials, Egyptian faience from the 18th to the 22nd dynasty (ca. 1500-ca. 900 B.C.) is particularly well represented.

The presentation at the Metropolitan will be arranged thematically, by type of object. Whether they are related in terms of form or function, groupings of like works — but from a range of historical periods — will encourage the viewer to appreciate subtle and incremental changes over time.

Of particular interest is a Middle Kingdom pectoral made of electrum (an alloy of gold and silver) and originally inlaid with semiprecious stones, most of which have been lost. The exquisite ornament depicts two confronting sphinxes representing Horus and Seth — two of the most ancient gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who served as symbols of the forces of order and of chaos, respectively. This powerful motif indicates royal ownership, but the identity of the pharaoh to whom it belonged cannot be determined.

Another exceedingly rare work is a small human figure of bound flax with bright blue, beaded hair — often described as a doll — which probably served as a symbol of regeneration. The enigmatic Middle Kingdom figure is one of two excavated examples. (The second, which is larger but has no embellishment, is in Cairo.)

The exhibition includes several examples of sculpture in wood. A wooden statuette of a man, preserved from the waist up, is considered a Middle Kingdom masterpiece.

Egyptian faience, for which the Myers collection is especially renowned, will be represented in several compelling displays. A pale-green faience fragment, now missing most of its glaze, is one of the best-known works in the collection. Dating to the reign of Tutankhamun, this element from a necklace terminal shows the young pharaoh wearing a blue crown and drinking from a white-lotus chalice.

A highlight of the exhibition will be the series of more than a dozen blue faience vessels, including chalices (ranging between approximately three inches and six inches in height) and bowls (measuring between three and six inches in diameter) — with delicate surface decoration.

Gaming pieces, scarabs, counterpoises, amulets, and votive figures made of faience will also be on view, along with other small works in limestone, basalt, shell, glass, alabaster, jasper, and gold, among other materials.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, which features essays on "Major W. J. Myers, O.E.: Soldier and Collector" by Stephen Spurr; "Ancient Egypt in the Myers Collection" by Nicholas Reeves; and "Kingship and Fertility by the Nile: The Background of the Myers Museum Collection" by Stephen Quirke. Published by Eton College and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue is available in the Museum's bookshop for $16.95.

The exhibition is organized at the Metropolitan Museum by Catharine H. Roehrig, Associate Curator of Egyptian Art. Exhibition design is by Michael C. Batista, Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Jill Hammarberg, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer, all of the Museum's Design Department.

The exhibition was on view at Eton College, Windsor, through June 30, 2000.


July 1, 2000

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