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14 3⁄4 in. (37.4 cm.) high
Robert Sturgis Ingersoll (1891-1973), president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1947-1964, Philadelphia, acquired by 1962; thence by descent.
Property of the Late R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Esquire, Philadelphia; Antiquities, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 4 May 1974, lot 198.
Richard T. Wilson, U.K.
The Property of R.T. Wilson, Esq.; Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1996, lot 70.
National Geographic 122, no. 4, October 1962, n.p. (advertisement).
Esquire, May 1962, p. 25 (advertisement).
R. Seltzer, "Ingersoll Art to Be Auctioned at Super-Sale," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 April 1974, p. 11-B.
A. Edelstein, ed., Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby Parke Bernet 1973-1974, New York, 1974, p. 321.
Kent, Leeds Castle Foundation, circa 1976-1996.

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Hannah Fox Solomon
Hannah Fox Solomon Head of Department, Specialist

Lot Essay

This magnificent cat belongs to a small but important group of large-scale bronze feline sculptures. While Egyptian bronze cats range in size and quality, so rarely do they capture the majesty and dignity of the species as gracefully as the life-size example presented here. Of particular note here is the naturalistic modeling that allows the cat to come to life through form and expression. This cat sits upright in the standard pose with the tail curving forward along the proper right side. The large eyes are recessed for now-missing inlays, with the lids and inner canthi accented, once further imbuing it with a lifelike qualities. Tufts of hair are incised in rows on the interior of the alert ears, both pierced for now-lost earrings, presumably of gold. Further embellishments include the incised multi-strand broad collar with a wadjet-eye pendant suspended below from a cord.

A close parallel can be found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, slightly smaller in scale but with similar modeling and ornamental adornments including the broad collar with a suspended wadjet-eye pendant. Of that cat, D. Schorsch and J.H. Frantz consider it to be “one of the finest cat bronzes known” (“A Tale of Two Kitties,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 55, no. 3, p. 20). Given the larger dimensions and superb quality of the cat presented here, it must surely also rank amongst the most impressive examples to have survived.

Bronze cats of similar scale are recorded in only a handful of museum collections. Other large examples include the famed Gayer-Anderson Cat, now in the British Museum, and examples in Berlin and Cleveland (For BM: see J. Malek, The Cat in Ancient Egypt, frontispiece; Berlin: G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, vol. 6, pt. 2, pl. 51b-c; and Cleveland: L.M. Berman, Catalogue of Egyptian Art: The Cleveland Museum of Art, p. 438).

Cats came to be appreciated in ancient Egypt at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, likely for their mouse-hunting abilities. The earliest surviving three-dimensional depiction dates from that period and served as a cosmetic vessel (now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, see no. 29 in Malek, op. cit.). By the New Kingdom, they had become household companions, as seen on tomb paintings and reliefs, sometimes seated under their master's chair or on board marsh boats, presumably serving to flush out birds for their masters. Cats became the sacred animal of the goddess Bastet, whose main cult center was at Bubastis in the eastern Delta. Mummified cats were dedicated to her and buried at her temples, often enclosed in containers of wood or bronze.

This cat once formed part of the notable collection assembled by Robert Sturgis Ingersoll (1891-1973). Ingersoll was President of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1948-1964 and Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Governors from 1947-1959. In his memoirs, Recollections of a Philadelphian at Eighty, Ingersoll reminisced on how his own interest in collecting art was sparked: his mother, “a wonderful, inexhaustible traveler” would take her children to galleries and museums all over Europe. Ingersoll recalled, “She inspired us to see everything that was to be seen” (p. 51).

Ingersoll’s first purchases included a copy of Manet’s Olympia and a work by the young American artist Jules Guérin. In the fall of 1924, Ingersoll and his wife, Marion, embarked on a three-week vacation to Paris, budgeting $750 to purchase art. On this trip, the Ingersolls purchased a Modigliani for $350 and a landscape by Chaïm Soutine for $125. During a later trip to Paris in 1928, Ingersoll purchased Brancusi’s Little Bird. In an often-recalled story, during the work’s importation into the United States, Customs authorities deemed the sculpture manufactured marble, and not art, and a duty on such was assessed.

While Ingersoll’s collection focused primarily on modern art, he also had significant holdings of Antiquities and African art. As Ingersoll later asked, “How does one judge a work of art? My method is probably unconventional. If I look at a painting or a piece of sculpture and my arteries jump, I know at least for me it is good and will be rewarding” (op. cit., p. 62). This magnificent bronze cat is an enduring testament to Ingersoll’s keen eye and stands as one of the most impressive works of Egyptian bronze sculpture still in private hands.

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