Lot Essay Across an illustrious career in Egyptology, William Kelly Simpson sought to bridge the divide between the ancient and modern worlds. Unwavering in his dedication to illuminating the past, Professor Simpson stood as one of the field’s foremost scholars - a celebrated figure in both Egypt and the United States. “In our generation,” noted curator Rita E. Reed of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, “few Egyptologists have achieved the international acclaim and earned the universal respect … enjoyed by William Kelly Simpson.” As a collector, Professor Simpson recognised the tremendous power of artistic production, and the ways in which creativity - from ancient times to the present day - could magnify one’s experience of the world. Whether in his academic career or in his exceptional collection of fine and decorative art, William Kelly Simpson was a man wholeheartedly devoted to art and intellect.
Professor Simpson graduated from Yale College in 1947 and received his Master’s degree there in 1948. That same year, curators W.C. Hayes and Ambrose Lansing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art hired Simpson as the Curatorial Assistant in the Egyptian Department. Professor Simpson subsequently published his first article in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, marking the beginning of an extraordinary scholarly output of more than 130 articles and 20 books.
In 1954, following his years at the Met, Professor Simpson completed his dissertation at Yale on the excavation of the pyramid of Amenemhat I and was appointed Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Literature in 1958. During his 46 years in academia, he rose to Associate Professor, Professor, and Chair of Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature and helped to position Yale as one of the foremost centres for Egyptology. Among his many archaeological projects in Egypt were the famed Pennsylvania-Yale Expeditions that recorded New Kingdom tombs and Meroitic cemeteries; the 1960s UNESCO campaign to rescue Nubian monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam; and excavations at the Giza Pyramids and sites in Nubia. Professor Simpson’s name became synonymous with preservation and the protection of the past - ideals which he carried with him into his collecting.
Despite a professional focus on Egyptology, Professor Simpson’s highly trained eye carried him into a realm of cross-category collecting, including stand-out works by 20th Century British artists such as Lynn Chadwick, Wyndham Lewis and Glyn Warren Philpot (see lots 101-110 sold in these Rooms, 20 June 2018). In almost all instances, a direct lineage between old and new, contemporary and classical can be identified - a testament not only to Professor Simpson’s connoisseurship but also to his abiding excitement for and love of the Arts.
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