The Antiquities Dealer Ibrahim Elias Gejou and his Photo Albums

by Nadia Aït Saïd-Ghanem

Between 1895 and 1942, the antiquities dealer Ibrahim Elias Gejou (1968­–1942) sold tens of thousands of archaeological artefacts from Iraq to museums in Europe and America from his apartment in Paris, primarily focusing on texts inscribed on clay in a script called cuneiform.[1] Given the extent of his activities, Gejou is today tied to the ownership history of numerous objects in museum collections, and he remains a well-known name among specialists who study ancient Iraq. Although over eighty years have passed since his death, a reconstruction of his activities is still possible thanks to the hundreds of letters Gejou sent to curators, documents preserved in museum archives as part of the acquisition history of their collections.

During the course of gathering Gejou’s letters to prepare his biography, I came upon two undated photo-albums engraved in gold lettering, filled with photographs of artefacts known to have been owned and sold by him in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s (Fig.1 and 2). One album is in the archive of the Louvre museum (the “red album”, 61 pages)[2]. The other is in the possession of Gejou’s family (the “green album”, 60 pages)[3]. In his letters, Gejou regularly referenced the photographs he sent to curators but few of them survive in museum archives because they were usually sent back to him. Photographs were expensive, and Gejou primarily used them to wet his clients’ appetites. Hence these albums are precious documents. They not only represent a rare visual link between collector and collected, they are also evidence that Gejou once owned these particular objects.

To illustrate how these long forgotten albums can impact research on the provenance of artefacts in museums today, this blogpost presents a selection of artworks found photographed in them, some already known to have been sold by Gejou (part 1), and others not linked to him before these albums’ discovery (part 2). Part 3 is a call for help to anyone who might recognise two objects I have been unable to identify.

Figure 1: Gejou’s red album (Louvre Museum archive).
Figure 1: Gejou’s red album (Louvre Museum archive).
Figure 2: Gejou’s green album (private collection).
Figure 2: Gejou’s green album (private collection).

1. A statue of Ningirsu in the Louvre Museum, and other details

Among the thirty-nine objects featured in Gejou’s green album, the headless statue of the Sumerian ruler Ur-Ningirsu II is particularly noticeable as it is photographed four times, front, back, left and right (Fig.3). As it is well-established in scholarship, Gejou sold the Louvre museum the body of the statue only, in 1924 (AO 9504, Fig.4)[4]. The head emerged later in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when it was purchased from the antiquities dealer E.S. David in 1948[5]. In 1974, the two museums reunited the head and body and have since shared its exhibition.

Figure 3: Headless statue of Ur-Ningirsu II (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 3: Headless statue of Ur-Ningirsu II (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 4: Complete statue of Ur-Ningirsu II (body: AO 9504, Louvre; head: MMA 47.100.86, Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Figure 4: Complete statue of Ur-Ningirsu II (body: AO 9504, Louvre; head: MMA 47.100.86, Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Many ancient artworks bought by the Louvre feature in this album. For example the below head with incrusted eyes (AO 9035, Fig.5),[6] a bilingual syllabary from the library of Ashurbanipal (Sumerian-Akkadian, AO 7092, Fig.6),[7] and a beautiful Kudurru or boundary stone, discovered in Warka (AO 6684, Fig.7a, b).[8]

Figure 5: A person’s head, possibly a woman, with incrusted eyes (Gejou’s green album
Figure 5: A person’s head, possibly a woman, with incrusted eyes (Gejou’s green album
Figure 6: Bilingual syllabary in Sumerian/Akkadian (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 6: Bilingual syllabary in Sumerian/Akkadian (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 7a: Kudurru (face) (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 7a: Kudurru (face) (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 7b: Kudurru (face) (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 7b: Kudurru (face) (Gejou’s green album).

A number of artefacts in these albums also come from Egypt, such as the below sculpture of two hippopotamuses (Late Period to Ptolemaic Period), sold to the Brooklyn Museum by Gejou in 1938 (Fig.8, 9).[9]

Figure 8: Two hippopotamuses (Gejou’s red album).
Figure 8: Two hippopotamuses (Gejou’s red album).
Figure 9: “Two matting Hippopotami” (36.262, Brooklyn Museum).
Figure 9: “Two matting Hippopotami” (36.262, Brooklyn Museum).

2. Artefacts not previously linked to Gejou due to gaps in ownership history

Gejou’s red album is as fascinating as its green companion. Page 40 holds the photograph of a bas-relief on which the scece of a war siege is carved (Fig.10)[10]. This relief, said to come from the Palace of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, in the ancient city of Nimrud, was purchased by the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1957 from the historian and collector Elie Borowski (Fig.11). When the relief was bought, the museum was given no indication it had any link with Gejou. I take it that finding its photograph here is evidence he previously owned it.

Figure 10: Siege of a fortress – bas relief from the Assyrian period, palace of Tilath Pileser III (Gejou’s red album).
Figure 10: Siege of a fortress – bas relief from the Assyrian period, palace of Tilath Pileser III (Gejou’s red album).
Figure 11: Bas relief from the palace of Tiglath Pileser III (57.42, Minneapolis Institute of Art).
Figure 11: Bas relief from the palace of Tiglath Pileser III (57.42, Minneapolis Institute of Art).

3. Where are these objects now?

I have been unable to locate many ancient artworks in Gejou’s albums, two in particular have eluded me. The first is a headless statue with joined hands, typical of Sumerian representations of a worshipper (Fig.12). The second is a statue of a woman with a baby on her lap, perhaps the goddess Isis and her son Horus (Fig.13). These artefacts might not be genuine: forgeries are present in Gejou’s albums.

But are these two in museum collections today? Or have they disappeared into private hands? I hope a reader will know.

Figure 12: Headless statue, Sumerian? (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 12: Headless statue, Sumerian? (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 13: Statue of woman and child, Isis and Horus? (Gejou’s green album).
Figure 13: Statue of woman and child, Isis and Horus? (Gejou’s green album).

[1] Cuneiform is a script which emerged in the south of Iraq circa 3,500 BCE. It was used to write Sumerian and Akkadian, and was also adapted to write a dozen other languages in the region such as Hittite. The last documents in cuneiform date to the late first century AD. For a profile of this antiquities dealer, see “The Antiquities Dealer Ibrahim Elias Gejou: Putting a Face to a Name”, by Nadia Ait Said-Ghanem, Journal Asiatique, 311:1 (2023), pp145-152.

[2] Photographs from Gejou’s red album are the author’s own.

[3] Photographs from Gejou’s green album are the author’s own. They are published with the kind permission of Gejou’s great grandchildren.

[4] This back of this statue bears a dedicatory inscription in Sumerian, see “Gudea and His Dynasty”, Dietz Otto Edzard, Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Early Periods Volume 3/1, 1997, pp.185-186. Photograph from the Louvre Museum website https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010119633.

[5] See Metropolitan Museum of Art’s object card https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16028coll9/id/60016/rec/9 For the Met’s presentation of the statue see https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/329069.

[6] See AO 9035 on the Louvre Museum website https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010169733.

[7] See Ao 7092 on the Louvre Museum website https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010167792.

[8] See AO 6684 on the Louvre Museum website https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010167366.

[9] I am very grateful to Anne Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, Senior Provenance Researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who helped me locate this object. Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum website https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/3396.

[10] Photograph from the Minneapolis Institute of Art website https://collections.artsmia.org/art/1337/bas-relief-from-palace-of-tiglath-pileser-iii-assyrian.


Nadia Aït Saïd-Ghanem is Postdoctoral Research Associate at SOAS University of London, School of Arts.



Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
retour (2024, 10. April). The Antiquities Dealer Ibrahim Elias Gejou and his Photo Albums. RETOUR. Abgerufen am 25. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/w6xy

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