January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube.

To give an example, let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  This ostentatious furniture was said to have been installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspaper articles, the furnishings were used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the zoo property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126-year-old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  One of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was once an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best, it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in situations that lack proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit, the minister recognized that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite apparently purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not straightforward and if a theft did occur, it did not happen in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, a rare and important antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline, happily announcing that his firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale of the bedroom suite. The asking price given? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018

That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was blogged about on Blogger on a page called Brands&Luxury.

The king's furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility, the furniture didn't sell.

Fast forward to 2015.  

The furniture turns up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015. The photo, which includes a woman wearing shorts, seems to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale in the United States at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


Fast forward to 2016. 

M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below, as it too has been removed from Youtube. 


The fact that the furniture was for sale through M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on Wikipedia's Farouk of Egypt page, but the page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan. 1954, that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

This alleged sale information is also repeated by news site Al Arabiya, which stated that the Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of the deposed king's possessions in 1954.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100-year-old antique dealer operating in New Orleans' French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that Farouk's bedroom set disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who later stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but if that story is true or not remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place in the 1950s, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then perhaps Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite on sale by M.S. Rau Antiques was part of the collection of kingly objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques has not responded to the now-brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sale, leaves the question of how the firm acquired the furnishings in the first place, and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson 

2 comments:

Hi Lynda - M.S. Rau Antiques is happy to speak to you to give you the facts around our 2003aquisition of the bedroom. Feel free to email me at info@rauantiques.com so we can set up a time. Lori

Dear Lori, I've sent you an email to schedule a time to speak. L. Albertson.