Lt. Colonel the Hon. Mildmay Thomas Boscawen DSO MC (1892-1958) &
سلطان على بن
صلاح القعيطى Sultan Ali bin Salah Al-Qu’aiti (1898-1948)
Lt. Colonel the Hon. Mildmay Thomas Boscawen, a younger son of the 7th Viscount Falmouth, was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. After World War I, during which he distinguished himself on the Western Front, he moved to Tanganyika (now United Republic of Tanzania) and built up the largest sisal growing enterprise in East Africa. A renowned explorer, botanist and naturalist, 'Tommy' became an avid collector of Renaissance and Baroque sculpture in the 1930s, a time when many great collections were broken up and when prices were still relatively low. Collecting from East Africa, his choice were bronze sculptures, cherished for their solidity in transit and resistance to humidity and insects. His taste tended towards secular objects and his real love were medals, plaquettes and statuettes. A long way from London, he bought by catalogue and via trusted dealers, some of whom sent bronzes to East Africa for his approval. Surviving correspondence shows that Boscawen was a most discerning collector, a man whose exacting taste made him one of the most distinguished collectors of sculpture in the twentieth century.
By 1946, the Boscawen collection was large enough for bronzes to be lent to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Over time, they enriched the museum’s galleries and it came as a shock when Boscawen died in 1958. Fortunately, his sister, the Hon. Mrs Pamela Sherek, was equally generous. She first confirmed all the loans and then, in 1979, transformed them into gifts. In that same year she indicated that she would also bequeath to the museum the remainder of the collection still in her possession, as a tribute both to her brother’s acumen as a collector and to his affection for Cambridge. As a result, the museum acquired a total of sixty-two objects from the Boscawen Collection, fifty-three of them bronze sculptures.
One of the most impressive bronzes is that of the forepart of a lion, which Boscawen discovered on one of his visits to Yemen. Employing an increasing number of Yemeni expatriates in Tanganyika, Shaikh Abdullah Abubakr al‘Amoodi (شيخ عبد الله أبوبكر العمودى), a native of Wadi Du’an in Hadhramaut, became his trusted assistant and travel companion. Together they trekked from India through Tibet to Chinese Turkestan, but also paid three visits to Yemen. Here he established a close friendship with Sultan Ali bin Salah Al-Qu’aiti (سلطان على بن صلاح القعيطى), a senior member of the Qu’aiti dynasty, later also host to Freya Stark and Harry St. John Philby. One day, travelling near Shibam, Boscawen discovered the bronze forepart of a lion on the sandy floor of a house. He informed Sultan Ali of his find, only to be presented with the bronze. Boscawen refused, but Sultan Ali insisted. When Boscawen brought the bronze forepart of a lion back to England in 1932, he offered it to the British Museum, but this showed no interest. By contrast, the art dealer Lord Duveen immediately offered Boscawen £5,000 – a huge sum in the 1930s. However, Boscawen refused, stating that the bronze had been a personal gift to him.
Sultan Ali also presented Boscawen with other gifts, amongst them a rare Arabian oryx antelope. Flown by the RAF to England, it later lived in London Zoo. Boscawen, in turn, presented Sultan Ali with a hunting rifle. This was inherited by the latter’s younger son, Abdulaziz Ali bin Salah al-Qu’aiti (عبد العزيز على بن صلاح القعيطى) and remained in his possession until it was looted during the civil war of 1994.
‘The Boscawen Collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’, supplement to The Burlington Magazine, vol. 139, no. 1137 (Dec., 1997), pp. 907-912
Daniel Katz Ltd., Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, catalogue by Victoria Avery with a technical section by Jo Dillon, London (Gli Ori), 2002
M. Gayford, 'Master Bronzes from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge', The Fitzwilliam Museum Biennial Review 2000-2002, pp. 40-41
J. Shipman, 'The quiet travels of Colonel Boscawen', Journal of the Anglo-Yemeni Society, 1999
J. Shipman, book review of Muhammad Sa’id al-Qaddal and Abdulaziz Ali bin Salah al-Qu’aiti's Sultan Ali bin Salah al-Quaiti 1898-1948: Half a Century of Political Struggle in Hadhramaut (University of Aden Press, 1999), as published in Journal of the Anglo-Yemeni Society, 1999
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