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Honor for the Jewish patron James Simon

With his help, the bust of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti was discovered


By Dr. Ulrich Sewekow



Unveiling of the bronze relief James Simon by the Hamburg senator for culture Dr. Karin von Welck and Minister Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart from Baden-Württemberg. The great-great-nephew of the Jewish patron, Tim Simon, came with his family from the United States.

© Photograph MARCO/Bodenstein


Berlin (bpb) The significant Jewish patron James Simon has been honored in Berlin in June, 2006 with a portrait relief, as a private initiative. The generous patron had financially supported excavations that eventually resulted in the discovery of the today world-renowned bust of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti. Consul B. John Zavrel, the director for international relations of the European Art Foundation (EKS-Berlin) praised the initiators for this long past-due act. "Simon is a great example also for the present time." The spokesman for the speaker of the board of directors of the EKS Joe F. Bodenstein had this to say regarding the honor: "If we had still today such patrons, the situation in culture, art and the preservation of the world cultural heritage would be much better."


Dr. Ulrich Sewekow from the German Oreintal Society, one of those who preserve the remembrance of James Simon, wrote for the internet bulletin PROMETHEUS the following report:

James Simon (1851 &endash; 1932), the famous patron from Berlin in the time of the German Kaiser, is today nearly forgotten in his home town. Until most recently, only a few small plaques--for example at the Pergamon Museum or in the old Egyptian Museum in Charlottenburg, in which until recently one could view the famous bust of Nefertiti--reminded about the friend of his fellowmen and art. James Simon was a rich Jewish textile manufacturer with a great social and cultural engagement. Regularly, he would donate one third of his annual income for the benefit of the poor people; for example, he built public baths and founded hospitals and vacation homes. With the help of numerous eorganizations, he became engaged also for the protection of children and needy Jews from the east. Through his entertainment society, he brought simple peoplecloser to culture through concerts and popular lectures on science.

On the birthday anniversary of Frederick the Great, January 24, 1898 he founded with other influential men the German Oriental Society, which became famous very fast. The Kaiser became its protector. Simon directs and finances it in close cooperation and friendship with Wilhelm von Bode, the general director of the Kaiser's Museums. His most successful excavation project was the one in Egypt in 1911 in Tel el-Amarna, of the capital city of the King and monotheistic reformer Achnaton, for a long time buried in sand. It brings him rich finds: among them the spectacularly well-preserved and painted bust of Echnaton's beautiful wife, the Queen Nefertiti. Being the partner with the Egyptian officials, Simon personally get to keep the German share of the find. In 1920, he donated the find to the museum--and not only the 5,000 or so pieces. Already in prior years, he donated a part of his art collections to museums. Among the donated artworks was a collection from the Renaissance and some 1,500 Japanese paintings and woodcuts.


Naming of a street in Berlin is wrecked by city officials

The efforts over many years by the German Oriental Society and other organizations, to have a street in Berlin named after him, have up to now been wrecked due to resistance of the city officials, with the last excuse that the quota for new streets to be named after women has not yet been met. A circle of friends around Bernd Schultz, the director of the art gallery and auction house Villa Griesebach, has recently also joined this initiative. Since as of now the goal has not been achieved, on June 16, 2006 James Simon was honored at a prominent place. On the site of the building at Tiergartenstrasse 15a, where formerly stood the house of the Simon family, a bronze relief with his portrait and an outline of his achievements was unveiled. The portrait was created by the artist Johannes Grützke. Among the speakers at the event were the politician Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Reinhard, Prof. Dr. Peter-Klaus Schuster, the general director of the state museums, the Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Al-Qrabi and Tim Simon, the great-great-nephew of the Jewish patron. He has actually come to Berlin to attend this event with his family from the United States. Through his correspondence with Dr. Sewekow, the treasurer of the German Oriental Society, has he first become aware of the upcoming event honoring his famous ancestor. Also present were two great-granddaughters from Baden-Württemberg. The unveiling done by the minister and by the Senator for culture Dr. Karin von Welck. The celebration was combined with a small exhibition of copies of portraits from the Amarna time, which should remind us about Simon's support of the excavations which brought into the Egyptian Museum not only in the bust of the famous queen, but also many other major works.


New generations of the Simon Dynasty met in Berlin. In the middle, with a baby in his arms, is Tim Simon from USA. The others came from Germany, to take part in honoring his ancestor, the patron James Simon.

© Marco-VG/Bodenstein


The German Oriental Society honored its founder by the presence of the chairman Prof. Hans Neumann, member of the board of directors Dr. Ulrich Sewekow, the former chairman and honorary member Prof. Johannes Renger, the former chairman Prof. Gernot Wilhelm as well as the honorary member Dr. Eva Strommenger.

The circle of friends around Bernd Schultz is preparing the founding of a James Simon Foundation, which will award a substantial prize award for exemplary patronage in our times. In addition, the circle of friends urges that the planned entrance building of the Museum Island in Berlin should bear the name James Simony Gallery. The architect of the building is David Chipperfield.

The world economic crisis has not passed over the firm of the Simon brothers. James Simon had to sell a part of the artworks, in order to be able to save jobs. But still, the firm went bankrupt in 1929. He moved out of his villa in the Tiergartenstrasse in 1927, and moved into an apartment in the Bundesallee 23. Also on this location James Simon received a past-due honor. On May 22, 2006 a commemorative plaque was unvoiled by the deputy Mayor Klaus-Dieter Gröhler and the president of the association of guides in Berlin, Dr. Wolther von Kieseritzky. It is a porcelain plaque, approximately 50 by 40 cm, which was donated by the Royal Prussian Porcelain Co. to the association of guides. The main speaker was Prof. Dr. Dietrich Wildung, director of the Egyptian Museum.

Thus, the great patron from Berlin and one of the great Berlin citizens receives through a private initiative a worthy, but late honor, which is still denied to him by the Berlin officials.


A member of the German Oriental Society, Dr. Olaf Matthes has published a book about James Simon: "James Simon, Mäzen im wilhelminischen Zeitalter", published by Bostelmann & Siebenhaar Verlag Edition Fannei und Walz, Berlin, in 2000.



© PROMETHEUS 109/2006

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, News, Politics and Science. Nr. 109, JULY 2006