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Sir Robert Murdoch Smith

(1835—1900) archaeologist and diplomatist


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(b. Kilmarnock, 18 Aug. 1835; d. Edinburgh, 3 July 1900). Scottish soldier, archaeologist, diplomat and collector of Iranian art. He was educated at Glasgow University, and in 1855 he obtained a commission in the Royal Engineers. The following year he joined the expedition of Charles Newton to Halikarnassos, which resulted in the discovery of the Mausoleum and the acquisition of its sculptures for the British Museum. In 1860 with E. A. Porcher, Murdoch Smith formed at his own expense an expedition to Cyrene in Libya. From this expedition he returned with Greek sculptures and inscriptions (London, BM). In 1863 he was selected for service on the Iranian section of a proposed telegraph line from Britain to India, and in 1865 he became its director in Tehran, holding that post for the next 20 years. He initiated his collecting activities for the South Kensington (later Victoria and Albert) Museum in 1873 when he offered his services as an agent. From 1873 to 1885 he sent the museum 68 reports outlining his purchases and giving information about Iranian art. In 1875 he purchased for the museum the large collection of Jules Richard (1816–91) in Tehran, which consisted of approximately 2000 ceramics, metalwares, varnished objects, textiles, paintings and manuscripts. This collection and the other items Murdoch Smith had acquired formed an exhibition (1876) at the museum, accompanied by his handbook. In the years that followed he acquired many more items for the museum, aided in this task by his friendship with prominent Iranian ministers and Nasir al-Din (r. 1848–96; see Qajar, §II, B). Murdoch Smith left Iran in 1885 to become director of the Science and Art (Royal Scottish) Museum, Edinburgh. In 1887 he retired from the army, became director-in-chief of the Indo-European telegraph department and went on a special diplomatic mission to Iran. He was also a member of the board of manufacturers in Scotland and chairman of the committee of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

From The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.


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