The American School’s haphazard art collection continues to fascinate me. It lacks any thematic cohesion and at first glance often makes no sense, because most of the works have little to do with the institution itself. Yet, it remains a source of mystery because these same works are also associated with people who were once deeply involved in the School’s affairs. Before they ended up at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter), these objects decorated the walls of private houses and were part of those households’ life history. In Janet Hoskins’s Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives (1998), six women and men from Eastern Indonesia tell the history of their lives by talking about their possessions, thus creating an identity for themselves through objects they made, bought, were given, or collected. Our people are no longer alive but many of their possessions are with us, and they have a story to tell us (if we ask them…).
Most of the artwork that hangs on the walls or decorates the mantels of the various buildings of the School comes from two households. One was the residence of two couples, Carl and Elizabeth Blegen (the Blegens) and Bert and Ida Hill (the Hills), who lived together at Ploutarchou 9 (Kolonaki) in the 1930s; the other belonged to the archaeologist George Mylonas and his wife Lela who lived in Saint Louis (Missouri) in the 1930s before they moved back to Greece in the early 1970s. Although both households were set up about the same time, the Blegens/Hills, because of Elizabeth’s personal wealth, began purchasing artwork immediately, while the Mylonases, both younger and refugees from Asia Minor, did not begin acquiring art until the early 1950s. (I have written about the nature of the Mylonas collection in a post titled “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens”; on the two couples living at Ploutarchou Street read “The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9,” by Jack L. Davis; and Pounder 2015.)
Lately I have been trying to identify the items from the Blegen-Hill household, which came to school almost intact after the death of the house’s last occupant, Carl Blegen, in 1971. Although we have an inventory, the fact that the objects were not photographed or tagged before they were dispersed among the various buildings of the School (including Corinth) makes it difficult to identify their origin today. Some of the art, such Giovani Battista Piranesi’s “Vedute di Roma,” is easily identifiable, but portions of the collection remain shrouded in mystery.
In addition, we also lack indoor photos of the house, except for the one that shows the so-called “Greek Room.” (Take for comparison the interior of John Gennadius’s house in London, which was professionally photographed, making it easier to identify the artworks from it that came to the Gennadius Library.) Still we are slowly putting together a picture of the life and art at the Blegen residence. In a recent conference about Carl and Elizabeth Blegen, Vivian Florou reconstructed through archival research some of the social life of the house at Ploutarchou 9 during its peak times, before and after WW II (Florou 2015). In “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros,” I identified some of the embroideries and pottery that were once part of it. In “The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster,” I suggested that an oil by Brewster might also have once been belonged to the Blegens.
Today’s post focuses on another large painting that once hung on the walls of Ploutarchou 9 (item no. 10 in the Blegen Collection), but is now adorning the walls of my new office: a watercolor depicting the temple of Hera at Olympia, signed “F. Perilla 1930”. A quick search on the internet produced a few brief references to auction catalogs that identified him as a French art historian and artist, born in 1874, as well as to two recent translations of books he wrote about Chios (1928) and Mount Pelion (1940). A search in “Ambrosia” (the ASCSA’s online book catalogue) proved more fruitful, with several entries to publications by Perilla.
The earliest entry dates from 1927 and is titled: Le Mont Athos. Son histoire – ses monastères – ses oevres d’ art – ses bibliothèques. It is a medium size volume (32 x 25 cm), of about 200 pages, printed in Thessaloniki by a French publisher whose name and address figure prominently on the book: J. Danguin, Éditeur, 3o, Rue Jacob, Paris. In the Preface Danguin is also identified as the owner of “Éditions Papyrus.” The eye-catching drawings –lithographs of watercolors, or woodcuts of sketches– are by Perilla. Le Mont Athos is not a travel book but a scholarly publication to judge from Perilla’s bibliography. In the book’s Preface, the author reveals the only biographical information we have about him: that he did not know anything about the history of Mount Athos until 1920 (when he was already 46 years old), but which he managed to master and write a book about in the next seven years by conducting extensive library research and by taking three trips to Mount Athos in 1923 and 1924. It was during these trips that he produced the twelve watercolors and the numerous sketches that are included in the publication.
Within a year of the publication of Le Mont Athos, this middle-aged man, who seems to have appeared from nowhere, produced two more illustrated books: a short one, more of a travel-guide, about the Daphni Monastery and an impressive tome on Chios. Chio: L’ ile heureuse, Editions Perilla (1928), is a lavish edition on thick paper featuring many of the author’s watercolors (15), sketches, and photographs from his time on the island. (A Greek translation of the book was published by the Coraes Library in 2009.) In the preface of this volume, Perilla thanks George Choremis, Leonis Calvocoressis, and Nicolas Paspatis for their hospitality. He must have been a guest at the Choremis mansion which he praises for its famous garden (περιβόλι) and rich library. In the Daphni book he is already advertising the appearance of three more travel books: Salonique, Mistra, and Excursions en Grèce. Not only this, but by 1928, when the Chios book appeared, Perilla had established his own publishing house, titled “Editions Perilla,” using the Nike of Samothrace as his logo (although he is still printing in Paris with “presses de A. Lahure” and Théo Brugière for the plates).
Two years later (1930) Perilla published Grèce: Croquis dè route, this time a car journey, sponsored by the newly founded (1924) Automobile and Touring Club of Greece (Ελληνική Λέσχη Περιηγήσεων και Αυτοκινήτου, aka EΛΠΑ), to promote travel to ancient and modern sites in the Peloponnese and central Greece. It’s in this book that I discovered the watercolor of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, which ended up at Ploutarchou 9. In addition to being a fine artist and scholar, Perilla could write prose with ease, thus making his books something between travelguides and travelogues:
“A une petite gare isolée au bout de la plaine d’ Argolide, un nom fameux retentit: Mycènes! … Où est Mycènes? Là-haut, cachée dans les montagnes. Montagnes arides, sombres, sinistres; asile du people sauvage et rude qui bâtit une ville, des palis, des tombeaux par l’ amoncellement titanique de blocs immenses.”
(For the production of this small book he went local, trying one of the largest and oldest printing houses in Greece, the Aspioti-Elka enterprise in Corfu).
In the meantime Perilla continued his prolific production by publishing another large volume: À travers la Macedoine (1932) which is, in terms of size and quality, equivalent to Le Mont Athos and Chio. This book was also was printed by Aspioti Elka, except for the fine heliogravures which were printed in France. The photography is particularly noteworthy. Unlike Perilla’s previous books where photographs were sparse, this one has many of high quality, including captivating portraits of local men and women and breathtaking aerial photos (which must have required expensive equipment).
A Sought-After Travel Writer
Through these books Perilla must have earned a fine reputation as an author, artist, and publisher. In 1936 the organizers of the Third International Congress of Comparative Pathology in Athens (IIIme Congrès International de Pathologie Comparée a la Faculté de Médecine d’Athenes, du 15 au 18 Avril 1936), under the patronage of King George II, commissioned him to enhance the conference program with a series of watercolors illustrating some of the archaeological sites that the participants and their spouses were going to visit during a two-week cruise at the end of the conference. (I was fortunate in finding this book by accident while browsing the Geography and Travel section of the Gennadius Library because it is not listed under Perilla’s publications.)
About this time –it is unclear exactly when because it is sine datum—Perilla published another volume, also rare today, about the Greek islands. Sponsored by “la compagnie de cabotage de Grèce,” as a means to promote cruise travelling, Les iles de la Grèce featured text, watercolors, and aerial photos of the Cyclades. (Another copy of this rare book can be found in the Dimitris Kondominas Collection at the Benaki Museum.)
Just before the outbreak of WW II in Greece, in June 1940, Perilla published a pocket size, tour book about Mount Pelion (Au pays des centaures. Le Pélion (1940), printed in Athens by “Pyrsos Editions”). We have no idea if he stayed in Greece throughout the War or if he went back to France or elsewhere. Perilla is, however, in Athens by 1942 when he republished Daphni. A year later he republished Grèce: Croquis dè route under a new title, Aquarelles de Grèce. In a brief preface he explained that he did it because the 1930 edition had been exhausted, but also because he wanted to pay tribute to Greece, the land of his happy wanderings (“vagabondages heureux”). There is a gripping detail in this book: the announcement of a publication about Romania (“en préparation: Roumanie”) which makes me wonder if he spent the early years of the War in the northern Balkans. (A bibliographic search for the Romanian book did not produce any results, most likely because it was never published.)
A Neighbor of the Blegens?
In 1944 Perilla published two more books: Vieille Athènes and Promenades Attiques. Both included new watercolors and photography, especially Vieille Athènes where for the first time the photos surpass in number the watercolors. Promenades Attiques features more impressive aerial photography (see the spectacular photo of Piraeus), which he must have taken before the War.
In the preface, we learn one more biographical detail about Perilla, that he lived on Ploutarchou Street (“la rue Plutarque où j’ habite, l’une des plus sympathiques de la ville…), which means he was also a neighbor of the Blegens and the Hills, although the Blegens and Mrs. Hill were in America during the War. (Elizabeth Blegen who also painted watercolors must have known Perilla’s work and him personally.) Still he must have bumped into Bert Hodge Hill, who was the only member of the Blegen-Hill household, who continued to live in Greece during the War. Although Perilla’s choice of words in the preface is careful, he does not hesitate to refer to the gloomy atmosphere of the city, with the “death engines” flying over the famous Attic sky (… “d’invisibles engins de mort voguent dans la stratosphere”), as well as to reminisce about prewar, carefree days. I wonder, however, how he managed to finance three new editions during the German occupation, when most printing houses had been shut down or were under close surveillance (none of his war publications provide any information about the printer). In 1945 Perilla issued Loisirs d’ Athènes which is described as “édition de luxe,” but, unfortunately, we do not have a copy at the Gennadius Library.
Publishing the Makriyannis Paintings…
His next book came as a surprise to me. In 1949 Perilla published the twenty-four paintings of General Makriyannis in a noteworthy edition which featured both color and black- and-white lithographs of the paintings (Fragments de la vie heroïque de Makryjannis suivis des ses images de l’ époque grecque). In Chapter III, where Perilla writes about the history of the paintings and their rediscovery by John Gennadius, he mentions the American School and the Gennadius Library where the paintings reside; yet, I found it strange that he does not thank either the Librarian of the Gennadius Library or the Director of the American School for permission to publish the works or for their facilitating his research. No less interesting, the Gennadius Library had to buy the book from Kauffmann’s bookstore in 1954. You would think that Perilla would have given a copy to the Library (unless it was lost for some reason). Whatever is the story, we are grateful to Perilla for producing an illuminated initial with the Gennadius Library in it.
The Vanishing Intellectual
One of his last publications, most likely the final one, is a book about the three heroic islands of the Greek War of Independence: Hydra, Spetsae, Psara… (1950), also printed, as the Makriyannis book, by Pyrsos Editions. As usual, the book features many of his watercolors as well as pencil drawings –a novelty–but no photographs. The text is informative and recounts the history of these islands, especially in connection with Greece’s independence. By the time Hydra came out Perilla was 76 years old, but he remained a good storyteller. We lose track of him after 1950 (and there is no death date in the bibliographic entries of his books in libraries).
For a man who was so intellectually productive, it is strange (not to mention sad) that he remains so forgotten. Of course, history is full of examples of vanishing artists and authors, who were once extremely popular and then faded into oblivion. Who remembers Hans Makart, except for a few scholars, who was a contemporary of Manet and Monet, or George du Maurier, Henry James’s friend and rival? (There is a nice short essay “How do Artists Vanish” in the Spectator by art critic Martin Gayford, who is contemplating the future of Damien Hirst; and for the rival friendship between Du Maurier and James, I recommend a favorite novel, Author, Author by David Lodge.) Some are rediscovered, others not…
But back to Perilla. I am particularly curious to know what happened to his watercolors, sketches, and his vast photographic collection. Iole Vingopoulou, a connoisseur of travel authors and travelogues, comments about how little we know regarding Perilla: only that he lived in Athens for a few years, around 1930, and wrote illustrated travel books (Vingopoulou 2005, p. 128). Eleni Beliyanni in her introduction for the Greek edition of Χίος: Ευτυχισμένο Νησί (2009), was also not able to contribute any new information about Perilla’s life. The Teloglion Arts Foundation in Thessaloniki may be in possession of some of Perilla’s artwork because his name appears in the list of paintings exhibited in one of their shows in 2013, titled Η Θεσσαλονίκη των Τέλλογλου. Ζωγραφική – Χαρακτική –Γλυπτική. But other than that and the School’s watercolor of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, where is the rest of what must have once been a substantial art collection?
Note: After I had written this post I received a note from Jack Davis informing me about another book by Perilla, published in 1954 (at the age of 80) titled Delphes (unfortunately we don’t have a copy at the Gennadius Library).
Florou, V. 2015. “The House at 9 Ploutarchou Street: A Grape Arbor and a Dense Shadow of Beautiful Meanings,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J.L.Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta, pp. 121-146.
Pounder, R. L. 2015, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives,” ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 85-98.
Staikos, K. and I. Vingopoulou, 2005. Ο Ελληνικός κόσμος μέσα από το βλέμμα των περιηγητών, 15ος-20ός αιώνας : ανθολόγιο από τη συλλογή του Δημητρίου Κοντομηνά, Athens.
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) has an interesting, albeit odd, art collection. It comprises mostly oils and watercolors, with a few three-dimensional exceptions, such as Paul Manship’s bronze Actaeon. The card inventory that George Huxley and Mary Lee Coulson created in the late 1980s was replaced by a database I developed in the 1990s, in order to record the whereabouts of the artworks which frequently moved from building to building without any notice.
While some of the objects were bequeathed to the ASCSA by former staff and members, most of the material lacks provenance. My first database was short on content, but the more I delved into the School’s institutional records and collections of personal papers, the more interesting information I discovered about the origin of some of the art pieces. In the case of Amory Gardner’s fine portrait by Anders Zorn, I found that it was a gift from the Groton School in 1938.
The sources of some of the modern paintings (e.g., those by Martyl Langsdorf or Tita Fasciotti) were puzzling at first because I could not connect them with any gifts. The advent of the internet, however, has solved many of these mysteries. Searches for artists’ names revealed that some of the modern paintings were connected with Saint Louis, suggesting that some may have come to the School together with the personal papers of archaeologist George Mylonas, who taught at the Washington University in Saint Louis for several decades. (See “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens“.)
Inventorying purposes aside, my preoccupation with the School’s art collection did not stem from an art historical interest but instead from a need to contextualize it: for it seemed that each piece had a biography that continued past the death of its creator and owner(s). With patience, some luck, and a good amount of research in the School’s archives, I soon concluded that there was an interesting story to be told about many of these objects, a story that connected them with men and women once intimately bound up with the ASCSA. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday December 27, 1902, a well-publicized wedding took place in London. John Gennadius, former ambassador of Greece to England and a great book-collector, age 58, and Florence Laing, the youngest daughter of Samuel Laing and the widow of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy, age 47, were married in a double ceremony, first at the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and later that day at the Anglican church of St. Peter’s at Cranley Gardens. There are no photos capturing the ceremony or the reception that followed, but Gennadius, the creator of more than seventy scrapbooks, did keep numerous newspaper clippings announcing this celebrated marriage. More than a few of them mention that the bride had an annual income of roughly 8,000 pounds, leading some to hint that it may have been a marriage of convenience. Time proved that their union was a harmonious one; it lasted 30 years until his death in 1932. She outlived him by another twenty years. The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was the offspring of their union. The deed of gift was signed in 1922 and the building was completed in 1926.
The best source for John Gennadius’s life is a small, but thorough, booklet, Joannes Gennadios, the Man: A Biographical Sketch (1990), by Donald M. Nicol, director of the Gennadius Library (1989-1992). In it, there is very little information about the circumstances of how Gennadius met Florence Laing Kennedy. Nicol suspects that they were introduced by “Prince Alexis Dolgoruki, an acquaintance of Gennadios, [who] had married an English lady, Miss Fleetwood Wilson, who was an old friend of Florence.” In an endnote, Nicol mentions that Florence was an artist in her own right, having exhibited her “genre paintings” in the Royal Academy and other London galleries between 1880 and 1893. Read the rest of this entry »
“To deaccession, or not to deaccession?” Paul Manship’s Actaeon and the American School of Classical Studies at AthensPosted: June 1, 2014
This is the question that Doreen Canaday Spitzer, President of the Board of Trustees of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1983-1988), posed in a memo to board members on January 25th, 1988. But why would the School ever consider putting up its valuable possessions on the market (the others mooted for sale included Amory Gardner’s portrait by Anders Zorn and a Tiffany lamp once owned by Carl and Elizabeth Blegen)? Because there was immediate pressure to secure funding for the construction of the New Extension of the Blegen Library. It was Richard H. Howland, former chairman of the Managing Committee and Trustee of the American School, who brought Doreen’s attention to the significant value of Paul Manship’s bronze Actaeon and the financial benefits the School would gain from its sale.
Paul Manship (1885-1966) was an American sculptor from Minnesota whose work can be seen in several public buildings and museums; he is also known for his low relief work on coins and medals, including the John F. Kennedy inaugural medal. His small bronzes are auctioned for several hundred thousands of dollars. The Dancer and the Gazelles (1916) was sold for $434,000 in a Bonhams’ auction in 2009, while the group of Diana and Actaeon was sold for $798,000 at Christies in 2000 (http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/paul-manship-diana-and-actaeon-1792140-details.aspx?intObjectID=1792140). It is certain that the sale of the single Actaeon in the late 1980s could have brought two or three hundred thousand dollars to the School. Prudence, however, prevailed because a few months later, in May of 1988, Spitzer stated “I believe the [Manship] bronze should not be considered as a source of funds for the Blegen [Library], or any other expansion. We are obliged to raise much more, in any case, than it should bring…” Doreen, with typical frankness, further admitted that “Yes, I argued for selling it, but I did not succeed in convincing myself! Yes, ‘the School is not a Museum,’ but neither is it a factory. It is a cultural institution. We appreciate nice furniture; handsome green and gold china from 9 Plutarch St. [she refers to the house where Carl and Elizabeth Blegen lived] is preferable to cafeteria crockery.” By November of 1988, the Trustees had voted to have the Manship bronze insured together with the portrait of Amory Gardner by Anders Zorn) and the Tiffany lamp that once belonged to the Blegens (for the Zorn portrait see an earlier post at https://nataliavogeikoff.com/2013/07/14/one-portrait-three-institutions-anders-zorns-portrait-of-william-amory-gardner/ ). Read the rest of this entry »
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
“In the effort to make this building a credit to American architecture, many well-known American makers and designers took the most lively and liberal interest. Thus, Messrs. J.B. & J.M. Cornell presented the iron staircase extending from cellar to roof… the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company and Mr. W. J. McPherson decorative panels for the outer door, and a beautiful window for the staircase…”
This description is taken from an article published in The American Architect and Building News (AABN) in December of 1889 (no. 728, p. 263), a year after completion of the building destined to house the newly founded (1881) American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In addition to describing the mission and goals of the School, the author drew attention to all the American firms and designers who contributed to the building’s furnishings. One comes away with the impression that everything but the stone walls was imported from America. J.B. & J.M. Cornell presented an iron staircase that still climbs from cellar to roof; the Hopkins & Dickinson Manufacturing Company gave all the necessary hardware; the Sanitas Company contributed plumbing fittings; A.H. Davenport & Company and Norcross Brothers, handsome mantelpieces for the library and the dining room, respectively… and the list goes on.
I have always been fascinated by the tall, exquisite window that looms over the first landing in the white marble staircase that leads from the ground floor to the first floor of the Director’s residence. It was once rumored to be a Tiffany creation, but in Louis Lord’s History of the American School, written more than fifty years after the construction of the building, McPherson was credited as the donor–“…and from Mr. W. J. Macpherson a fine decorated window for the main staircase” (1947, p. 29). One suspects that Lord was drawing his information from the AABN article, but it puzzles me why he did not also credit the Belcher Glass Mosaic Company, since in that place the decorated glassworks of the School’s building had been attributed to both Belcher and McPherson. Read the rest of this entry »
Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) declared “J’ ai passionément aimé la Méditerranée” in the preface of the first edition of La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen a l’ époque de Philippe II (1949). Archaeologists of my generation had to read or at least leaf through this three volume magnum opus written during Braudel’s captivity in concentration camps in Mainz and Lübeck during WWII (and delivered in lectures to fellow prisoners). “Had it not been for my imprisonment, I would surely have written a much different book…” wrote Braudel in his “Personal Testimony.” Much more about Braudel’s life and work can be found in the excellent biographical essay by historian William McNeill (Journal of Modern History 73:1, 2001, pp. 133-147); McNeill himself was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama on February 25, 2010.
Braudel belongs to the first generation of post war “savants” who tried to reconfigure the Mediterranean world after the destruction and the division that WWII brought to the shores of the “Middle Sea.” This new “mediterraneité” would be inclusive and post-colonial –at least in the erudite world of scholarship. Although Braudel’s approach has been criticized for overlooking certain fundamental conflicts (e.g., the clash of Islam and Christianity and the clash between Catholics and Protestants), it has cast a long shadow over subsequent study of the Mediterranean. More than three decades would separate Braudel’s last revision in 1966 (and translation into English in 1972) from the next major tome written about the Mediterranean by an ancient historian (Nicholas Purcell) and a medievalist (Peregrine Horden). Published in 2000, their study (The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History) is Braudelian both in size and depth and covers the period from about 800 B.C. through medieval times. While receiving both praise and criticism, Purcell and Horden’s book has rightly become a classic. Read the rest of this entry »
From February 28 to May 13, 2013, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston hosted a large exhibit titled Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America. The show re-evaluated the famous Swedish painter’s impact in the 1900s on America, where he was once held in high regard before being largely forgotten. The exhibit featured several international loans and was complemented by a series of lectures that experts on Zorn and his period presented.
Why am I writing about a retrospective on the activities of a Swedish painter in Boston? Because the American School of Classical Studies at Athens owns a portrait painted by Zorn—an image of William Amory Gardner (also known as WAG), the nephew of Zorn’s most important American patron and friend, Isabella Gardner. A balding WAG poses in three-quarter view while seated; he wears a black suit with an impressive red rose pinned on his left lapel. WAG himself never liked the portrait. Read the rest of this entry »