The Bohemian Past of Madame Gennadius

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.

John and Florence Gennadius, ca. 1925. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

John and Florence Gennadius, 1920. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

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 Athens

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.

Actaeon by Paul Manship at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Actaeon by Paul Manship in the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

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 »


Glass “Eye Candy”: A Decorated Window at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

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…”

The decorated window at the Director's residence

The decorated window at the ASCSA Director’s residence. Click to enlarge

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 »


Le Noir et le Bleu: An Exhibit about the Mediterranean in Marseilles

The exhibit's catalog

The exhibit’s catalog

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 »


One Portrait, Three Institutions: Anders Zorn’s Portrait of William Amory Gardner

The cover of the exhibit catalog

The cover of the exhibition catalog

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 »