Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles

I first came to know Bacon’s name when, as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989-1990, I was asked to report on the Assos Excavations during the School’s trip to Asia Minor. Assos, an affluent, ancient Greek city in the Çanakkale Province and a colony of Lesbos, is known for having erected the only Doric temple in Asia Minor, where the dominant style was Ionic. Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) was the architect of the excavations, which were funded by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and took place from 1881 to 1883, as well as one of the three co-authors (with Clarke and Koldewey) of a final publication that was not completed until 1921. Although Bacon’s name appears second, the publication would not have appeared without his dedication and persistence. Joseph T. Clarke (1856-1920) had given up on it long before, and Robert J. Koldewey (1855-1925) had dedicated most of his life to uncovering Babylon.

In 1878, Francis H. Bacon and Joseph T. Clarke bought a sailboat, the “Dorian,” in London and sailed to Athens by way of Holland, the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Aegean. Here a self-sketch by Bacon while examining a marble lekythos at the National Archaeological Museum. Source: MIT Libraries, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

In 1996, as the recently hired Archivist of the American School, I met one of Bacon’s nieces, Helen Bacon Landry (1924-2007), who was visiting the School. She left me with a photocopy of Bacon’s “Assos Days,” a collection of letters and journals that he had transcribed at some later point in his life: “for the benefit of Family and Friends, but interesting chiefly to Himself.” It appears that Bacon made at least three copies in 1934, and one of them came into the possession of Lenore Keene Congdon (1935-2014) in 1966. Subsequently, she published parts of it in Archaeology magazine in 1974.  In 1998, Anastasia [Tessa] Dinsmoor presented to the Blegen Library a second copy that Bacon had given to his friend Alexander (Alec) Maley. I do not know about the other copies, but this one also contains a detailed biographical note composed by Bacon himself. (However, this second copy did not come to my attention until years later when the library handed it over to Archives for special protection.)

Assos Excavations. Local boy sitting on top of Doric capital. Photo by John H. Haynes, who participated in the excavations. For his photography, see Robert G. Ousterhout, John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1890, Hawick 2012. (There is also a wonderful video by Ousterhout.)

In the final pages of “Assos Days,” Bacon describes his initial visit to the Calvert mansion in the Dardanelles in 1883, where he first laid eyes on his future wife Alice: “I had never been at their house! Found the two young ladies at home… and also another one (the eldest), a Miss Alice, just as pleasant as her sisters; in fact, they are three about as nice girls as I’ve seen in this country! Their father [Frederick] died a few years ago! He had been quite wealthy and had built an enormous mansion on the sea with a magnificent garden about it! When he died the house was unfinished. Here these three girls live with their mother and their father’s brother, Mr. Frank Calvert, our consul! … A part of their property is a large house called ‘Thymbra Chiflik” in the Trojan plain about four hours ride from town! The girls all ride horse-back splendidly, each having her own horse. Then they play tennis, going winters to Smyrna, Egypt or Constantinople… These old Levantine English families form quite an aristocracy! They are nearly all well to do, and all seem to be related to each other.” Not only would Bacon marry Alice shortly after their meeting, but a few years later, in 1893, his younger brother Henry would also wed another of the Calvert sisters, Laura. (Henry Bacon [1866-1924], is the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.)

The Calvert mansion in the Dardanelles, ca. 1900. From Allen 1999.

In 2002, Susan H. Allen published a long essay that dealt with the history of the ill-fated excavations at Assos, from its beginning until its delayed publication more than thirty years later (Allen 2002). Other than these two publications, information about Bacon still remains sketchy, especially for the period between the “Assos Days” and the publication of the excavation in 1921.

A Leading Designer

It appears that Assos was an interlude in an otherwise significant, although poorly documented, career as an interior designer that started immediately after his graduation from M.I.T. in 1876. At first he worked briefly for McKim, Mead & White, the famous architectural firm, for $20 per week, but, when in 1880 the Herter Brothers, a decorating firm, offered him $35 per week to help them design furniture for William H. Vanderbilt’s new house on Fifth Avenue, Bacon could not resist. In 1881 he joined the Assos Expedition for two years. After his return to America in 1883, Bacon realized that it would take him years to establish a profitable reputation as an architect, so he decided to switch careers to interior design. “I finished my [Assos] drawings in midsummer, 1884, and was now anxious to earn a living as in the meantime I had become engaged to be married! So through Mr. Norton I got a position with H[enry] H[obson] Richardson, the architect in Brookline!” noted Bacon in the Epilogue of the “Assos Days,” composed in 1923.  While working for H. H. Richardson (1883-1886), another prominent architect, Bacon, who wanted to become financially independent, decided finally to give up architecture for interior design “as being more profitable!” “Got an introduction to Mr. A. H. Davenport of Boston and entered his employ in the fall of 1884! I went to Constantinople in June, 1885, and was married there in the Crimean Memorial Church to Miss Alice Calvert.”

Within a few years, Bacon would become the leading designer for A. H. Davenport and Company, a renowned furniture making firm that had formed partnerships with major architects, including Richardson. Through Richardson, Bacon designed some of the furniture for the Glessner House in Chicago. According to their web page, Bacon decorated Mrs. Glessner’s new Steinway piano, which weighed 900 pounds and was delivered on Christmas day of 1887. In January 2015 while attending the AIA meetings at Chicago and during one of the worst recent blizzards in the Midwest, Jack L. Davis and I managed to pay a visit to this exquisite house, which is now a museum, and to inspect the piano. While there, I noticed that there was other furniture in the house that could have been designed by Bacon, who is credited with introducing classical elements to a style known as Colonial Renaissance. (Bacon’s career as a furniture designer remains sketchy and unexplored and would be a great topic thesis for an architectural historian.)

Mrs. Glessner’s piano, designed by Francis H. Bacon. Photo: Jack L. Davis.

In 1914, A.H. Davenport merged with another successful furniture firm, Irving and Casson.  In the website of Historic New England, which acquired the Irving and Casson – A. H. Davenport Co. archive, I discovered several of Francis Bacon’s designs, easily identified by his signature initials: FHB.  One of the most important clients of the merged firm was the great American entrepreneur and founder of Eastman Kodak, George Eastman (1854-1932).  Bacon designed most of the furniture for Eastman’s house in Rochester, New York (now the George Eastman Museum). In addition, signature chairs by Bacon are on display both in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

One of Francis Bacon’s chairs for A.H. Davenport. Source: Historic New England, Irving and Casson – A. H. Davenport — Collection I.

Chair made by A.H. Davenport and attributed to Francis H. Bacon. American Furniture in the Art Institute of Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised to find in a letter from Edward Capps, the Chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee, to Edward D. Perry that Bacon had been asked to design some of the furniture for the newly built Loring Hall (1929) at the ASCSA; this furniture must be saved during its upcoming remodeling. “And he [W. Stuart Thompson, the architect of Loring Hall as well of the Gennadius Library] has ordered the furniture for the whole shebang, the nicer pieces from Bacon and the simpler ones from a New York house… Thompson is certainly a daisy of the first water…” confided Capps to Perry on September 3, 1929 (ASCSA AdmRec Box 311/4, folder 4).

Interior photo of Loring Hall, 1931, with furniture designed by Francis H. Bacon.

Relieved at Last!

When not designing furniture, Bacon must have worked on the Assos plans and drawings. In the Epilogue of his “Assos Days”, Bacon described how it fell upon him to finish the publication of Assos. When Clarke finally abandoned the project in 1896, he handed over to Bacon all the drawings and notes; Bacon sent immediately for Koldewey. The two of them “went over all details and agreed as to the manner of their publication! It was to be a book of plates with descriptive text and notes. Then I began a task which proved for me more than I expected, deciphering others’ notes, drawing over things long forgotten, all in the midst of other active business!”

He would go back to Assos in 1904, only to find the site more ruined than ever. “Stop at the theatre, now all ruined, and the scena built over as a goat shelter hardly recognizable… How I wish Koldewey was here! …The Agora plateau a ruin! Stoa all smashed and columns gone! The Bouleuterion is now a goat enclosure! … What an enormous place Assos is! Ten times the size of Priene!  … Down to the tombs. What a ruin is there –all broken and smashed! They are evidently using the place a quarry as dressed lintels and sills are lying ready to be carried off! …Fortunately we have every stone on paper, as the place is now a scene of desolation.”

Topographical plan of Assos Excavations, published in Investigations at Assos (pt.1).

Before leaving Assos, Bacon presented to the village “the Book of Assos, Part 1, which I have had bound… to always remain with the head man for the benefit of travelers and others. I had a Turkish scribe at Dardanelles put in a dedication in large Turkish script, and all the inhabitants crowd around to see the pictures… Many of the people are recognized in the pictures to their great delight! Great excitement, and the future visitor to Assos will have to look at this book whether he wishes to or not; but judging by the way the ruins are disappearing, the book will be all that’s left ere long­!” wrote to Charles Eliot Norton, the President of the AIA, on June 23, 1904.

Assos was finally published in 1921, “and if ever a man felt relieved of a burden, that man was Francis H. Bacon” wrote Bacon in September of 1923.  By then, Francis (Frank) and Alice had moved back to the Dardanelles. One final search combining Bacon’s name with Calvert’s led me to the fascinating website for Levantine Heritage. This is where I found this photo of Francis and Alice and other members of the extended Calvert family.

The extended Calvert family, 1931. Francis Bacon seated in the middle, Alice to his left. Source: Levantine Heritage, Testimony 16.

Safeguarding Frank Calvert’s Legacy

Back in the 1990s, as I was familiarizing myself with the archival collections that the School had amassed over the years, especially with the history of their acquisition, I came to realize that a small part of the Heinrich Schliemann papers had come to the School through Bacon, several years before Schliemann’s children, Agamemnon and Andromache, deposited their father’s rich archive at the Gennadius Library in 1936.

In 1923, while on board a ship bound for New York, Bacon wrote a letter to the Director of the American School, Bert Hodge Hill, asking him to accept eighty-nine letters that Schliemann had written to Frank Calvert, the U. S. consular agent in the Dardanelles, in the early 1870s, as well as penciled drafts of a few letters that Calvert wrote to Schliemann. Bacon had found them while cleaning the destroyed Calvert mansion at the Dardanelles. With both men dead (Schliemann in 1890 and Calvert in 1907), Bacon wished, through the letters, to preserve for posterity the complicated relationship and secret rivalry between Schliemann and Calvert. As a member of the Calvert family, he would have heard stories about the injustice that Schliemann had done to Calvert by not crediting him with the discovery of the site of ancient Troy.

“Perhaps you may know that Dr. Schliemann came to the Troad with the intention of excavating for Troy at Bounarbashi, but was persuaded by Mr. Calvert to begin at Hissarlik where Mr. Calvert had already bought a field… Dr. Schliemann never gave him credit for directing him to Hissarlik” wrote Bacon to Hill in his accompanying letter.

Bacon’s letter to Hill, 1923. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

Susan H. Allen in Finding the Walls of Troy juxtaposed the life and work of both men, finally giving credit to Frank Calvert for the discovery of Troy. Their different personalities, the shrewd and flamboyant Schliemann on one side, and the modest Calvert on the other, can best be seen in the grave monuments of the two men. Their respective antiquities had a similar fate. Calvert’s rich collection was dispersed to various museums in America and Europe, sometimes with no indication that the objects belonged to him, while Schliemann’s Trojan collection remained almost intact and was given to the Berlin Museum. Its “disappearance,” however, in 1945, when it was stolen by the Russians as spoils of war, and its reappearance at the Pushkin Museum fifty years later, where it is on partial display, represents history’s revenge on Schliemann.

Gathering of archaeologists at Troy, 1890 (a few months before Schliemann’s death). First row (l-r) seated: Frank Calvert, Osman Hamdi Bey, and Charles Waldstein. Second row standing: Rudolph Virchow, Wilhelm Grempler, Ghalib Bey, Heinrich Schliemann, Edith Calvert, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Madam Babin, Charles Louis Henri Babin, Friedrich Carl von Duhn and Carl Humann (I would like to thank Filiz Songu for identifying the people of the second row). ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

For reasons unknown to me, but most likely owing to an absence of regularized archival procedures at the time, the papers of Frank Calvert were not catalogued and marked as a separate collection, i.e., the Frank Calvert Papers, but were incorporated into the Schliemann papers when the latter came to the American School –never having received the credit they deserved. Once again, Frank Calvert was eclipsed by Schliemann.

The Stargazer

The Calvert papers were the first gift that Bacon sent from the Dardanelles, but not the last. A few years later, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, Bacon must have brought another important gift to the American School; this time, a small statuette of alabaster (height: 0.145 m) from the third millennium B.C.: The Stargazer. This rare (there are about thirty known pieces) statuette was found at Kilia near Gallipoli, in an excavation directed by Frank Calvert in 1901.

The Stargazer. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection. On temporary loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Following his retirement Francis and Alice Bacon returned to the Dardanelles. The Calvert family’s property was in decline having suffered both from the Battle of Gallipoli and the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. Frank Calvert’s once rich collection of antiquities had been dispersed to various museums, or lost in natural or human catastrophes. What little was left was finally given to the local Canakkale Museum in 1934. But, for some reason, Bacon chose to take the small statuette out of Turkey and bring it to the American School. I have found no evidence, so far, in the School’s administrative records or in the personal papers of people that knew Bacon (such as Hill or Carl W. Blegen, or Gorham P. Stevens) how the statuette ended up at the School. In June 1932, the new director of the American School Richard Stillwell claimed that he had found the statuette in the director’s roll-top desk, unaware how it had arrived at the ASCSA:

“Provenance: Unknown. Found by me in roll-top desk, June 1932, and left by me in ditto. R. Stillwell.”

Forty years later, another Director of the School, John Caskey,  who published the Stargazer in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1972, also claimed that he had no idea how the statuette had come into the possession of the School. Caskey was the one who identified the School’s Stargazer with the photograph of a similar statuette in an old German catalogue of Calvert’s collection that he had seen in Istanbul in 1937; next to the photograph there was an added a penciled note: “geschenkt an Amer. School of Archaeol. Athens.” Since 2006, the Stargazer has been on loan and display at the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Francis Bacon between Greek archaeologists Konstantinos Kourouniotis and Panayotis Aristophron, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

Drawing in Full Size (F.S.D.)

Bacon’s third gift to the School was his portfolio of full-size drawings of moldings and rubbings. Unlike the Stargazer, this gift was fortunately accompanied by a letter that Bacon had sent to the Director of the American School in 1933, explaining the nature of his gift. Bacon wanted a safe shelter for a series of drawings, most of them rubbings at full-sale, of relief decoration of funerary monuments, capitals, and friezes from ancient monuments in Asia Minor and Greece.

Trained at M.I.T., which had adopted the European tradition of making measured drawings, Bacon learned to draw architectural details in full scale. (At M.I.T. Bacon studied under William R. Ware, the architect of the ASCSA (core) building in Athens, his only European project.)  In fact, Bacon at Assos and Howard Crosby Butler in Sardis in the early 1910s were the first American architects to produce full-scale drawings of archaeological remains. The practice of full-scale drawing of architectural details remained popular in the United States until the mid-1930s (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 3), and Francis Bacon can be credited as being a pioneer in this art. In 1936, a few years after the publication of the Erechtheum had come out, Bacon criticized his friend Gorham P. Stevens for not executing full-scale drawings of the monument (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 8). In his late 80s, after a successful career in furniture designing, Bacon had returned to his original vocation. From 1929 until 1931, he travelled in Asia Minor and Greece drawing architectural fragments at full-scale.

An example of a full-scale drawing by Bacon published in Investigations at Assos (pt. 1).

In the end, Francis Bacon made not one, but three valuable gifts to the American School. Without the Calvert Papers, the story of Troy’s discovery would not have been complete. Although a rare type of Early Bronze Age sculpture, the Stargazer’s object biography also speaks to us about past and recent practices of private collecting.  Finally, Bacon’s unique rubbings, aside from their pioneering value, tell us about an architect’s esoteric dialogue with his objects: As he himself wrote, “when you draw a full size of a good Greek original, you shake hands with the man who made it… Half size will not do; it is not the same thing” (Edlund-Berry MAAR 2005, p. 4).


ADDENDUM

On June 18, 2019, I received some additional and highly interesting information from Mr. Eric Pominville of Washington D.C. about Francis H. Bacon, some of which I am sharing below:

–“I think it worth mentioning that F.H.B. is credited with the design for the Library of Congress Declaration of Independence Shrine which was dedicated in 1924. This display shrine can be seen when actor Jimmy Stewart views the Declaration of Independence in the 1939 Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The transfer of the Charters of Freedom to the National Archives and a more modern exhibit shrine did not occur until December 1952.”

–“One of the most interesting first-person accounts connected to the story of the AIA excavations at Assos is William Cranston Lawton’s charming essay “From Venice to Assos” published in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1889. “No one who knows him will wonder” Lawton wrote of Frank Bacon “that they followed to the world’s end for love of adventure and of his companionship.”


REFERENCES

S.H. Allen, Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik, Berkeley 1999.

S.H. Allen, “Americans in the East.” Francis Henry Bacon, Joseph Thacker Clarke, and the AIA Assos,” in Excavating our Past: Perspectives on the History of the Archaeological Institute of America, ed. S. H. Allen, Boston 2002, pp. 63-92.

L. Caskey, “The Figurine in the Roll-Top Desk,” American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972), pp. 192-193

T. Clarke, F. H. Bacon, and R. Koldewey, Investigations at Assos: Drawings and Photographs of the Buildings and Objects Discovered During the Excavations of 1881-1882-1883, Cambridge Mass. 1902-1921.

I. Edlund-Berry, “Architectural Theory and Practice: Vitruvian Principals and “Full-Sale Detail” Architectural Drawings, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 50 (2005), pp. 1-13.

L. Keene Congdon, “The Assos Journals of Francis H. Bacon,” Archaeology 27 (1974), pp. 83-95.

 


On Finding Inspiration in Small Things: The Story of a Pencil Portrait

My story begins six years ago when we inventoried Bert H. Hill’s collection of photos at the item level. Among the images were early portraits of Hill when he was a little boy, and later, a handsome young man. A graduate of the University of Vermont (B.A. 1895) and Columbia University (M.A. 1900), Hill subsequently attended the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) as a fellow for two years (1901-1903). He then secured a job as the Assistant Curator of Classical Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1903-1905) and lecturer at Wellesley College where he taught classes in sculpture.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) was only 32 years old when he was appointed director of the ASCSA in 1906, a position he held until 1926.

Bert Hodge Hill, ca. 1910s. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

While processing the images my eye fell on a small portrait (12 x 9 cm) that was not a print but instead a well-executed drawing of Hill’s profile in pencil. On the back, Hill had scribbled “Huybers” and “BHH”.  An initial web search for “Huybers artist” produced four of his pencil sketches in the Harvard Art Museums, a gift from George Demetrios in 1933 (keep the name in mind); the artist was identified as John A. Huybers.

Portrait of Bert Hodge Hill by John A. Huybers, ca. 1915-1920. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

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The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

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…).

The Blegen-Hill house at Ploutarchou 9, ca. 1960s. ASCSA Archives.

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.

Temple of Hera at Olympia, watercolor by F. Perilla. ASCSA Archives, Art Collection.

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The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster

Temple of Poseidon at Sounion by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

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 »


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 »