In America on this date 100 years ago, February 17th…
…the International Exhibition of Modern Art, sponsored by the American Association of Painters and Sculptors [AAPS], formed just for this occasion, opens to the public at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan—the ‘Armory Show.’
For the first time, ‘modern art’ from Europe and America is formally displayed to the American public.
This pivotal moment in the history of arts and culture of the early 20th century involves works of art either created or owned by members of three of my salons, the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Bloomsbury group and the Americans in Paris, in the city where the future members of the Algonquin Round Table were coming of age.
John Quinn, 43, the ubiquitous American art collector, lent two paintings by AE, 45, and a watercolour, The Political Meeting, by Jack Yeats, 41, brother of the poet WB.
Quinn also lent a painting he had bought the year before from Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, 46, Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, who had been dead for 23 years.
The previous November, two of the organizers for the Armory Show had been to London to see the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit at the Grafton Galleries, put on by Roger Fry, 46. They were not much interested in English painters such as Fry’s Bloomsbury friends, Vanessa Bell, 33, and Duncan Grant, 27.
However, they were most impressed by everything by Henri Matisse, 43. The Armory Show really wanted Matisse’s paintings from the London show to be lent to New York, so had ordered their Paris representative to make friends with the American ex-patriate Stein family to intercede.
It worked. The Armory exhibit secured many Matisses, including their favourite, a bas relief, Le dos.
The Steins—Michael, 47, his wife Sarah, 42, brother Leo, 40, and sister Gertrude, 39—also lent from their own collections: Matisse’s Le Madras rouge, La Coiffeuse, and La Femme Bleue,
and two still lifes by ‘Paul’ Picasso, 31, as he was listed in the program, Nature Morte No. 1 and Nature Morte No. 2.
When one of the Armory Show organizers had visited Michael and Sarah Stein’s home on rue Madame in October 1912, he had bowed toward the door and tipped his hat to this shrine to Matisse’s art.
Leo and Gertrude lived not far away at 27 rue de Fleurus, and a few years before, Gertrude’s friend and fellow San Franciscan, Alice B. Toklas, 35, had moved in.
About the time brother and sister were loaning paintings abroad, they were fighting over how to divide them up as Leo was getting ready to move out to live in Italy.
Gertrude’s friend in New York, Mabel Dodge, 33, was keeping her up to date on the buzz about the Armory Show, calling it ‘the most important event that has ever come off since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and it is of the same nature.’
Dodge managed to get the magazine Arts and Decoration to devote their March issue totally to the show, and include one of Gertrude Stein’s first portrait essays, ‘Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia.’
‘Do send me half a dozen copies of it. I want to show it to everybody,’ wrote Stein to Dodge.
On tour in New York with her Abbey Theatre, Lady Augusta Gregory, 60, also stops by the Armory Show, escorted by her lover, the attorney who bailed out the troupe when they were arrested in Philadelphia for their performance of The Playboy of the Western World. He was also the lawyer for the AAPS who put on the show—art collector John Quinn.
To find out what the members of the four groups were doing in the spring of 1913, click on the link for my blog on the Armory Show at the top of the Pages column to your right.
This autumn, the New York Historical Society is staging an exhibit about the show, which I would love to visit: http://www.artlyst.com/articles/reunion-of-masterworks-celebrate-the-centennial-of-the-1913-armory-show. Let me know if you’ll be there!