“Such Friends”:  100 years ago, September, 1921, Central Park West, New York City, New York

John Quinn is still fuming.

A few days ago, the 51-year old lawyer was quoted in the New York Times calling the protest against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first exhibit of modern French painting, “Ku Klux criticism.” He meant it. Still does.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Even the Times can’t determine who is behind the four-page pamphlet,

A Protest Against the Present Exhibit of Degenerate ‘Modernistic’ Works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art [by] An Anonymous Committee of Citizens and Supporters.”

Here’s what these self-appointed critics have to say:

This ‘Modernistic’ degenerate cult is simply the Bolshevic philosophy applied to art…The real cult of ‘Modernism’ began with a small group of neurotic Ego-Maniacs in Paris who styled themselves “Satanists”—worshippers of Satan—the God of Ugliness…It is understandable that the Museum should decide, in the interest of public Enlightenment, to lend its galleries for the Exhibition of such Art Monstrocities [sic] in order to give the public an opportunity to see…specimens of so-called ‘Art’ which has been boosted into notoriety in Europe and now here, by the most vulgar, crafty and brazen methods of advertisement by the European speculators in Art…[But] the Trustees should publicly…disclaim all intention of lending the prestige of the Museum in support of the propaganda for Bolshevistic Art, which is repudiated by the majority of our artists and citizens.”

This is Quinn’s own collection they are criticizing. He has leant 26 pieces to the show—modestly titled “Loan Exhibition of Impressionist and Post-impressionist Paintings”—including Cezanne’s Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair and Van Gogh’s Portrait of the Artist. One of his fellow collectors has even told Quinn how jealous he is of his pieces in the exhibit.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair by Paul Cezanne

The American Art News gave the exhibit a positive review when it opened back in May. But the New York World called it “dangerous” and singled out one of Quinn’s Gauguins as an “odious Bolshevik work.”

Portrait of the Artist by Vincent Van Gogh

Quinn and Lilly P. Bliss, 57, along with some other New York patrons, had negotiated with the Museum to host this show, and Quinn thinks that, if anything, it is too conservative. They have included Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, 39, for example, but none of his Cubist work.

Quinn and Bliss had collaborated before, to introduce the American public to contemporary art at The Armory Show. It was a huge success. But eight years later self-righteous Philistines are still protesting in print.

This summer the Museum hosted a solo show of drawings by a woman! Is anyone protesting that?, Quinn asks.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

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