‘Such Friends’: John Quinn and the Armory Show

New York City, Spring, 1913

 

All the buzz is about the Armory Show.

From mid-February to mid-March cars and carriages pull up in front of the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, loaded with people eager to see America’s first International Exhibition of Modern Art. Office girls come on their lunch hours; working class families come on weekends, and the social elite come again and again. They stare and laugh at the horrors they have read about in the press. Is it Nude Descending a Staircase? Or Staircase Descending a Nude? Who can tell?

Those more sophisticated, who think of the Impressionists as the latest thing, are surprised to find that indeed the Post-Impressionists are all the rage in Europe. One of the most well represented artists is the late Paul Cezanne, in Paris considered an old master by now; the most talked about is Henri Matisse, 43; and that “Paul” Picasso, only 31? Just plain crude.

John Quinn, 42, is ecstatic. He has worked closely with the American Association of Painters and Sculptors [AAPS] in the build up to the show—asking for lends of paintings from his art collecting friends, testifying before Congress to lower the taxes on art coming into the US from Europe, and promoting the exhibit every chance he gets.

He comes to the show almost every day, and buys paintings almost every day as well.

Uptown, 20-year-old Dorothy Rothschild

“No, we’re not related to those Rothschilds”

—is living on her own in her hometown of New York City for the first time. Her father died this year; her mother had passed away when she was three. She has a job using the skills she learned at finishing school—playing the piano at a dancing academy. When she was younger, Dottie and her father had written nonsense poems back and forth to each other. Now she is trying light verse, sending it to The Evening Mail newspaper column, ‘All in Good Humor’ by FPA, 31, that publishes that sort of filler, hoping to get her name in print.

Nude

Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

Paris, Spring, 1913

 

The art dealers in Paris are awaiting the verdict from New York. How will the wealthy American collectors react to the paintings in the Armory Show? Will they really pay US$48,000 for a Cezanne? Hundreds of dollars for drawings by the young Spaniard, Pablo Picasso? And the Show organizers are going to send some of the most valuable paintings off to other cities—Chicago! Boston! What are they thinking? The few Americans who come to Paris to buy are shocked by what they see in the dealers’ galleries. How will they react when they see the same scandalous works lined up with the latest by their own American artists?

Quinn himself had been to Paris the previous autumn for a quick trip. He had encouraged Walter Kuhn, 35, and Arthur B. Davies, 50, from the AAPS to go abroad and pick up all they can for their show, sending introductory letters to all his European contacts.

Seven of the Armory Show’s paintings have been lent by American collectors living in Paris. Gertrude Stein, just turned 39, and her brother, Leo, 40, ex-patriates from San Francisco, have used their family money to put together quite a collection of works they personally feel connected to—Matisse, Picasso and his friend, Georges Braque, 30. They enjoy meeting the painters and talking to them in their salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. Late at night, Gertrude sits at a desk in front of Madame Cezanne with a Fan and tries to create in words what Cezanne created on canvas. A few of her attempts at translating Cubism into prose have been published in the States recently and are being publicized as part of the Armory Show.

Another San Franciscan, Alice B. Toklas, 35, had come to visit a few years before and then moved in with Gertrude and Leo. She had quickly taken on the role of handmaiden to the writer, cooking, cleaning, typing. Their relationship has grown so close that Gertrude’s brother feels he has to move out. Soon.

mme-cezanne-with-a-fan

Paul Cezanne’s Mme. Cezanne with a Fan, 1904

London, Spring, 1913

 

This spring, Gertrude and Alice are visiting London. They have come to find a publisher for Stein’s work, and spend time socializing with artists and writers there.

Kuhn and Davies had come to London the previous year to see the Second Post-Impressionist art show put on by Roger Fry, 46. They requested so many paintings that Fry had been forced to close his show early. The Second show had a better reception from the average Brit than the first, just two years before. Once the English had gotten used to Cezanne, they were more open to Matisse.

The Second show has been organized by Fry’s friends, artists and writers who live in the bohemian Bloomsbury section of London. They had come together in the homes of two sisters, Virginia Woolf, 31, married less than a year before, and Vanessa Bell, 33, a painter whose work was included in the London show. The family had decided early on that Vanessa would be the artist and Virginia would be the writer. Neither had traditional schooling, although Vanessa had attended art school and Virginia had had the run of her father’s library. Some reviews and small pieces of Virginia’s had been published in local papers, but now she is working on her first novel. The only person she would show it to, and not until she feels it is finished, is her new husband, Leonard, 32.

Virginia’s Bloomsbury friends are encouraging her. They get together most Thursdays at Vanessa’s house in Gordon Square to have dinner, then whiskey, buns and cocoa—and conversation and cigarettes late into the night.

Matisse room in the 2nd post imp exhibit by V

Vanessa Bell’s Matisse Room, 1912

Ireland, Spring, 1913

 

In Ireland all the talk is of the recent passage of Home Rule in the British House of Commons. Will this be the first step towards complete independence for the restless colony?

A strong Irish nationalist movement had been agitating for years, through political organizations to keep the language alive, like the Gaelic League, and cultural organizations to keep Irish folk arts alive, such as the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey presents plays in English, but based on Irish folk tales and legends gathered in the west of Ireland.

Quinn had met the founders of the theatre on his first trip to Ireland 11 years ago. Since then, he has supported their theatre with legal advice as well as cash. When any of his Irish friends visit New York, they stay with Quinn and his paintings in his Upper West Side apartment.

One of the theatre’s founders, the poet William Butler Yeats, 47, is still involved in the operations of the Abbey, but most of the work now falls to his original collaborator, Lady Augusta Gregory, 61.

This spring, Augusta is touring the United States with the Abbey for the second time. Two years ago when they performed the late JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, they had legal trouble in Philadelphia, but it was nothing compared to the riots that had broken out in Dublin when it premiered there four years before. Quinn had argued their case in Philadelphia and gotten them out of jail so they could continue their tour.

But now her trip is almost over. She is in New York, staying with Quinn, and is looking forward to taking in the Armory Show, where some of her friends’ works are exhibited.

Quinn has offered to escort Augusta around, pointing out the paintings he is most proud of.

Mostly, she wants to see what all the fuss is about.

armoury show poster

Poster for the original Armory Show, 1913

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with his ‘Such Friends,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

 

 

 

 

What was happening 100 years ago, January 1914…

…In Ireland?

Finally. After seven months of the Dublin Lock Out, it’s over.

Although the bitter lockout of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union by the United Tramways Co. marked the first time that Irish workers were organized, the unions lost. Even their leader, Jim Larkin, about to turn 38, admitted, “We are beaten. We make no bones about it.”

Douglas Hyde, just turned 54, one of the founders of the Gaelic League as well as the Abbey Theatre, initially supported the political groups that grew out of the early months of the strike. But now he is thinking that he may have to resign from his League again, as he did last year. The League he founded 17 years before to preserve the Irish language is becoming too political for his taste, and his best option may be to leave.

This month, 100 years later in 2014, the Abbey Theatre, founded by Hyde and his “Such Friends,” is staging James Plunkett’s The Risen People, set in the time of the Lockout: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/the-risen-people/

The Abbey Theatre's current production of The Risen People

The Abbey Theatre’s current production of The Risen People

…In England?

Hyde’s friend and fellow Abbey founder, poet William Butler Yeats, 48, is spending another winter in Stone Cottage in the East Sussex countryside, with his new secretary/assistant, American student Ezra Pound, 28, delighted to be working closely with one of his literary heroes.

In the middle of the month, Yeats takes time out to attend a party in West Sussex for Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, 73. The two poets shared a friendship with Abbey founder and director, Lady Augusta Gregory, 61, with whom Blunt—but not Yeats—had an affair.

Farther west in the English countryside, at the Lacket in Wiltshire, Lytton Strachey, 34, is also writing and visiting London regularly. One of his Bloomsbury friends, Virginia Woolf, about to turn 32, married for one year to Lytton’s Cambridge buddy Leonard, 34, has volunteered to do his typing for him. For Virginia, working on her first novel, the typing is a welcome break to help her recuperate from one of her recurring bouts of mental illness.

 

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf

…In France?

Virginia’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 34, along with her husband, Clive, 32, and her former lover, Roger Fry, 47, are visiting Paris to find out what is going on in art. They have struck up a friendship with the city’s foremost ex-patriate art collectors, the Stein family from San Francisco. Vanessa, Clive and Roger have seen the Stein collection in the home of Michael, 48, and his wife Sarah, 43, on the Left Bank. Michael’s sister Gertrude, 39, who lives nearby at 27 rue de Fleurus, introduces the Brits to one of her favourite artists, Henri Matisse, just turned 44.

 

Gertrude is taking them to meet Pablo Picasso, 32, in his studio. Picasso has been championed by Gertrude and her brother, Leo, 41, who recently decided to live permanently in Italy. This leaves Gertrude and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 36, also from San Francisco, on their own to continue the popular Saturday evening salons showcasing the art they are buying.

The Stein family

The Stein family

In the south of France, Lytton’s cousin, painter Duncan Grant, about to turn 29, is meeting up with their Bloomsbury friend, economist John Maynard Keynes, 30, who has come along with his mother, 52, to try his luck at the casinos of Monte Carlo.

…In America?

Finally, George S Kaufman, 24, is getting by-lines for the features he is contributing to the New York Tribune. When his family moved to New York City from Pittsburgh a few years before, he had been thrilled to get a few squibs into the most read column in the city, “Good Humor,” compiled by the already legendary FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 32] in the Evening Mail. FPA had taken a liking to Kaufman and even secured him a full-time writing job with the Times in Washington, DC, publicly congratulating him in the Mail.

However, after Kaufman spent a year in DC, mostly playing stud poker at the National Press Club, the anti-Semitic owner of the Times had spotted him and loudly asked, “What’s that Jew doing in my city room?” Kaufman returned to Manhattan.

In addition to the free-lance pieces he is selling, in the evenings Kaufman is working on some plays with friends, and thinking it would be a good year to visit Europe for the first time.

George S Kaufman

George S Kaufman

100 years ago, at the end of 1913…

In Ireland…

Poet, artist and playwright “AE” [George Russell, 46] is corresponding frequently with his Irish-American friend in New York, lawyer and art collector John Quinn, 43, about the incredible success of The Armory Show earlier in the year. Quinn had helped the newly-formed organizing group, The American Association of Painters and Sculptors [AAPS], untie the legal knots obstructing their importation of art from Europe, and then had bought up a bundle of incredible pieces during the weeks of the exhibit, including works by AE and others.

Irish-American lawyer and art collector John Quinn

Irish-American lawyer and art collector John Quin

In England…

AE’s art school buddy, poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, 48, is spending the winter in Stone Cottage in Ashdown  Forest, East Sussex, working with his recently hired American secretary, poet Ezra Pound, 28.

ezra pound - young

Virginia Woolf, 31, married one year to Leonard, 32, is finishing work on her first novel, to be published by her hated half-brother. Worried about Virginia’s health, Leonard is arranging to give up their apartment in London to move to the country home she has rented with her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 34, Asham, also in East Sussex.

Asham House in East Sussex

Asham House in East Sussex

Vanessa is busy collaborating with their friends, painter Duncan Grant, 28, and art critic Roger Fry, 47, to decorate Fry’s home, Durbins, with large, brightly coloured figures in the hallway. Fry had experimented with woodcuts this year for his Christmas card.

Vanessa, Duncan and Roger have been working hard together in their Omega Workshops, but, by the end of the year, Vanessa has ended her affair with Roger and decided that Omega was taking her away from her painting. She is planning to withdraw from the project in the coming year.

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

In France…

The big news in Paris is that the coveted Mona Lisa, stolen from the Louvre two years before, has been found in Italy and is being returned by the Italian government.

French art lovers are also fascinated by a cardboard construction, Guitar on a Table, by Spaniard Pablo Picasso, 32, which has appeared in the magazine Les Soirees de Paris.

Guitar on a Table by Pablo Picasso

Guitar on a Table by Pablo Picasso

But on the Left Bank, in 27 rue de Fleurus, where Picasso’s paintings hang alongside those of his rival Henri Matisse, about to turn 44, more important issues are being resolved. At the end of the year American ex-patriate writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, 39, is writing to friends that her brother, art expert Leo, 41, with whom she has lived in the flat for ten years, is planning to stay permanently in Italy. She and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 36, also from San Francisco, have found “a place with very little balconies, third story in the Palais Royal and it’s going to be very nice.” She predicts that they will move by July.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus, with the paintings

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus, with the paintings

In America…

Gertrude’s friend, Mabel Dodge, 34, who had publicized Stein’s work during the Armory Show, has upped stakes from New York and is following her current lover, journalist Jack Reed, 26, to Mexico.

Mabel Dodge

Mabel Dodge

In Manhattan, budding writer Dorothy [“No, we’re not part of those Rothschilds] Rothschild, 20, living on her own, has decided not to attend her father’s funeral.

Home for the holidays in St. Paul, Minnesota, from his first year at Princeton University, another aspiring author, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, 17, is excited about writing lyrics for the University’s Triangle Club, and is keeping a detailed ledger of the stories he is working on.

The impact from the Armory Show is still being felt in the American art world. Cubist and postimpressionist paintings are being shown in Pittsburgh, and new galleries are popping up in Manhattan.

Quinn has decided that he will help the galleries with his inevitable purchases. He is also supporting Yeats’ father, painter Jack Yeats, 74, who had come to New York City for a visit and refused to give in to his family’s pleas to return to Ireland. He too had been impressed with the Armory Show, but writes to Quinn,

These gay souls will do good in unshackling painting. But, so far, they do not shake me in my plans, which are only to paint what I have seen happen.

Painter John Yeats, father of poet W B Yeats

Painter John Yeats, father of poet W B Yeats

“Such Friends” will be updating this blog at intervals throughout the coming year, to follow what the writers and their friends were doing one hundred years ago in the eventful year of 1914. Please send any contributions to me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com or leave a comment below. Happy 2014!

‘Such Friends’: Britain before the War— The Irish Literary Renaissance and the Bloomsbury Group

While WB Yeats’ circle were busy organizing the Abbey theatre in Dublin, Virginia Woolf and her friends and family were reinventing art and literature in the townhouses of Bloomsbury and the country cottages of Sussex. Until The Great War intervened, the British sat in drawing rooms, talking over whisky, buns and cocoa, late into the night.

I will be giving a presentation about Britain 100 years ago, before the war, next Monday, 25th November, from 1 to 2 pm, at The Birmingham [UK]  & Midland Institute, Margaret Street, City Centre, http://bmi.org.uk/.

The BMI has agreed to waive the £2 non-member fee to anyone who uses the password ‘Such Friends’ when they arrive. So, if you’re in the area, come along and be sure to say hi. Maybe afterwards we’ll all have our own salon at a nearby pub…

In England on this date 100 years ago, July 8th, 1913,…

…The Omega Workshops open their doors. Using money inherited from a Quaker uncle, painter and critic Roger Fry, 46, along with his Bloomsbury painter friends, Vanessa Bell, 34, and Duncan Grant, 28, produce textiles, ceramics, home furnishings—a whole range of art and decoration, for sale at 33 Fitzroy Square.

#33 Fitzroy Square, home of the Omega Workshops

#33 Fitzroy Square, home of the Omega Workshops

A few doors down from the house Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, 31, had shared with their brother, it is also convenient walking distance from where Vanessa and her husband, art critic Clive, 31, live with their two children.

Planning the opening celebration, Vanessa writes to Roger:  “We should get all our disreputable and…aristocratic friends to come, and after dinner we should repair to Fitzroy Square where there should be decorated furniture, painted walls, etc. There we should all get drunk and dance and kiss, orders would flow in and the aristocrats would feel they were really in the thick of things.” As they work together on this new art project, Vanessa is ending her affair with Roger, switching her attentions to fellow-painter Duncan, openly gay.

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

Invitation to Omega Workshops opening

Over the six years the workshops are in business, their customers include the other members of the Bloomsbury group—Virginia’s husband Leonard, 32, writer and critic Lytton Strachey, 33, and economist John Maynard Keynes, 30—as well as Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 48, and his American secretary, Ezra Pound, 27. When Fry is away in Paris buying up art, Vanessa takes over the running of the operation, until she realizes she isn’t getting any painting done.

The Omega Workshops style still looks modern today. Here is the Roger Fry print which I bought in the gift shop of the Courtauld Gallery. It looks great in our Edwardian living room

Design for a Carpet by Roger Fry

Design for a Carpet by Roger Fry

In France on this date 100 years ago, May 29th, 1913…

…a new ballet, The Rite of Spring, staged by Igor Stravinksy, 30, and the Ballets Russes under the direction of Serge Diaghilev, 41, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, 24, premiers in Paris at the Theatre Champs Elysees. The audience disapproves with shouts and hisses. But Marcel Duchamp, 25, has already put a bicycle wheel on a stool and called it art, and back in America, the Armory Show has closed, having introduced the States to the latest in painting and sculpture in Europe.

 

This is from the original shocking production of the  ballet.

This is from the original shocking production of the ballet.

rite of spring music

 

The American Stein family are living in Paris, collecting paintings, but a few months ago Leo, 41, moved out of 27 rue de Fleurus, leaving the apartment and artists’ salons to his sister, Gertrude, 39, and her new partner, Alice B. Toklas, 36, also from San Francisco.  An art critic observed of the salons at this time, ‘After the Armory Show had ended and everybody in America had said something witty about [Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase], the crowds of pilgrims became too dense for even [Stein’s] energy to cope with, and her “Saturday nights” gradually became less frequent and certainly less tumultuous. By the time I reached them…an evening party [at 27 rue de Fleurus]…was much like a party anywhere else, though, of course, livelier…But there were no altercations. How could there be? Everyone had been vindicated. Cezannes had suddenly increased in price and the Metropolitan [Museum of Art], much against its will, had been obligated to buy one.”

Another American art collector John Quinn, 43, is collecting manuscripts from writers not as well-known as they soon will be, mostly on the advice of his friend, Ezra Pound, 28. Quinn writes to one of them, Joseph Conrad, 55, that “the passion for having things and collecting things and doing things and being something is a cursed, damnable passion after all.”

Back in the States, Woodrow Wilson, 56, has taken the oath of office as the 28th president. His personal pastor from Princeton, NJ, is Rev. Sylvester Beach, whose daughter, Sylvia, 26, has enjoyed the family visits to Paris so much, she has been thinking about moving there and opening her own bookshop.

Here’s a clip of the Joffrey Ballet’s 1989 reconstruction of the original The Rite of Spring:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF1OQkHybEQ

In America on this date 100 years ago, March 9th, 1913…

…attorney and art collector John Quinn, 43, returns yet again to the Armory Show to buy another lithograph by the late Paul Gauguin, for $6. The night before, Quinn and the show’s organizers, the American Association of Painters & Sculptors [AAPS] had hosted a ‘beefsteak’ party at Healy’s Restaurant, 66th Street and Columbus Avenue, for their ‘friends and enemies’ in the press. Whether they had praised or trashed the artwork, critics were invited from Century magazine, the Sun, the Globe, the World, the Post, American Art News, and Arts & Decoration, which had devoted an entire issue to the show. The artists picked up the tab for the party—$234 for the whole night. Here’s a menu signed by all the participants, featuring one of the most controversial pieces, Nude Descending a Staircase, by Marcel Duchamp, 25:

An autographed menu from the Armory Show's 'Beefsteak dinner'

An autographed menu from the Armory Show’s ‘Beefsteak dinner’

Even the waitresses joined in the singing and dancing. Joke telegrams were read out from American art collector and contributor to the show, Gertrude Stein, 39, and British founder of the London Post-Impressionist shows, Roger Fry, 46. One of the most vicious critics, from the Tribune, ended his remarks with ‘It was a good show, but don’t do it again.’

A few days before, as the new American president, Woodrow Wilson, 56, took his oath office, former President Theodore Roosevelt, 54, visited the Armory escorted by Quinn, and was heard roaring ‘Bully!’ in front of the pictures.

The AAPS had just received confirmation that the Chicago Art Institute wants to put on the show, but only the most radical works. It’s due to open there before the end of the month, so Quinn comes back often to buy up more treasures.