‘Such Friends’:  Sir Hugh Lane and the sinking of RMS Lusitania, 1915

When I first met my friend Pat, she told me that her great uncle, Edmund Ireton, had been a passenger on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland in 1915. I was interested because my research into the Irish Literary Renaissance had led me to the story of the nephew of Abbey theatre founder Lady Augusta Gregory, Sir Hugh Lane, who also went down with the ship. Along with part of his art collection insured for $4 million.

Picture 384

Sir Hugh Lane (1875-1915)

Pat and I talked then about doing a joint presentation about Hugh and Edmund, and, on the evening of Wednesday, 5th July, 2017, we are going to speak to the Birmingham [UK] Irish Heritage Association at the Irish Centre in Digbeth. All welcome.

Irish center Digbeth

The Irish Centre, Birmingham

In preparation for the big event, I took a day trip last Sunday to see the Lusitania exhibit at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, right on the Albert Dock in beautiful Liverpool. Pat had been a few years ago but, despite our many day trips to Liverpool, less than two hours away by train, I’d never seen this museum. Hey—there’s a lot to do there.

Merseyside-Maritime-Museum-exterior-©-National-Museums-Liv

Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool

And I timed my trip to take in their annual commemoration of the anniversary of the sinking, at 2:10 pm on 7 May, 1915.

The ceremony is held each year near the propeller from the ship, still visibly damaged, which the Maritime Museum has installed nearby.

Lusitania propeller vertical

The Lusitania propeller in Liverpool

Ellie Moffat, the curator of the permanent Lusitania exhibit at the museum, read an excerpt from a letter written by a survivor, Winifred Hull, to her husband, describing in painful detail the moment the ship was hit and her lack of hope that she could survive.

Geoff Pawling, Mrs. Hull’s grandson, then read out other details from her letter, about how helpful the people of Queenstown, Ireland, were, and how horrible to see so many—1,193 men, women and children—corpses piled up.

Very moving.

Hugh Lane was more to Lady Gregory than a nephew. During his childhood he lived in Dorset, but spent many of his summers at her home Coole Park in the west of Ireland. She got him his first job as an art restorer, and he went on to become one of Ireland’s foremost art collectors. His promise of an art gallery for Dublin to house his collection is one of the reasons he earned a knighthood from the British government in 1909.  Remember—Ireland was still part of the UK then.

Any of you who have been to Dublin have seen the ubiquitous signs, ‘Hugh Lane Gallery,’ pointing to the imposing building just north of Parnell Square.

dublin_street_2 w hugh lane sign

A Dublin street

In early 1915, both Augusta and Hugh were in the States, hitting up rich Irish-Americans for money for the gallery. They were hosted in New York City by one of their targets, John Quinn. See how I got him in there?!

Quinn had warned both of them to not return to Ireland on a British ship like the Lusitania, fearing that it would indeed be torpedoed. When I read of his foresight, I was very impressed.

But my further research revealed that the German embassy had taken an ad in New York newspapers warning people to not sail on a British ship through what they considered to be a war zone.

German embassy and Lusitania ad

German embassy ad next to Cunard ad for Lusitania

Lady Gregory, thankfully, listened to Quinn and went home in early April on the USMS St. Paul, a safer American ship.

Hugh Lane boarded the Lusitania in New York on 1st May, 1915, along with Pat’s great uncle Edmund, and 1,958 other passengers; Hugh in first class, Edmund in third.

Hugh also brought with him some of the paintings he’d bought—Rembrandts, Rubens, Titians and Monets—secure in lead cylinders. Divers to the wreckage in 1994 saw cylinders in the hold. Are the paintings worth digging up? In that same year, the Irish government issued an Heritage Protection Order for the site, so there’s little chance we’ll ever find out.

Unfortunately, Hugh Lane’s legacy was one of the longest battles in Irish and British legal history.

Pissed off that the Dublin government hadn’t given him a decent building for his collection, Hugh left his paintings to the National Gallery in London in his will.

Before boarding the Lusitania he had a change of heart and wrote a codicil leaving them to Dublin. But no one witnessed it.

There began the saga, a full employment program for Irish and British lawyers—and a full-time job for Lady Gregory, who died in 1932—that dragged on for 44 years until 1959 when both sides agreed to share the paintings. Doh.

Les parapluies Renoir

Les parapluies by Auguste Renoir, in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, for now

Today, you can see most of the paintings in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, the Hugh Lane [just follow the signs], although some are exchanged every few months for ones that the National Gallery still hold. Like most relationships, it’s complicated, but it works.

If you want to know more about Hugh, and Pat’s uncle Edmond, here is a link to a video of the whole presentation at the Birmingham Irish Centre. The good part starts about 1:50.

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

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

‘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.

 

 

 

 

In Dublin, late August, 1904…

…playwright, poet and painter ‘AE’ [birth name: George Russell], 37, is writing to his Irish-American friend, art collector John Quinn, 34:

My exhibit has just opened and my heart is full of woe because I have sold over half of them the first day.”

AE has been drawing and painting for years, but this is his first exhibit. Its success means he will now have to actually think of himself as a professional painter. He continues…

I think I have sold 37 altogether and I believe I have beaten the record in Dublin for any show of the kind. I will hardly have a picture on my walls and I had grown fond of them.”

The Winged Horse, by AE, included in the 1904 exhibition

The Winged Horse, by AE, included in the 1904 exhibition

Despite his forlorn tone, AE was actually pleased to think he might have an alternative career to his work with the Irish National Theatre Society. Lately, the fights among the directors—William Butler Yeats, 39, Lady Augusta Gregory, 52, John Millington Synge, 33—had gotten nasty. AE had pulled out, but then been drawn back in to help re-organize the group into a limited company.

However, as he’d written to Quinn earlier this year,

I am always fighting with [Yeats], but if I hadn’t him to fight with it would make a great gap in my life.”

The Spirit of the Pool by AE, included in the 1904 exhibition

The Spirit of the Pool by AE, included in the 1904 exhibition

Thanks to our new ‘Such Friends’ at The New York Public Library (John Quinn Memorial Collection) for permission to quote from AE’s letter to John Quinn.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Upper Ely Place, Dublin, May of 1902…

…writer George Moore, 50, is excited about the upcoming production of The Tinker and the Fairy, a play based on Irish folk tales by his new friend, founder of the Gaelic League, Douglas Hyde, 42.

Moore is the one who suggested staging it in his own back garden, as a one-off special event, with Hyde playing the lead role of the Tinker, followed by a posh, invitation-only reception for 300 special guests,

Upper Ely Place, Dublin

Upper Ely Place, Dublin

As Moore had hoped, this is turning in to THE event of the Dublin social season—and it is all his baby. He and Hyde agreed on a translator to produce an English version of the play, from the original Irish. But it was Moore who edited it, made major changes in the script, and has directed the whole production. Hyde might have gotten tired of his constant letters of instruction, but even he would have to admit that the play is stronger.

Moore’s purpose is to bring his native Irish culture into the mainstream by working these folk stories from the people into plays by Hyde and his other friends in the Irish National Theatre Society. And everyone in Ireland will know that it is all because of him, Moore, and his efforts.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

George Moore, charcoal drawing

George Moore, charcoal drawing

In Dublin, in the summer of 1904…

Lady Augusta Gregory, 52, is critically watching the rehearsal of A Pot of Broth, a little comedy she wrote a few years ago with William Butler Yeats, 39, for their theatre.

The actors are doing well. But Yeats is driving them nuts. As one of the theatre’s staff related later,

Lady Gregory was the very opposite to…Yeats in sitting quietly and giving direction in quiet, almost apologetic tones”

Augusta is thinking that, after the rehearsal, she’ll invite everyone over to her room at the nearby Nassau Hotel to re-hash the performances and make suggestions.

Earlier this evening she’d had dinner with Yeats and John Quinn, 34, the handsome Irish-American lawyer from New York. He’s been coming over to Ireland in the summers to uncover his Irish roots, and spending more time with her here in Dublin and at her western Ireland home, Coole Park. Quinn has been talking to one of the other theatre principals, Douglas Hyde, 44, about arranging an American lecture tour to raise funds for Hyde’s Gaelic League..

But tomorrow, Quinn will be off to London and Augusta will head back to Coole. She’s thinking it would be great to bring the theatre over to New York for a tour sometime soon.

Lady Augusta Gregory, c. 1904

Lady Augusta Gregory, c. 1904

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In November of 1889…

…in Dublin, Irish scholar Douglas Hyde, 29, has found an excuse to stop by the home of Maud Gonne, 22, for the second time that day. He’s been feeling quite smitten by the six foot tall Englishwoman who has taken up his cause of preserving Irish culture.

Hyde has been giving her Irish lessons and she’s been coming to meetings of the Pan-Celtic Society with him, joining in the singing of ‘All for Ireland’ a few months ago.

However, his friend William Butler Yeats, 24, has written a play for Gonne. He and Yeats have known each other since Hyde was at Trinity; they’ve worked on books of poetry together, sitting up all night in his rooms drinking whiskey and criticising each other’s work. But lately, Willie seems to be spending more time with Gonne than Hyde.

Well, Hyde will see her again tonight at the Society meeting in Marlborough Street, just off Abbey Street, in city centre.

The Dublin Streets A Vendor of Books 1889 by Walter Osborne

The Dublin Streets A Vendor of Books 1889 by Walter Osborne

In March of 1890…

…in Dublin, artist, poet, and drapery store clerk George Russell, 22, is pissed off. His best friend for the past six years, poet William Butler Yeats, 24, is moving to London. Why?!

A Mystical Figure, painting by George Russell

A Mystical Figure, painting by George Russell

Since they met in art school, Yeats and Russell have bonded over their shared interests in art, poetry, spiritualism, theosophy—united against their Church of Ireland parents’ values, sitting up talking until the early hours of the morning.

Now, while George is thinking of moving into the Dublin lodge of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophist Society, Willie seems to be moving away from them, using the Ely Place residence as just a place to stay when he is visiting. ‘Yeets,’ as Russell insists on calling him, is more entranced with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Indian mystic Mohini Chatterji, 32, and the British activist on behalf of Irish independence, Maud Gonne, 23.

Well, the hell with him. George won’t even bother to say good bye to his friend; he has to get to South Great George’s Street and his £40 per year job at Pim’s. It’s a good job. It’s very routine. It gives him time to think.

AE by Orpen btr

 

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com if you want more details.

One morning in 1867…

… in Dublin, lawyer John Butler Yeats, 28, graduate of Trinity Law School and father of William Butler, 2, and Lily, just a few months old, announces to his wife and son at breakfast that he has decided to chuck it all and become a painter. He moves the family to London so he can attend Heatherley School of Fine Art and hang out with the pre-Raphaelite painters at the home of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 39.

Years later, when family friend Oscar Wilde would tell this story, listeners would ask, ‘Could he paint?’ Wilde would answer dramatically, ‘Not in the least! That was the beauty of it!’

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

 

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com for more details.

On June 22, 1897…

…the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria, 78, is celebrated.

In London, before her procession through the streets begins, the monarch visits the central Telegraph Office to send a message to her subjects across her empire.

Queen Victoria Jubilee’s procession in front of Buckingham Palace

Queen Victoria Jubilee’s procession in front of Buckingham Palace

Siblings Virginia, 15, Vanessa, 18, and Thoby Stephen, 16, watch the parade from the window of the hospital where they are visiting their half-sister who is ill.

But in at least one part of the Empire, Dublin, Ireland, there are organized protests.

Poet William Butler Yeats, just turned 32, is there with his much beloved Maud Gonne, 30, political activist. She has been involved in the resistance to celebrating the ‘Famine Queen’s’—as Gonne calls her—60 years on the throne.

At the National Club in Rutland Square, Yeats has the doors locked to keep Gonne inside until she can explain to him what she is going to do. ‘How do I know until I get out?!’ Gonne asks.

The Irish La Pasionaria races out into the square and delivers a memorable speech demanding, ‘Must the graves of our dead go undecorated because Victoria has her Jubilee?’ Riots ensue.

Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne

That evening, Yeats goes to the local newspaper to tell them that he had done his best to keep her inside. He later writes that Gonne ‘was very indignant at my interference. I refused to let her leave the National Club. She showed magnificent courage thru the whole thing…She is now the idol of the mob and deserves to be’

The next day, Gonne leaves to recuperate in France; Yeats heads off to travel through the north and west of Ireland with friends.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

On this date 100 years ago, 2nd February, 1914…

…in England, The Egoist magazine runs the first of 25 instalments of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by Irish writer James Joyce, who turns 32 on this date. Dora Marsden, one month younger, had founded The New Freewoman suffragette magazine the year before, but American poet Ezra Pound, 28, had convinced her to change the name and start publishing modern writers like Joyce.

Pound had discovered Joyce’s work the previous year through his new best friend, poet William Butler Yeats, 48. They have been living and working in Stone Cottage in Sussex, with Pound helping Yeats because his eyesight is failing.

Joyce is working as an English teacher in Trieste, Italy, having his work rejected by publishers in Ireland and England. His partner, Nora Barnacle, 29, takes care of their son Giorgio, 9, and daughter Lucia, 7, and puts up with Joyce’s drinking and ever-wilder schemes to make money, including running the first cinema in Dublin, during his frequent trips back home.

We’ll be celebrating Jimmy Joyce’s 32nd birthday 100 years and three days late this Wednesday, 5th February, at the Birmingham Irish Heritage centre in Digbeth. Come along around 7 pm for my presentation, ‘Such Friends’: James Joyce in Dublin and Paris. [There are rumours of cake.]

But if you can’t make that, I’ll be talking about Joyce again on Monday, 24th February, at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, from 1 to 2 pm. Mention ‘Such Friends’ and they will waive the members’ fee!

Here’s a picture of the movie theatre Joyce managed in Dublin, taken many years later.

Volta cinema dublin