‘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 the west of Ireland, near Gort, in the summer of 1897…

…amateur playwright Edward Martyn, 38, has invited his neighbour, Lady Augusta Gregory, 45, to tea. Her home, Coole Park, is over six miles away from his, Tullira, so they don’t see each other too often.

Augusta wants to meet Martyn’s house guest, the poet William Butler Yeats, just turned 32, who has been traveling around this part of the country for the past week or so.

Tullira

Tullira

Yeats and Lady Gregory have met briefly before, in London, where she held salons at her flat when her husband Sir William Gregory, Member of Parliament, was alive. Now she spends most of her time here in her native Ireland, raising their son Robert, 16, and trying to learn Irish.

Martyn is not particularly sociable. Or neighborly. But on this occasion he figures Augusta will keep the conversation going. He’s already angry with Yeats for having invoked some sort of ‘lunar power’ the other night. And in the room right above his chapel! These Protestants have no respect for the religion of others, particularly Catholics like Martyn.

Besides, Willie and Augusta just might get on with each other.

The chapel in Tullira

The chapel in Tullira

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 December of 1896, in Paris…

…Sorbonne language student and translator John Millington Synge, 25, is thinking about moving on.

He just had an interesting chat with poet William Butler Yeats, 31, who had sought him out when he learned that there was another Irishman staying at the same hotel, the Corneille, near the Theatre Odeon on the Left Bank.

Synge had told Yeats about his work as a book reviewer, interest in French literature and Breton culture, and his desire to travel. Yeats was impressed. Here was a young Irishman with passion—but heading in the wrong direction.

Yeats told him, ‘Give up Paris and go to the Aran Islands….Live there as one of the people themselves. Express a life that has never found expression’

Although he had grown up in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, Synge knew little about his own culture. He had rarely even heard Irish spoken, had spent his life among the Protestant upper class, travelled through Germany, Italy and France. Maybe it was time to visit his own country and find the roots of his culture. He could pick up the language fairly quickly, and the ‘peasants’ might prove to be interesting.

And his girlfriend had just turned down his proposal of marriage—again. Time to head west.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

 

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.

In April of 1894…

…in London,  novelist and man about town George Moore, 42,  is off to the Avenue Theatre to catch a double bill of one-act plays by two new playwrights and fellow Irishmen, George Bernard Shaw, 37, and William Butler Yeats, 28.

He’s heard of Shaw, but Arms and the Man is the first of his plays to be staged. It was a last minute substitution by the producer, Shaw’s mistress, Florence Farr, 33.

Theatrical producer Florence Farr

Theatrical producer Florence Farr

Land of Heart’s Desire is Yeats’ first produced play also, and he has written in a dance part for Farr’s niece. In his autobiography, Moore remembers his first impression of the young Dubliner:

 Yeats provoked a violent antipathy as he strode to and forth at the back of the dress circle, a long black cloak dropping from his shoulders, a soft black sombrero on his head, a voluminous black silk tie flowing from his collar, loose black trousers dragging untidily over his long heavy feet—a man of such excessive appearance…[I mistook] him for an Irish parody of the poetry that I had seen all my life strutting its rhythmic way in the alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens, preening its rhymes by the fountains, excessive in habit and gait.

W B Yeats and his 'voluminous black tie'

W B Yeats and his ‘voluminous black tie’

 

 

 

Both plays are critical successes, but Moore sees no reason to meet his countrymen after the performance to congratulate them.

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.

 

In late 1894…

…in London, Lady Augusta Gregory, 42, widowed for the past two years, is moving her possessions back to the Gregory home, Coole Park in the west of Ireland, and getting rid of a lot of her late husband’s ‘rubbish.’ On the basis of his autobiography, which she edited, she has convinced a London publisher to commission her to edit his family correspondence, which she found in a box at Coole.

This is the kind of project Augusta has been looking for. During her 12-year marriage to Sir William Gregory, Member of Parliament, Governor of Ceylon, and 35 years her senior, she had travelled the world, organized a campaign to free a rebel Arab leader, had an affair with a poet, and become a mother.

St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London

St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London

In their London home at Hyde Park Corner, Lady Gregory had hosted a salon with the likes of Henry James, Alfred Lord Tennyson, James Whistler, Randolph Churchill, Sir John Millais, Aubrey Beardsley, and her fellow members of the Protestant Irish upper class, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats. Lured by the promise of fascinating conversation, moving between the drawing room, the dining room and the library, the elite of London felt comfortable gossiping about art and politics at the Gregory home.

Early on, Lady Gregory had had her guests sign her fan, made of sandalwood and crimson satin. When that one was filled, she bought fans of ivory for them to autograph, similar to this one:

An autographed ivory fan, similar to Lady Gregory's

An autographed ivory fan, similar to Lady Gregory’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her son Robert, now 13, inherited Coole Park when William Gregory died, but Augusta has the right to live there for life. Back there, working on her book, she wants to invite other writers and artists to visit and stay during the summers.

My photo of Lady Gregory’s autograph tree, Coole Park, western Ireland

My photo of Lady Gregory’s autograph tree, Coole Park, western Ireland

 

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

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.

100 years ago this month, December 1914…

In Ireland…

…Poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, 49, has started selling some of his manuscripts to his Irish-American friend, collector John Quinn, 44, and using the funds to support his dad, painter John Butler Yeats, 75, living near Quinn in Manhattan. Dad refuses to come home to Dublin.

Yeats’ ‘Hostess’ for many years, Lady Augusta Gregory, 62, back from the Abbey Theatre’s third tour of America, has rented out her stately home, Coole Park in the west of Ireland, for shooting parties.

Coole Park

Coole Park

In England…

Virginia, 32, and Leonard Woolf, 34, married two years now, are celebrating Christmas in Marlborough, near their Bloomsbury friend, writer Lytton Strachey, 34. There is a big party planned at the Lackett, the cottage Lytton is renting. He has introduced his lover and cousin, painter Duncan Grant, 29, to David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, 22. They seem to hit it off.

In France…

…British King George V, 49, has recently visited the frontline troops.

American writer Gertrude Stein, 40, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 37, have taken to walking around Paris with their friend, painter Pablo Picasso, 33. On the Boulevard Raspail one night, as Alice tells it later in her Autobiography, they see their first camouflaged cannon. Picasso stops:

“He was spell-bound…It is we that have created that, he said. And he was right, he had. From Cezanne through him they had come to that. His foresight was justified”

Big Bertha cannon, used in Paris

Big Bertha cannon, used in Pari

In America…

…The New York Stock Exchange, having closed except for bond trading when war broke out in Europe, has reopened. The Dow Jones Average drops 24%, the largest one day drop in its history.

Recently married, and recently fired from his personnel job, Harvard University alumni Robert Benchley, 25, has given the speech at the dinner following the Harvard-Yale game. His parody translation of a description of football from the Chinese earns him the reputation as ‘the greatest humourist of all time at Harvard.’

In New Jersey, Rev. Sylvester Beach, 62, has been the subject of gossip, even in New York publications, for having an affair with one of his parishioners. His wife Eleanor, just turned 53, preferring to live apart from her husband, tells him that she’ll take their daughters back to Europe, where they had lived before, to benefit from the travel experience. Her only regret, she writes, is that her daughter Nancy, 27, who prefers to be known as ‘Sylvia,’ will be ‘lost to this country.’

Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach

 

 

 

All are looking forward to 1915, feeling that the war will be over soon…