‘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 Manhattan in mid-summer of 1915…

…New York Tribune writer FPA [Franklin P. Adams, 33] is searching for material for his daily column, “The Conning Tower.”

It appears that his loyal readers stuck with him after he got kicked off The Evening Mail last year—after a decade of building up one of the largest audiences in New York–when it was bought by a pro-German syndicate. The new owners managed to get rid of most of their Jewish writers, including one of FPA’s proteges, George S Kaufman, 25. So he’d brought Kaufman with him to the Trib.

Now FPA’s thinking of giving one of his other young writer friends a mention, Heywood Broun, 27. He has just moved from sports reporter to drama critic at the Trib. And has told FPA that he’s fallen madly in love with a Russian ballerina, Lydia Lopokova, 23, and is determined to marry her. FPA writes for tomorrow’s issue,

Heywood Broun, the critic, I hear hath become engaged to Mistress Lydia Lopokova, the pretty play actress and dancer. He did introduce her to me last night and she seemed a merry elf.’

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

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