Corvettes and the Cold War

During World War II, American GIs could be found all over Europe speeding down country roads in small, powerful, and agile cars that were not available back home: MGs, Allards, Austin Healys, and Triumphs. But it was not just average grunts who were enjoying these cars. Air Force General Curtis LeMay fell in love with sports cars during his time overseas, and after he helped defeat Hitler, he brought an Allard J2 back to the States. By the late 1940s, LeMay was in charge of the Strategic Air Command—the first line of defense against the looming Soviet threat—and encouraged his airmen to race cars on the bases he was stationed at in order to keep their senses, reflexes, and instincts sharp, since they were basically driving a road version of their bombers and fighters.

Air Force General, Curtis LeMay was a champion of the American sports car. (https://www.velocetoday.com/people/people_55.php)

LeMay knew that America’s new superpower status meant it needed a sports car that could rival anything coming out of the Old World. He encouraged legendary auto designer Harley Earl to come up with what became America’s sensational sports car—the Chevrolet Corvette. Named after the highly maneuverable, powerful, and crafty military ship that gained fame in the war, helping to save Europe from fascism, this new car embodied the new post-war jet age with tail fins, bullet headlights, and wraparound windshield. Chevy capitalized on military imagery in their advertising. One ad claimed that Corvettes, come upon you “like a Stuka,” and another ad said the new V8 performs like a V2 rocket or missile (appropriate for the Cold War and the burgeoning space race). Other ads compared Corvette to Europe’s best sports cars—often goading Italy’s Ferrari, Germany’s Mercedes and Porsche, and England’s MGs and Jaguars—in essence “doing America proud” with a sports car that matched its ascendency in the post-war world.

This advertisement from 1957 pokes jabs at European sports cars while referencing the fighter planes of the Second World War. (https://i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Corvette-1957-Ad-01.jpg)

The Cold War imagery is hard to deny in this Corvette ad from 1955. (https://www.hobbydb.com/catalog_items/1955-corvette-ad-the-v8-that-goes-like-a-v2)

America’s status as a superpower came with “doing America proud” in sports cars—a formerly European domain. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/510314201509816659/)

This was also the era of the Space Race—a hotly contested theater in a now interstellar Cold War. Astronauts were courageous, daring, and talented men who lived life on the very edge. They needed machines that were speedy, responsive, and powerful to survive in the great unknown. What better car than the Corvette to serve these modern-day heroes and mimic the vehicles they took to space. They often raced at Cape Canaveral, pushing their bodies to the limit in preparation for launch. Indeed, from the Mercury missions on, the Corvette was the official car of astronauts. The Apollo 12 crew was so enamored that they each had matching gold ’69 Corvettes with black trim, and their mission roles written on the doors. The space imagery even carried over to the advertising for 1969, which touted its high performance and removable T-top with the catchphrase, “10 Seconds to Lift Off.”

Corvette and the Space Race were linked—this time the launch of a rocket mimics the way the new T-top lifts off the Corvette. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/106045766200823579/)

In the Space Race, Corvette was the official car of American astronauts. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573786808751613737/)

Indeed, from the country roads of England in the waning days of World War II to the airstrips of the Strategic Air Command to the Final Frontier, the Corvette was not just a reflection of the Cold War era, but an active participant in the culture of the Cold War.

Join us for Winterthur After Hours, Friday, May 26, where you can see vintage Corvettes and hear Thomas give a brief talk on Corvettes and the Cold War. In addition, Thomas will give a full lecture on the topic on Saturday, May 27, during Historic Autos and on July 6. Winterthur.org/afterhours

Post by Thomas Guiler, Manager and Instructor, Academic Programs
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

References:

Jeremy R. Kinney, “Racing on Runways: The Strategic Air Command and Sports Car Racing in the 1950s,” Icon 19, Special Issue Playing with Technology: Sports and Leisure (2013)

Jerry W. Passon, The Corvette in Literature and Culture: Symbolic Dimensions of America’s Sports Car (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2011)

Karl Ludvigsen, Corvette: America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car, The Complete History (Cambridge, MA: Bentley Books, 2014)

Automobile Quarterly, Corvette: Thirty Years of Great Advertising (Princeton: Princeton Publishing, 1983)

Randy Leffingwell, Corvette: Seven Generations of American High Performance (Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks, 2015)

Randy Leffingwell, Legendary Corvettes (Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks, 2010)

Posted in Academic Programs, antique cars, Ephemera, Historic automobiles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Paper Dolls Go Hollywood

In the early 1900s, the budding movie industry creatively used publicity to cement its foothold in the entertainment world.  One easy marketing method was to create paper dolls of leading actors and actresses that were reproduced in popular magazines. This marketing strategy allowed the movie industry to quickly get the faces and names of their stars into the homes and hearts of fans.

Hollywood’s first major child star, John Leslie “Jackie” Coogan (1914–1984), got an early start in vaudeville and silent movies before his breakout role in the 1921 movie The Kid. His character, raised by Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” into a life of minor crime, was finally reunited with his mother, who had earlier abandoned him as a baby. Studios quickly cast him in a succession of similar roles.  A 1925 issue of Woman’s Home Companion featured a Coogan doll with costumes from Oliver Twist, A Boy of Flanders, Little Robinson Crusoe, and The Rag Man— all movies where he starred as boys in straitened circumstances. His role in Long Live the King was a slight departure in that he was a runaway prince who was later captured by revolutionaries. 

Jackie Coogan and costumes. Col. 121, Waldron Collection, Winterthur Library.

Coogan reached multimillionaire status by age 21, but soon discovered that his earnings had been spent by his mother and stepfather, and he could only recoup a small percentage of his millions through legal means. His experience served not only as a warning for other young actors, but also led to the passing of the 1939 California Child Actor’s Bill, commonly known as the Coogan Act, which protects their earnings and regulates schooling and work hours. Coogan survived his family’s betrayal, continued to work in film and radio, and later turned to television work, most famously playing Uncle Fester in the 1964–66 sitcom The Addams Family.

Magazines had been offering paper dolls even earlier than 1925. The film fan magazine Photoplay featured illustrator Percy Reeves’s likenesses of actresses Lila Lee and Mary Miles Minter in a 1920 Movy-Dolls series. Lila “Cuddles” Lee (1910–1973) graduated to a Hollywood contract in 1918 after performing in kiddie review shows and appeared in movies alongside matinee idols Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.

Lila Lee paper doll. Col. 121, Waldron Collection, Winterthur Library

Reeves depicted her in her rugged costume in the 1919 film Daughter of the Wolf, a love story set in the dangerous fur-trading world of northwestern United States. The caption “Full Figure of Judy of Rogue’s Harbor,” possibly corresponding with the yellow dress and cloche hat on the same page, is misleading since another actress, Mary Miles Minter, and not Lee, played Judy in the 1920 movie. 

Lila Lee’s costumes. Col. 121, Waldron Collection, Winterthur Library

Lee was in high demand throughout the decade and though she made the transition to talkies, roles became more infrequent by the mid-1930s. She acted in a few plays and soap operas in later decades, but a string of divorces and struggles with alcoholism took their toll.

Mary Miles Minter (1902–1984) followed an early career trajectory similar to Lila Lee’s but hers ended in a more dramatic fashion. With her blonde curls and demure looks, she frequently competed with Mary Pickford for many sweetheart roles. 

Mary Miles Minter paper doll. Col. 121, Waldron Collection, Winterthur Library

In the 1917 Melissa of the Hills, Minter played a poor young woman supporting her father Jethro during many family feuds with money-making schemes. She later fell in love with a lawyer after Jethro’s tragic death. Minter again played the title character, a housekeeper’s daughter who falls for a drunk’s affianced friend, in the 1920 movie Sweet Lavender. 

Mary Miles Minter’s costumes. Col. 121, Waldron Collection, Winterthur Library

Despite acting in more than 50 silent movies, Minter’s career ended rather abruptly after the 1922 murder of her frequent director William Desmond Taylor. Scandal erupted when her romantic feelings for him and rumors of a possible affair with the much-older Taylor went public, casting a shadow on her reputation and influencing her decision to quit the business the following year. Taylor’s murder remains unsolved.

While these paper dolls are not symbolic of the glamorous and idyllic lives of their subjects, they do play an important role of their own. With several of these movies – Coogan’s Little Robinson Crusoe and Minter’s Melissa of the Hills and Sweet Lavender—now considered lost, these surviving dolls and costumes help to preserve a bit of film history.

Post by Jeanne Solensky, Librarian, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

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Chinese Export Porcelain, Swedish Iron, and Beer: A Union of Late 18th-Century Global Connections

Pair of oversize mugs owned by Isaac Gustav Clason (1748-1804). Made in China, ca. 1792. Porcelain (hard paste). Gift of Julie and the late Carl M. Lindberg 2014.29.1.1, .2.

An extraordinary pair of Chinese export porcelain mugs recently donated to Winterthur and featured in our Collecting for the Future: Recent Additions to the Winterthur Collection exhibition opening May 6, has a fascinating private as well as global history.

Likely produced in the late 1700s in Guangzhou (Canton), China, as a special custom order, the mugs were exported to Gothenburg, Sweden, by the Swedish East India Company (S.E.I.C.). According to the Swedish language publication Med Hammare Och Fackla (1940), these items descended through generations of the Clason family and became a crucial part of their holiday celebrations. Every Christmas, the mugs were filled with local beer and shared communally to toast the family’s future prosperity. In their native Swedish they exclaimed “Oss väl och ingen illa!,” or, roughly translated, “For us well and no one bad!” The two mugs are colossal (about 8 inches tall and six inches in diameter) and accommodate over a gallon of liquid each! This likely made for a festive Christmas celebration at the Clason home and is just one of the many stories embedded in these unique items.

Compare our Swedish market mug with a typical coffee mug. While our modern mugs hold about 150 mL, the Swedish mugs hold over 4,700 mL!

Beyond this convivial family history, these vessels also shine a light on the highly productive trade relationship between China and competing European powers in the 18th century. While other European countries began trading with China as early as the 1500s, Sweden did not begin trading directly with them until well into the 18th century (60 years after the Portuguese and 30 years after the Dutch and British).

This punch or hong bowl (a very popular souvenir among traders) shows the blue and yellow Swedish flag (far left) alongside the British and Dutch flags. Made in China, ca. 1780-90. Porcelain (hard paste). Gift of Leo A. and Doris C. Hodroff 2000.0061.

In 1731, the Swedish government granted the first of four charters to the new Swedish East India Company, establishing their monopoly on the nation’s trade with China. During their 82 years in operation, the S.E.I.C. sailed 132 voyages to China on 35 ships. The one-and-a-half-year roundtrip could be treacherous. In fact, the S.E.I.C. lost eight ships during their years in operation. This included the great East Indiaman Götheborg, which tragically sank just outside its home harbor after striking rocks on its return from China in 1745. An extensive marine archaeological excavation of the wreck (conducted from 1984–92) produced an extensive documentary record of the mid-18th-century Swedish-China trade and led to the full scale reproduction of the ship in 2005!

The rebuilt replica of the East Indiaman Götheborg left on her first voyage from Gothenburg to China in October 2005. Image from http://www.gotheborg.com/project/project_introduction.shtml

The Swedish market desired traditional Asian export wares and designs already popular with other Europeans. However, Swedish consumers also commissioned unique items like Winterthur’s pair of mugs, which speak much more specifically to Sweden’s aspirations on the world stage in the 18th century and the impact the melding of global influences had on the material record at that time.

From the start, the S.E.I.C. purchased underglaze blue and white wares and also items with additional overglaze enameling, runaway favorites among European consumers that they could sell for big profits. In addition, Swedes who could afford to, commissioned custom wares decorated with their family crests. Scholars estimate that as many as 300 Swedish noble families sent orders for custom armorial designs to China via the S.E.I.C. to be reproduced on their dinner services.

 

Blue and white pudding plate. Made in China, ca. 1743. Porcelain (hard paste). From the 1905 excavation of the wrecked ship Gothenburg by James Keiller. In the Collection of AntiWest company of Gothenburg. Image from http://www.gotheborg.com/~gothebor/exhibition/exhibit_1-29.shtml

Plate from the estate of Gullbringa, which was owned by Hans Henrik Clason, a captain in the Swedish East India Company on four different ships between 1782 and 1794. Image from http://www.gotheborg.com/exhibition/exhibit_64-147_armorial.shtml

Winterthur’s oversized mugs fall into a special subset of Swedish commissions for customers who wanted to honor their Swedish heritage and affluence with more than the standard armorial design. These items, in many cases in spectacular forms, are decorated with highly detailed topographical landscapes of real Swedish locations and feature detailed settlements, manors, castles, and fortifications.

For example, four surviving covered punchbowls with matching underdishes decorated with topographical designs exemplify the strides the Swedish were making to establish their presence on the global stage and expand their economy beyond their stronghold in northern Europe in the 18th century.

Covered punch bowl and underdish depicting the Swedish Château of Läckö, on Lake Vänern. Made in China, ca. 1745-55. Porcelain (hard paste). In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1940).

Covered punchbowl and underdish depicting the Chinese Pavillion at Drottingholm Palace in Stockholm, Sweden. Made in China, ca. 1763. Porcelain (hard paste). In the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (Museum purchase, 1999. AE85710.A-C).

Suecia antiqua et hodierna (Sweden ancient and modern) was a collection of published engravings based upon topographical drawings by Eric Dahlberg (1625–1705), an accomplished Swedish civil servant and draftsman. Through his over 400 drawings, Dahlberg hoped to make a visual argument for the glory of Sweden. Reproducing those designs onto porcelain also transferred those aspirations onto these luxury items, to be seen on the tables of the powerful Swedish families leading the charge to make Sweden a great European power.

Like these punchbowls, Winterthur’s oversized mugs are decorated with a topographical scene representing an extant Swedish landscape. However, they differ from those examples because rather than depicting an ancient estate from Suecia antiqua et hodierna, Winterthur’s mugs feature an industrialized landscape. The iron-red enamel scene in the central register of these large vessels features the buildings, terraces, and wooden bridge-covered stream of Furudals Bruk, one of Sweden’s foremost iron foundries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Renowned for its production of iron chains, the foundry was originally founded in 1709.

The foundry’s third owner, Isaac Gustav Clason (1748–1804), purchased the foundry in 1776 and brought Furudals Bruk to the height of its success. Under his management it became one of the main suppliers of quality large ironwork in Sweden, even supplying the S.E.I.C. with chains and anchors for their ships! With the foundry thriving at the end of the 1700s, Clason decided to commemorate his success by commissioning a pair of stupendously sized Chinese export porcelain drinking vessels.

Rather than reproducing a grand estate, as might have been the choice of members of the Swedish aristocracy, businessman Clason chose to reproduce an image of his iron foundry. For the drawing, he turned to his friend Gustaf Henrik Hertzenhielm (1749–1804), a nobleman and major in the Swedish army stationed at Dalarna County (where Furudals Bruk was located). Hertzenhielm, reportedly a friend of Clason’s and perhaps an investor in his business, was also an amateur draughtsman and artist. In the 1790s, after a systematic examination of the foundry and the surrounding countryside, Hertzenhielm produced several graphite sketches of Furudals Bruk in the 1790s. A surviving sketch dated 1792 (also at Winterthur) was the direct inspiration for the mugs’ design. 

 

Utsigt af Furudals Gård från Öslorn (Prospect of Furudals Courtyard from Öslorn). Gustaf Henrik Hertzenhielm. Sweden; ca. 1792. Graphite on paper. Gift of Julie and the late Carl M. Lindberg 2014.29.2.

Utsikt mot norra stranden med herrgården (View of the north beach with the manor house). Gustaf Henrik Hertzenhielm. Sweden, ca. 1775. Jernkontoret (Swedish steel producers’ association), library picture collection, Stockholm, Sweden.

Utsikt mot brukets strand (View of the beach of the resort). Gustaf Henrik Hertzenhielm. Sweden, ca. 1790. Jernkontoret (Swedish steel producers’ association) library picture collection, Stockholm, Sweden.

Clason likely sent his order for the mugs through his cousin, S.E.I.C. captain Hans Henrik Clason, who travelled to China on four expeditions between 1782 and 1794 (The Gullbringa service pictured in fig. 6 was owned by Hans). Following Clason’s death, the mugs descended in his family until at least the mid-20th century.

Although sadly empty of Swedish beer now, these exciting new additions to the Winterthur collection tell us a great deal about the global luxury goods market in the 18th century and the power plays being made by both individuals and nations alike in that period of rapid global change. Sweden, long mired in wars with its neighboring countries, sought to gain profit and power through the success of the S.E.I.C. Clason, a member of the self-made industrial class rising to prominence in the late 18th century, aspired to equal status with Sweden’s titled nobility. For both country and man, Swedish-designed, Chinese-produced porcelain was the key to achieving those goals.

Come see the mugs and their print source in the exhibition Collecting for the Future: Recent Additions to the Winterthur Collection, opening May 6, 2017, in the Winterthur Galleries.

Post by Nalleli Guillen, Sewell C. Biggs Curatorial Fellow, Museum Collections Department, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

 

References

A special thank you to Ynge Axelsson and the library at Jernkontoret in Stockholm, Sweden, for providing invaluable references and information on Furudals Bruk and Gustaf Henrik Hertzenhielm.

Clason, Frederick. Furudals mill history. Stockholm: Published by grants from Prytz British fund. 1938.

Gotheborg.com, http://www.gotheborg.com/.

Hervouet, Francois et Nicole and Yves Bruneau. La Porcelaine Des Compagnies des Indes A Décor Occidental. Paris: Flammarion. 1986.

Motley, William (Cohen & Cohen). Double Dutch or, on with the Dance, Let Joy Be Unconfined: Asian Art in London Auction Catalog. 2-10 November 2006.

Örjens gille, Sancte. Med Hammare Och Fackla. Stockholm: Sancte Orjens gille. 1940-41.

Phillips, John Goldsmith. China-Trade Porcelain. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1956.

Pinto de Matos, Maria Antonia and Rose Kerr. Tankards and Mugs: Drinking from Chinese Export Porcelain. London: Jorge Welson Research & Publishing. 2016.

Roth, Stig. Chinese Porcelain Imported by the Swedish East India Company. Printed in Sweden: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, Göteborg. 1965.

Sargent, William R. Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics from the Peabody Essex Museum. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2012.

The Swedish Ship Gotheborg, http://www.soic.se/en/.

 

Posted in antiques, Asian goods, Ceramics, China, chinese export porcelain, Decorative Arts, Eastern objects, exhibition, Exhibitions, galleries, museum collection, Prints, Photos & Drawings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Killing Vampires in Delaware

Photo Courtesy of the Mercer Museum

In the final section of the Treasures on Trial exhibition, visitors can pass their judgement on three objects: an Elmyr de Hory painting, a 19th-century Vampire Killing Kit, and a Winslow Homer landscape. Are these objects what they purport to be or are they fake?

In the case of the Vampire Killing Kit, opinion is almost completely divided between those who believe it is a genuine 19th-century object, and those who believe it is a fake. It is easy to see why this object, on loan from the Mercer Museum, attracts attention. There is quite a bit of mystery and romance that surrounds vampires in gothic fiction, old black-and-white Hollywood movies, and the more recent blockbusters and TV series, which lends to visitors to Winterthur will recognize all the hallmarks of ‘antique’  this object embodies. Faded and yellowing paper labels, a rich dark-wood interior and a cracked, peeling leather exterior all combine to create an object that is both consistent with the nineteenth-century in the public imagination and can easily be visualized in the hand of a vampire killer out on a wet and stormy night, pursuing their next target. The case contains all the objects one may need to kill a vampire; a stake, a gun, gunpowder, silver bullets, vials of serum, and a syringe among others items. All of the objects are held in specially shaped and made compartments.

Photo Courtesy of the Mercer Museum

On face value this object certainly looks nineteenth century, but it presents a really interesting case study of ‘the art and science of detecting fakes’. In assessing this object, as Winterthur’s curators and scientists were tasked to, museum professionals cannot be fettered with their beliefs that vampires are fictional; the object must be assessed within the context of beliefs of the period. For the nineteenth century, as a print of ‘Varney the Vampire’ in the exhibition shows, belief in vampires was not unheard of. In fact, in some areas it was widespread — perhaps stemming from a misunderstanding of the decomposition of dead bodies. The printed label on the inside of the box lid — fake or otherwise — captures this belief:

“Vampire Killing Kit. This box contains the items considered necessary, for the protection of persons who travel into little known countries of Eastern Europe, where the populace are plagued with a particular manifestation of evil known as VAMPIRES. Professor Ernst Blomberg respectfully requests that the purchaser of this kit, carefully studies his book in order, should evil manifestations become apparent, he is equipped to deal with them efficiently. Professor Blomberg wishes to announce his grateful thanks to that well-known gunmaker of Liege, Nicholas Plomdeur whose help in the compiling of the special items, the silver bullets etc. has been most efficient.”

Such eastern European vampires are well documented: the Upier of Poland, Vǎrkolak of Bulgaria, and F.W. Murnau’s 1922 on-screen vampire Nosferatu, who hailed from Romania. But other vampires were believed to exist closer to home: the Chupacabra, the Fifollet, and the Richmond Vampire are all recorded in folklore in the United States.

Set against a strong historical context in which to place a possibly genuine vampire killing kit, Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory were able to test the materials used to make the kit for their authenticity. A combined analysis using X-ray fluorescence (XRF), UV light, and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) suggests that the ivory-faced side of the cross is ivory, and therefore a genuine antique, and FTIR used on the green felt inside and the leather case outer are good matches with real materials. By comparison, the identification of optical brighteners in the paper labels challenges that they were made in the 19th century. Optical brighteners were a product of the 1940s, and so therefore these labels cannot date from the 19th century. Similarly the supposed silver bullet of the kit, when tested with XFR, was revealed to comprise large quantities of lead, tin, and antimony, but no silver. This suggests that the bullet is made of a pewter alloy instead of silver. Therefore, even if the bullet is a genuine 19th-century object, which has not been ruled out, this poses an interesting question in terms of determining whether this object is fake or genuine. Namely, if this is a genuine vampire killing kit made in the 19th century, why would its bullet be made of the wrong metal?

These scientific findings therefore can confirm connoisseurial doubts over the authenticity of the material by demonstrating that although some of the objects in the case may be genuine antiques, some of the significant components are either not what they purport to be or date from the mid-to late 20th century. Visitors to Treasures on Trial at Winterthur will have until January 2018 to view the Vampire Killing Kit and make the decision for themselves. In either case, this exciting object is an example that fake ideas and beliefs can leave behind a material trace that is as physically real as the beliefs are to those who hold them. Fake histories can be real things, but we must be careful to know when we are in the process of creating them and knowing when they have been misused.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a second-year Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and visiting scholar at Winterthur until the end of April (funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities). Twitter: @tom_rusbridge

Posted in art fraud, exhibition, Exhibitions, forgery, fraud, galleries, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


What’s Proof Got to Do, Got to Do with It?

 

Fakes; 1980−90, Made to imitate 18th-century English pottery Earthenware and stoneware
Gift of Henry H. Weldon in honor of June deH. Weldon 1998.28.14−.16, .27a,b

They seem to make unusual exhibition bedfellows: a pair of Tiffany Studios’ lampshades and an eclectic assortment of Staffordshire bear jugs, owl jugs, and candlesticks. On the one hand, the “Grape” and “Dragonfly” lampshades, on loan to Treasures on Trial from the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, are beautiful examples of glass objects: rich in color, intricate in composition, and stylish in design. On the other hand, the Staffordshire objects from Winterthur’s own collection, donated by their original buyer Henry Weldon, are by comparison far more simplistic, if not without their own charm. It is hard not to be drawn to the family of earthenware and stoneware bears that inhabit the back cabinets of the Proof section of the exhibition. Their eyes comical and alert, ears pricked upright, and mouths agape; they are at once bears in a state of both joyous optimism and content repose.

Fakes; 1980−90, Made to imitate 18th-century English pottery
Earthenware and stoneware. Gift of Henry H. Weldon  in honor of June deH. Weldon 1998.28.11, .12, .17−20a,b

Therefore, what these objects share  is not their function, their aesthetic, nor probably even their user, but rather they have all had their authenticity called into question and been exposed as fakes and forgeries through the use of modern microscopic and instrumental analysis in tandem with more traditional connoisseurship. As Treasures on Trial teaches us, techniques such as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, and X-ray diffraction have become important tools in a curator’s arsenal to understand the material composition of objects and validate their authenticity.

“Grape” library lamp (forgery), Maker unknown; 1975−2000,“Dragonfly” lampshade (forgery)
Maker unknown; 1975−2000, both from The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Queens, New York

For the Tiffany lamps and Weldon’s Staffordshire bears, scientific analysis and connoisseurship worked together to ultimately prove that these objects were not genuine. For collectors and curators, connoisseurship is often grounded in opinion rather than fact, resting on a broader knowledge of the field of objects and an assessment of style and technique to differentiate the possible fake from a field of established and documented genuine objects. In many cases, it is connoisseurship that provides the first question and leads to a more thorough investigation. For both the “Grape” and “Dragonfly” lampshades, curators were able to compare the distinctive coloration and quality of glass, the skill of soldering, and the quality of the casting of the bronze bases to many examples of known Tiffany glassware. Meanwhile for the bear jugs and other items of supposed 18th-century pottery, including the owl jugs and candlesticks as well as a candelabrum, teapots, and coffee pots, collectors have a truly extensive back catalogue of examples to make comparisons against. While it was alleged that the faker of the bear jugs and other pieces had used 18th-century illustrations to manufacture these fakes, it was their very uniqueness that first roused suspicion. No genuine surviving examples of such bears are known, and hence if these were genuine, they would be extremely rare. Collectors were also struck by the similarity in form and technique across the different examples of what is now known to be fake earthenware, suggesting that the fakes were produced by an individual craftsman.

The suspicion of collectors was not enough to prove indisputably that the lamps and bears were fakes, and in the case of the bears, it was certainly not enough to level a case against the seller of the items. For the earthenware bears, thermoluminescence analysis dated their production to the 20th century. In addition, the work of Pat Halfpenny, former curator of ceramics at Winterthur, compared the objects against a large sample, creating a two-part case for their fakeness. Despite the combined scientific and curatorial expertise applied to these objects, the courts were still unable to convict the man who sold them to the Weldons in 1992 as evidence of their inauthenticity did not prove that the seller knowingly sold fakes.

While the opulence of the 175 rooms at Winterthur are a nostalgic and charming window into both the culture of a time gone by and the unique collecting habits of H. F. du Pont, they should not conceal the cutting-edge, scientific object research that the institution also houses. The Tiffany lamps and the Staffordshire bears are among the most exciting, but by no means the only objects, which point to the important collaboration between curators and scientists in modern museum life.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a second-year Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and visiting scholar at Winterthur until the end of April (funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities). Twitter: @tom_rusbridge

Posted in art collections, art fraud, Ceramics, Decorative Arts, exhibition, Exhibitions, forgery, fraud, galleries, Glass, Treasures on trial, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Historians as Detectives

Chinese export porcelain, 1920-38. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1966.663; 1966.674; 1966.636; 1966.683.1; 1966.648a,b; 1966.645.1; 1966.638; 1966.639

One of the best examples of the difficulty involved in dating and verifying a genuine antique is represented by the Chinese export porcelain in the Intent section of the Treasures on Trial exhibition. These objects were not sold in a deceitful or malicious way. They were not sold with an exorbitant price tag to intentionally deceive gullible buyers and swindle them, but bought in good faith by H. F. du Pont in 1948 as an expansive set of 63 objects for $7,000. They were, however, incorrectly identified as dating from the late 1700s to the late 1890s by their first collectors, curators, and conservators. They successfully masqueraded under this identity until more extensive historical and scientific research was undertaken in the late 2000s that pinpointed their origins to the 1920s and ’30s.¹

The majority of scholars, however, had dated the porcelain to 1876, and the reason is simple: this fabulous collection of goods—a table screen, flower container, plate, tea canister, platter, punch bowl, jug, and sugar bowl from the exhibition as well as others on display in the main house—include artistic representations of John Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence painting, dated 1786–1818.

This set of objects is an opportunity to consider how historians and curators use objects as clues to determine when and where they were made. As the subtitle of the exhibition, The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes, indicates, historians and curators are not only involved in interpretation but often need to act as detectives and piece together a story from clues and fragments. In many cases, these clues are the objects themselves. As historian Edward Muir pointed out, historians “share an assumption with detectives […] that the clues found in documents, at murder scenes, and in informants’ oral accounts point to something other than themselves.”²
 
For a wide range of historians, ceramics such as bowls, teacups, saucers, and teapots have long been a very important part of 18th-century practices of tea drinking, sociability, and new forms of behavior. This story has been pieced together by drawing on a range of sources, including contemporary images and drawings, conduct manuals, and personal journals. However, perhaps the most important source to understanding why these objects were particularly relevant to the 18th and 19th centuries is the common sense understanding of what the objects’ physical qualities would have enabled: the pouring, serving, and drinking of hot drinks. More recently, this has been expanded to include cold and alcoholic drinks and their associated objects in history such as punch bowls and tankards, which are part of this set.

Not on display in Treasures on Trial, but in Winterthur’s China Shop, is a covered soup tureen that forms part of the same set du Pont purchased in 1948. The object, which is slightly over eleven inches in length and eight inches in width and height, is exemplary of the set in demonstrating the full range of decorative features it uses en masse: overglaze enamel decoration, an American eagle holding a banner, Trumbull’s image, the use of bright colors, a floral border, and a prominently displayed “1776” at the base of the tureen. Research into the chemical composition of these goods ultimately dated them in the 20th century, but the scientific data was only one source of information in this case.³

Soup tureen, Jingdezhen, China, 1920-47. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1966.0669 A, B

 

The wrongly identified dates of manufacture of these objects has been a significant part of how they have been understood since. When the objects were first catalogued, the collection entry cards listed 1825–50. It was checked and validated in 1989, and a further museum report in March 1994 corroborated this date based on the form and design of the porcelain. A Los Angeles Times newspaper clipping in the object record of the tea canister cited the date as 1800–20. Most recently, a 2007 flyer for the Philadelphia Antiques Show listed circa 1870 as the date of manufacture.4

Similarly, while James Henry is frequently cited as the seller, H. F. du Pont’s personal correspondence and bills show that Henry was using paper with the letterhead of Lingnan University, Hong Kong. Although James Henry is now understood to be the seller, on face value it is not clear whether he was conducting a personal transaction on business papers or acting on the university’s behalf.

These porcelains serve to demonstrate how working with an incomplete record can create long-lasting misunderstandings and how historians and curators are often detectives when working with these objects. Nevertheless, by tracing clues and fragments, their work can reveal overlapping histories of objects both at their point of origin, through their collection, and—for these goods— their eventual museum home.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a second-year Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and visiting scholar at Winterthur until the end of April (funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities). Twitter: @tom_rusbridge

¹R. Fuchs and J. Mass, ”Deciphering The Declaration of Independence on Chinese Export Porcelain” in American Ceramic Circle Journal 15 (2009), p. 169

²E. Muir, “Introduction: Observing Trifles” in E. Muir and G. Ruggiero, Microhistory and the Lost People of Europe (1991) p. xiv

³Fuchs and Mass, pp. 177–180

4 Registrars object folders, Winterthur Museum

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Timing is Everything

Exhibitions often represent a point in time, and although Winterthur’s new exhibition Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes has been a project two-and-a-half years in the making, its arrival in early 2017 could not have been more opportune. Following political and cultural changes across the globe in 2016—a fraught U.S. presidential election and the British Brexit vote—the public relationship with news media has changed substantially, and “fake news” has become a staple part of discussions around current affairs. Integral to the challenge that a culture of fake news poses for traditional forms of information is the contested role and value of expert opinion which, if once authoritative, is now more readily challenged and open to public or inexpert scrutiny.

These changes in the political environment amount to a culture in which the nature of information has changed substantially, and this reflects challenges faced by museums, scholars, and collectors as well as politicians and newscasters. The issues of what is genuine, how far expert opinion matters, and how fakery and authenticity have an impact on value are concepts explored by Treasures on Trial, alongside some fascinating detective work.

Visitors to the new exhibition are asked to explore the grey space between fact, fiction, forgery, fraud, and fakery materially, viewing and examining a truly wide-ranging collection of objects drawn from home collections and other places, including the FBI’s New York Office and The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass.

The structure of the exhibition—four rooms entitled: Intent, Evidence, Proof, and You Be the Judge— invite visitors to engage with a range of issues connected to material evidence. In the Intent section of the exhibition, visitors explore how, when, and where these fake objects were manufactured. More pressingly, what was the motivation of the person who created them? In the evidence portion, the exhibition explores how modern conservation experts and scientists use up-to-date techniques to identify the materials and techniques of the objects, differentiating replicas from the genuine article. In the Proof section, visitors are shown the process in which material data is combined with connoisseurship and other evidence to make a definite case for fraud, forgery, or fakery. In the final room, three unique cases of material evidence are presented—two paintings and a nineteenth-century Vampire Killing Kit—and visitors are encouraged to make their choice. Are these objects genuine or are they fake news?

Throughout the exhibition, one of the most important issues visitors are asked to consider is the inherent risk and instability involved when working with fake objects. For example, the first object a visitor sees upon entering the gallery is a fake Mark Rothko painting. Embroiled in the so-called Knoedler Scandal, this object —a mass of blue sitting atop a deep red lower section of painted canvas—was produced by a skilled Chinese forger. When the Knoedler Gallery was discovered in 2011 to be dealing in forgeries, it suddenly closed its doors.¹ Although the Knoedler Gallery has privately made settlements with those who bought the fakes under the auspices of their authenticity, it is now with the courts to decide whether the gallery was complicit in these dealings, or whether this was as unknowing mistake. Similarly, the baseball memorabilia lining the back wall of the first room speaks both to the interactions many ordinary individuals may have had with supposedly authentic goods and how convincing these fakes may be. Here baseball bats purportedly signed by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, a mitt supposedly used by Babe Ruth, and a forged certificate of authenticity are evidence of objects deliberately forged with the intent to deceive, set against the possible unknowing mistake of the Knoedler Gallery. Until ratted out, the seller of the glove alone could have stood to make $200,000.

Painting in the style of Mark Rothko
Pei-Shen Qian
Courtesy of Luke Nikas

Louisville Slugger wooden baseball bat
Purportedly signed by Joe DiMaggio; early 20th century
Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Office

Genuine antique full web workman baseball glove
Purported to have been used by Babe Ruth; 1890s
Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Office

While the differences between these two objects suggest possible differences in the aims and intents of their sellers, the similarities bear much more meaning for the exhibition and its importance to today. This is very much a living exhibition. As Linda Eaton, co-curator, suggested on a walk through for museum staff and scholars, many of the objects on display have particular significance for people alive today. It is a salient reminder that the objects we collect are as impactful for real people as the common and dangerous lexicon of fake news.

Post by Tom Rusbridge, a second-year Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield and visiting scholar at Winterthur until the end of April (funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities). Twitter: @tom_rusbridge

¹ J. Jones, ‘‘Fake Rothko trial reduces tragic art to farce,” The Guardian Online, February 2, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2016/feb/02/fake-rothko-trial-reduces-tragic-art-to-farce. Accessed April 7, 2017.

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A Closer Look: Winterthur’s Dollond Telescope

Taking a closer look has a double-meaning when a telescope is the object of our gaze. This one, with a mahogany wood barrel and brass fittings for glass lenses, is a special treasure in the Winterthur collection. It seems enormous by today’s standards for personal telescopes— about 50 inches long— and although not heavy, is awkward to hold steady at your eye. The barrel’s exterior has 10 faceted, tapering sides, and it may be mounted on a tripod stand. Two brass straps encircling the case near the end were added sometime later to stabilize a few long cracks in the mahogany.

Telescope, 1760‒80; mahogany, brass, glass. Made by Dollond, London, England. Winterthur Museum, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont, 1961.1488.

The Museum of the American Revolution, opening April 19, asked Winterthur to lend a historically significant telescope, so we scheduled a light cleaning session with conservator Linda Lennon. As we worked together, I became eager to share its hidden elements and history as well as a few photos taken during the process. You can see Linda demonstrating how the brass tube fits inside the mahogany case (eyepiece already removed).  

                     

Before any treatment begins, we always update our research and visually assess an object. I knew the brass tube had an engraved inscription added long after the first owner’s lifetime:                             

“Spy Glass of the celebrated J. Paul Jones, who gave it to J. Ross, whose Son in law S. Breck, presents it to S.F. Du Pont, of U.S.N., as a token of his high estimation of Capt. Du Pont’s public services and private virtues. Phila\a March 1851.”

Telescope was the favored name for this instrument within the international science community, but spyglass was also in common use among English-speaking mariners.

The “Capt. Du Pont” was Samuel F. DuPont (1803–1865), a relative of Winterthur Museum’s founder H. F. du Pont, which helps explain why I found this telescope tucked into the corner of a bedroom floor in the Winterthur house beneath a portrait of John Paul Jones (1747–1792). Jones, a Scottish-born merchant and captain, immigrated to North America when it was still a British colony, but he became a fierce adversary at sea. In 1776 Jones directed his mastery of maritime arts and warfare tactics to lead the emerging American navy. Today Jones retains the reputation of a daring and dauntless Revolutionary War naval commander, a reputation bolstered by ample historical fact and patriotic nostalgia.

John Paul Jones, ca. 1777‒85; ink on laid paper. Engraved by Carl Guttenberg after C.J. Notté; published by Esnauts et Rapilly, Paris, France. Winterthur Museum, Museum purchase, 1976.87.4

Jones’s history makes the telescope a notable artifact, but the most recent owner also achieved fame during his lifetime. Samuel F. DuPont rose within the ranks of the young navy that Jones helped build, ultimately becoming a Rear Admiral during the Civil War. Today he is nationally remembered at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C. The inscribed date of 1851 may be in recognition of his military service off the coast of California during the Mexican-American War as well as his work to professionalize the U.S. Navy.

Paul Jones’s life lamentably ended at age 45, while he lived in Paris. I am still searching for a direct link for this telescope to the Philadelphia merchant John Ross sometime before Jones died. I suspect that just before Ross’s son-in-law placed the telescope into DuPont’s hands, the barrel was repaired, and the brass spyglass given a serious polishing for the engraved dedication, which still looks fresh today.

My new research identifies the third stellar name on this telescope. The stamp of a maker, “DOLLOND” appears just above the shop’s location, London, on the telescope’s original sliding lens cover.           

In the 1760–80s, when the telescope was made, Peter Dollond and his brother John Dollond, Jr., began running their father’s business specializing in scientific instruments. Their father, John, an innovator in optics, received an important 1758 patent for achromatic lenses used in refracting telescopes. The Dollond firm became known for superior lenses and produced a range of telescopes for British customers as well as for international scientific and military needs.

Peter Dollond participated in the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia), and the society received an achromatic telescope as a gift from another member in 1784. A few early Americans sought these costly instruments—Thomas Jefferson owned two. I found a newspaper announcement from 1810 announcing that one of Dollond’s large achromatic telescopes had arrived for use at the University of Pennsylvania. Jones’s telescope was still a valued instrument in 1851 but unlikely to have been used by Admiral DuPont.

This photo pictures the inner brass spyglass. It seems that all the original lenses and components are still intact, although one cracked glass had to be stabilized. In the next photo you can see that the brazed seams in the tube above are actually three separate segments that draw apart further and encase a smaller lens tube. All of the spyglass parts and threaded brass rings to hold each lens in place are shown here.

It’s not every day that we get to dismantle an historic instrument, so Linda took great care tracking which lens fit each bezel. After this telescope is cleaned and the case is lightly waxed, it will be reassembled for an exhibition where it will represent the best optical technology available to the American Navy during the War for Independence. It is in pretty splendid condition considering it was used at sea and on land about 250 years ago. Today, we can search on a website dedicated to marine traffic to discover a ship’s homeport and cargo, but this instrument’s carefully ground lenses and their proportionate design brought a distant ship or horizon into clearer sight.

By Ann Wagner, Curator of Decorative Arts, Winterthur, with special thanks to Winterthur conservators Linda Lennon and Bruno Pouliot and photographer Jim Schneck.

These projects were supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services

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The Fad for the Orient: Early Twentieth-Century Trade Catalogues and U.S. Fiction

Desk and bookcase, mid-18th century. Zoe Oliver and Charles H. Sherman Fund, 2015. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

My residency at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Garden last year coincided with the opening of the exhibition Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia, which focused on how Asian art objects traveled to North and South America in the first wave of globalization (roughly estimated as 17th– 19th centuries) and featured cabinetry, textiles, and silverwork of truly impressive craftsmanship.

By chance, I was at Winterthur to learn about Asian goods in America but was studying a different cultural and historical moment— the rise in mass markets for Eastern products in the early 20th century. Therefore, I spent my time not in the museum surrounded by exquisite lacquerware or intricately woven tapestries but rather poring over trade catalogues in the library archives and learning about cheaply produced everyday objects that populated the homes of average U.S. citizens.

I went into the project knowing that a fad for Eastern objects existed—one that in fact dated much earlier than period I was interested in—but I had no idea just how prevalent it was. The diversity and amount of Eastern merchandise marketed to U.S. consumers in the early 20th century, whether authentic or (more commonly) faux, is staggering. In addition to popular items like divans, ottomans, or Turkish rugs, consumers could also purchase a wide variety of goods with, according to retailers, “Oriental” designs, such as rose jars, vases, bottles, teapots, cups and saucers, spice dishes, toothpick holders, egg cups, sardine boxes, sake cups, baking fish dishes, shirred egg dishes, spoon holders, candle snuffers, match boxes, inkstands, earthen figures, porcelain figures, bon-bon boxes, puff boxes, pomade boxes, tobacco jars, ash trays or receivers, Calcutta water coolers, umbrella stands, cuspidors, garden seats, paper cutters, napkin rings, masks, crumb trays and brushes, flasks, lanterns, gongs, and scent bottles.

The list goes on.

I generated this particular inventory from a single catalogue put out by A. A. Vantine & Co., a New York-based specialty store that advertised itself as “Importers from the Empires of Japan, China, India, Turkey, Persia and the East.”

Cover of Vantine’s Catalogue, n.d.

Cover of Vantine’s Catalogue, 1917.

 For Vantine’s and other traders in goods branded “Oriental,” the Orient or the East was defined in expansive terms; it referred at once to the Far East, the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. These stores collapsed together very different cultures considered “other” and exotic in order to turn a profit. In a sense, they created the Orient by tapping into Western fantasies about the East.

Specialty stores like Vantine’s were not alone in fostering and escalating the fad for Eastern merchandise. Ordinary department stores also got in the game, with, for example, Montgomery Ward & Co. retailing Eastern-inspired women’s fashions, such as kimonos and turbans, and Larkin & Co. selling “Oriental” perfume.

Advertisement for Woman’s Turban, Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue, Spring and Summer, 1927.

Advertisement for Chypre Perfume, Larkin Co. Catalogue, Spring and Summer, 1926.

Sears, Roebuck, & Co. and Marshall Field & Co. favored home furnishings like rugs.

Cover of Marshall Field & Co.’s Home Crest Floor Coverings Catalogue, 1922-1923.

 The trend even extended to foodstuffs. Vantine’s regularly advertised what it called “Oriental delicacies,” including tea and crystallized Chinese fruits, while companies like Hills Bros. billed their dromedary dates as food favored by “princesses of the Orient.”

Early 20th century U.S. consumers could purchase goods not only to put into every room of their home—kitchen, bedroom, living room, bathroom, or den—but also, more intimately, to put on their bodies or in their bodies in the form of foods to eat.

As a scholar of U.S. literature, I wanted to better understand how Eastern objects figure in U.S. narratives, particularly short stories and novels from the 1910s–1930s. These objects made their way into the pages of literary fiction from that period with a surprising frequency. What accounts for this phenomenon? Are authors merely reflecting cultural trends or is something else happening? In short, what narrative work do these Eastern objects perform?

Sometimes these objects appear for sensationalist effects, particularly in middlebrow magazine fiction. For example, one thriller by Richard Washburn Child, “The Screen” (1921, The Pictorial Review), generates most of its tension from the titular Japanese screen, a peculiarly animate object behind which a murderous man hides.

Close-Up of Illustration by Robert McQuinn for Richard Washburn Child’s “The Screen,” The Pictorial Review, Mar. 1921.

Similarly, in May Sinclair’s “The Token” (1922, The Pictorial Review), a small figurine of the Buddha seemingly holds magical powers, including the ability to bring back the dead. The authors use these objects to immediately conjure foreignness and, by extension, mystery and danger. We might think of this practice, which of course relies upon stereotypes about Eastern allure or peril, as form of shorthand.

My research focuses on another sort of shorthand role that Eastern goods play in literature from this period—they routinely signal characters’ social status. For instance, Sinclair Lewis and Edith Wharton used such objects to announce and satirize middle class or nouveau riche characters’ pretensions. In bestsellers like Lewis’s Main Street (1920) and Wharton’s The Glimpses of the Moon (1922), characters purchase and use Eastern objects in a misguided attempt to access what they perceive to be high culture.

For example, Main Street’s Carol Kennicott, a new resident in the small town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, throws an “Oriental” housewarming party to show how urbane and creative she is. All of the paraphernalia for the party could have been bought at Vantine’s: guests wear “Oriental robes” and eat chow mein, chop suey, and lychee nuts while sitting amongst Japanese bric-a-brac. While Carol may be more adventurous than her new neighbors, she is not truly worldlier. Lewis pokes fun at her affectations, suggesting that the difference between Gopher Prairie and Carol’s hometown of St. Paul, which she perceives as a sophisticated metropolis, is in fact minimal.

Wharton does something similar with characters like Violet Melrose of Glimpses. Violet decorates her Versailles chalet with Eastern wares, including “leopard skins” and a “pillowy divan.” However, she doesn’t know the difference between China and India.

In lampooning Violet in this way, Wharton goes so far as to suggest that buying Eastern products might preclude genuine knowledge of the East. This type of armchair cosmopolitanism is precisely the sort of experience stores like Vantine offered. As one catalogue declared, “This Book Brings the Offerings of the Orient to Your Door. It enables you to rest comfortably at home in your easy chair, and, at your leisure, select by mail, with absolute confidence, from the largest collection of Oriental goods in America.”

Interior Cover of Vantine’s Catalogue, 1917

The image accompanying this pronouncement features a fantasy bazaar, an oddly mixed space conjuring regions as different as China, Japan, and North Africa. A white woman comfortably wanders down this uncanny street, seemingly not noticing its incongruities. This is the woman that Lewis and Wharton satirize in their 1920s novels. Like Carol Kennicutt and Violet Melrose, she doesn’t know or care about the differences among these cultures. Her goal is merely to buy something that will display to others her supposed refinement.

Post by Margaret A. Toth, associate professor of English and director of the Film Studies minor at Manhattan College. She has published essays in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, MELUS, and Legacy and is currently working on a manuscript titled “Edith Wharton and Post-War Cultures: Reflections on Art and Faith.” https://manhattan.edu/campus-directory/margaret.toth

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Blossoming Prints: The Dutch Flower Still Life Tradition at Winterthur

H. F. du Pont in the Azalea Woods at Winterthur, spring 1958.

Winterthur welcomes the first day of spring with printed flowers in bloom! Visitors to Winterthur know that Henry Francis du Pont’s love of flowers and gardens extended to his collecting and decorating practices. In addition to displaying fresh flowers in many rooms at Winterthur, Mr. du Pont exhibited paintings, prints, and drawings of floral bouquets throughout both the museum and his later home at Winterthur, the Cottage.

View of the Main Hall in the Cottage in 1994, showing a Dutch Baroque flower still life painting from the circle of Jacob de Wit (1695–1754), a follower of Jan van Huysum. Circle of Jacob de Wit, Putti supporting Baskets of Flowers with Birds and Fruit, on stone ledges. Oil on canvas, 52 x 46 ½ in. Sold, Christie’s, 1994.

Although he selected these works solely for their decorative appeal, there is a rich historical tradition of flower imagery that is present throughout the collection at Winterthur.

The floral still life genre dates to seventeenth- century Holland, a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. Dutch flower paintings functioned as decorative images, specimens for scientific investigation, and symbols of the passage of time. The works of Jan van Huysum (1682–1749), a leading Dutch flower painter, embody these functions. Van Huysum examined flowers closely so that he could paint them as naturalistically as possible. At the same time, his canvases were very imaginative, combining foreign and local flowers from different seasons in an artificially arranged bouquet.

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, European artists emulated van Huysum’s bouquets in paintings and prints, and many examples can be found at Winterthur, such as an oil painting inspired by van Huysum and watercolors painted by his followers—all created in the eighteenth century. Van Huysum’s works reached a wider audience through prints however. Two mezzotints at Winterthur represent van Huysum’s lavish compositions in rich tones and delicate surfaces, created by Austrian printmaker Johann Peter Pichler (1765–1807).

Early nineteenth-century Austrian prints after paintings by Jan van Huysum. Johann Pichler after  Jan van Huysum, Still life with flowers and bird’s nest and Still life with flowers and fruit.       Mezzotints, 23 ½ x 17 ½ in., 1994.110.1-2

Pichler probably saw the original van Huysum painting Flower Still Life with Bird’s Nest while working in Vienna as it hung there in the Czernin collection (today in the Scottish National Gallery). The printed bouquets seem to be growing wildly before our eyes, barely contained within the boundaries of the plate. The lush still lifes have meticulous botanical details, such as buds in all phases of bloom, gathered in vases decorated with classical nudes.

Extravagant bouquets featuring different varieties of flowers as well as various insects and fruits made the exotic attainable for print consumers near and far. For instance, a number of prints after paintings by Dutch still life artist Pieter Casteels (1648–1749) were published in Britain in the mid-eighteenth century and collected as far away as the American colonies. These prints commemorated the months of the year in flowers. Winterthur owns a full calendar set entitled Flora, published in 1745 by John Bowles to meet the high demand for fanciful flower pictures.

Two hand-colored etchings from a set representing calendar months published in 1745, after 12 paintings of the same subject done by Dutch still life artist Pieter Casteels from 1730–31.            Thomas Bowles and J. Clark after Pieter Casteels, MARCH and JUNE. Line etched with minimal burin work and hand colored, 14 x 10 in. 1966.1048.3 and 1966.1048.6

The set of thirteen etchings featured one bouquet per month plus a title page introducing the pleasures of the garden. All of the flowers were labelled and grouped according to the month in which they bloomed. Some months included flora from America, which was as foreign to the British as the Dutch tulips that stemmed from the Ottoman Empire. Bowles’s bouquets were prized for both botanical accuracy and aesthetic invention, depicting elegantly curved stems, heavy hanging blossoms, and delicate sprigs of leaves in balanced yet asymmetric compositions.

Most floral illustrations were printed in black and white, though they were sometimes hand painted after printing, such as in popular natural histories like William Bartram’s Travels from America. To show flowers in color not only recorded nature more accurately but also enhanced the aesthetic pleasure of looking at flowers in bloom. Printing in color would increase production and allow for potentially more vibrant colors. Two exciting, recent Winterthur acquisitions demonstrate a pioneering color printing technique applied to popular flower still life bouquets that were produced for public consumption.

Two rare, late seventeenth-century Dutch color prints by Johannes Teyler and workshop, after flower bouquet designs by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer. Johannes Teyler, A Bouquet in a Black Urn and A Bouquet in a Brown Urn. Etchings printed in colors à la poupée, 6 ½ x 4 ½ in., 2017.5.1-.2.

Attributed to Dutch engraver and inventor Johannes Teyler (1648–ca. 1709), A Bouquet in a Black Urn and A Bouquet in a Brown Urn are etchings and engravings made with the innovative method of printing à la poupée, where colored ink was selectively applied to the printing plate. This effectively created “printed paintings,” as each impression was unique. These and hundreds of other prints produced in Teyler’s workshop represent the first flourishing of true intaglio color printing in the West.

Like the printmakers who looked to paintings by van Huysum and Casteels, Teyler’s workshop of engravers and designers often took inspiration from existing European paintings. Winterthur’s prints were modelled after painted bouquets by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636–1699), a Flemish flower painter working in France whose compositions included alien and familiar flora. For example, the Black Urn contains a tropical pink mallow and a northern rose in shadow. Teyler’s exotic subjects, dazzling colors, and beautiful designs proved to have international appeal as his prints were collected during or shortly after his own lifetime by British statesmen.

Many of the fantastic flowers illustrated here were recently digitized thanks to a 2016 Art Works Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Please enjoy these plush prints in our online database or in person at Winterthur, where you can also appreciate our blooming March Bank in the garden!

For more floral-themed objects in the Winterthur collection, visit the Flowery Thoughts: Ceramic Vases & Floral Ornament exhibit on view in the Galleries at Winterthur.

Post by Liz Simmons, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the University of Delaware and Graduate Assistant in the Museum Collections Department at Winterthur

References

Fowble, E. McSherry. Two centuries of prints in America, 1680-1880: a selective catalogue of the Winterthur Museum collection. Charlottesville: Published for the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum by the University Press of Virginia, 1987, 224-227.

Taylor, Paul. Dutch flower painting, 1600-1720. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Turner, Simon. “Opus typo-chromaticum: The Colour Prints of Johannes Teyler.” In Printing in Colour 1400-1700: History, Techniques, Functions and Receptions. Eds. Ad Stijnman and Elizabeth Savage. Leiden: Brill, 2015, 196-206.

 

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