Forces for the new: Collectors and the 1913 Armory Show

Avant-garde collecting before the Armory Show

The collectors who shared the insurgent artists' sense of mission were part of a small but forward-looking coalition that had arisen before 1913. In December 1911, frustrated by the paucity of modern art in big New York exhibitions, the painters Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn, Elmer MacRae, Jerome Myers, and Henry Fitch Taylor decided to organize an exhibition of their own. After several meetings, these and other like-minded artists banded together as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Their aim was to assemble what would become the Armory Show.1

Once the AAPS was in existence, it had to be recognized as a legal entity. The association was incorporated by the group's pro bono legal advisor and most avid supporter, John Quinn (Fig. 3a). Quinn would amass an unsurpassed collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art. At its zenith, the collection contained over twenty-five hundred works of art, including more than fifty paintings by Picasso, nineteen by Matisse, eleven by Georges Seurat, and twenty-seven sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, as well as important works by Cézanne, Henri Rousseau, André Derain, Juan Gris, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Georges Rouault, Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.

A corporation lawyer who began collecting books and prints about 1900,2 Quinn became a wealthy man from his legal practice. His career failed to fulfill him, but it did enable him to pursue his interests in art and literature. In 1909, while abroad, Quinn met the Welsh artist Augustus Edwin John, who introduced him to French art. By 1911 Quinn's curiosity about modern art had been ignited by reports of Manet and the Post-Impressionists, the ground-breaking exhibition organized by Roger Fry at the Grafton Galleries in London.3 In February 1911 Quinn resolved to acquire works by the painters whom Fry had identified as the big three progenitors of the new: Cézanne, van Gogh, and Gauguin. He began protracted negotiations to obtain canvases by those artists from the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard.4

One of Quinn's close friends was Frederick James Gregg, the art critic for the NewYork Sun. Gregg was in charge of publicity for the upcoming Armory Show, and apparently he informed Quinn about it. On July 1, 1912, Quinn incorporated the association and, from then on, he was in the AAPS's inner circle and in the thick of their plans. He signed the lease for the armory building, gave interviews and speeches, sponsored a dinner, and stopped by the show almost daily.

Quinn was not the first American to discover or buy important examples of modern art. He was preceded by nearly a decade by the Stein family (see Fig. 2). Gertrude Stein and her brother, the writer, painter, and aesthetician Leo Stein, lived together in Paris from 1903 until 1914. Their oldest brother and his wife, Michael and Sarah Samuels Stein (1870-1953), followed them to Paris in 1904.5 In 1904 Leo Stein, who started his and his sister's collection, purchased paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Maurice Denis; a year later, he bought Matisse's Woman with a Hat (1905; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which defined the entire family's collecting for years to come. Indeed, Michael and Sarah Stein went on to become Matisse's steadfast friends and patrons. The Steins' contribution to the Armory Show took the form of the major loans they made: two Picasso still lifes and Matisse's Red Madras Headdress (Fig. 5), Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra (Fig. 6), and La Coiffure (1907; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart).

Albert C. Barnes (Fig. 3b) was the only other collector on American shores who rivaled Quinn in voracity. Barnes eventually accumulated hundreds of Renoirs, Cézannes, Matisses, and Picassos. He also bought numerous paintings and works on paper by Chaim Soutine, William Glackens, Charles Demuth, Maurice Prendergast, and Marsden Hartley. A Philadelphia native, Barnes took a medical degree, but never practiced. He then studied chemistry, psychology, and pharmacology. He and another chemist developed an antiseptic eye-drop solution that would prevent infant blindness, which they called Argyrol. Within two years of Argyrol's invention in 1902, the two men were rich. In 1911 Barnes asked Glackens, a former high school classmate, for guidance about modern art. In February 1912 he sent Glackens to Paris with $20,000 to form the nucleus of a collection of  French masters. He returned with approximately twenty works. This success further fueled Barnes's desire, and he acquired paintings on his own throughout 1912. In December Barnes was in Paris on a major shopping trip, buying work by Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Renoir, and Picasso. During this visit he met Leo and Gertrude Stein and viewed their collection. The two men quickly became friends and, three months before the Armory Show, Barnes bought his first Matisses from Leo Stein-Still-Life with Melon (1905) and The Sea Seen from Collioure (1906).

Katherine Sophie Dreier (Fig. 3d) was also well versed in the European avant-garde before 1913. Dreier grew up in Brooklyn in an affluent and liberal home. She trained to be a painter and studied art abroad between 1907 and 1914. During the summer of 1912 she visited the Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, Germany, an enormous display of contemporary art that Davies used as a model for the Armory Show. Overwhelmed by the originality and expressiveness of the Fauves, German expressionists, and post-impressionists, Dreier embraced the modernist cause. She traveled to the Netherlands, buying van Gogh's Adeline Ravoux (Fig. 11), which she loaned to the Armory Show. She would participate too by exhibiting two oils and buying lithographs by Redon and Gauguin.

Lillie Plummer Bliss (Fig. 3f), another collector who would shape the future of modern art in America, was profoundly influenced by Davies.6 Bliss was the daughter of a textile manufacturer in New York. Although she had been collecting prints and drawings for some years, in 1909 she met Davies, who formed her mature tastes. She was one of the financial backers of the Armory Show, although her contributions were anonymous and the amount of her donation remained a secret. Six weeks before the show opened, Bliss purchased an oil by Renoir and a pastel and a painting-Jockeys on Horseback Before Distant Hills (Fig. 9)-by Degas, and lent them anonymously to the show.

Whereas Bliss kept silent about her affiliation, Quinn trumpeted his connection to the Armory Show. He was the biggest lender and buyer, sending in seventy-nine works,7 and spending $5,808.75.8 Tied to his acquisitiveness was his almost singlehanded expansion of the American art market because he made the sale of contemporary art from abroad commercially feasible. In 1909 Congress legislated a 15 percent duty on the importation of all works of art that were less than twenty years old. Customs regulations stipulated that any works borrowed for a show in which a sale might result had to have a bond posted on them in advance. Thus the AAPS was required to post bond for hundreds of works of art coming from Europe-about a third of the objects on display were by foreign artists.

On January 20, 1913, Quinn, accompanied by Kuhn, argued for the repeal of the tariff act before the HouseWays and Means Committee. He declared that "art belongs to no country. Genius cannot be fostered or created by a tariff act."9 He also pointed out the inherent inequity in a law that permitted the wealthiest collectors to purchase older European masterpieces duty-free while the less affluent patron was burdened with a tax on the only art that might be within his or her means. The act was repealed in October 1913, and Quinn responded by intensifying his quest for objects that would have been exorbitant to obtain before his legislative victory over import duties. Among his matchless post-Armory purchases were Picasso's Still Life (1915; Columbus Museum of Art); Brancusi's The Kiss, which he commissioned (Fig. 12); Seurat's The Circus (1890-1891; Musée d'Orsay); and Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy (Fig. 10).

by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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