Forces for the new: Collectors and the 1913 Armory Show

Collectors' responses to the Armory Show

For some collectors the Armory Show was a confirmation of their earlier intuitions. Barnes, fresh from his mega-spree in Paris and trophies from the Steins' collection, confined himself to the purchase of a painting by Maurice de Vlaminck. Advised by Davies, Bliss bought twenty works, including nine by Odilon Redon (see Fig. 8). For others, the exhibition was a door to perception. Arthur Jerome Eddy, the second largest buyer at the Armory Show, could also claim to be the boldest. Eddy, a lawyer, had been active as a collector and patron since the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, where he was so impressed by a display of paintings by Whistler and by Rodin's The Kiss that he commissioned portraits of himself from both artists (see Fig. 15). Churning out articles, reviews, and lectures that courted controversy, he liked being an agitator for modern art.10

Eddy's absorption of and adaptation to the new art were rapid. In New York and Chicago he bought eighteen paintings and seven lithographs for a total of $4,888.50. Among his most daring acquisitions were Jacques Villon's Young Girl (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), Vlaminck's Village (1912; Art Institute of Chicago), Francis Picabia's Dances at the Spring (Fig. 13), and Duchamp's King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (Fig. 1) and Portrait of Chess Players (1911; Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The sensibility of Walter Conrad Arensberg (1878-1954) was similarly radicalized by the Armory Show, although it was fascination with the art that he failed to buy rather than the purchases he made in 1913 that dominated his trajectory as a collector. A Harvard graduate who developed an interest in art when he worked in New York as a reporter for the Evening Post, Arensberg moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, after his marriage in 1907 to Louise Stevens (1879-1953). The Arensbergs visited the Armory Show toward the end of its New York run, but much of what engaged them had already been sold.11

The power of the exhibition and the general excitement of New York persuaded both Arensbergs that they belonged in Manhattan. By early 1914 they had taken an apartment at 33West Sixty-Seventh Street, and they opened it to artists, writers, and anyone else with a revolutionary or creative spirit. Duchamp, who first arrived in the United States in June 1915, was its star, and Katherine Dreier is thought to have first met him at the Arensbergs' apartment in 1916.12 Dreier became obsessed with the seductive Frenchman, "seeking," as Francis Naumann has observed, "every conceivable excuse to be in Duchamp's company."13 Under Duchamp's influence, Dreier became a patron of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, and she was the first person in the United States to buy or show a work by Piet Mondrian. In 1920, with Duchamp and Man Ray, Dreier founded the Société Anonyme. The aim of the Société, the first museum of modern art, was to bring the international avant-garde to public attention through lectures, publications, and exhibitions.

The Arensbergs' burgeoning collection hinged on what had slipped away in 1913. They assembled six paintings from the Armory Show: Roger de La Fresnaye's Paysage, No. 1 (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), which had been sold to Quinn; and Young Girl, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, Dances at the Spring, and Albert Gleizes's Man on Balcony (Portrait of Dr. Théo Morinard) (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), which had belonged to Eddy. Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art) was obtained from the California dealer Frederic C. Torrey after Quinn declined to pay the $1,000 asking price.14 The Arensbergs also bought paintings by Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert Delauney, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Kandinsky, Klee, Morton L. Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, and fifteen sculptures by Brancusi.

The Armory Show's main buyers did not belong to that elite group of titans who had begun buying old masters in the nineteenth century, but there was one remarkable exception. The most surprising Armory collector was the industrialist Henry Clay Frick (Fig. 3c). Frick was an incomparable collector of medieval, Renaissance, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and decorative arts, but he paid a visit to the Armory Show on March 4, 1913. He toured the show with the painter and critic Walter Pach, who was in charge of sales at the event, and he was struck by Cezanne's Old Woman with a Rosary (1895-96; National Gallery, London). Frick was on the point of buying it, but was dissuaded by the dealer in tow, who has been identified as Charles Carstairs of M. Knoedler and Company.15 Carstairs, who was Frick's long-time advisor, might have humored his client were it not for the Cézanne's price tag: An Old Woman with a Rosary was the costliest object in the Armory Show. It was listed for $48,600, and Frick could easily have afforded it-in 1910 he paid just under $300,000 for Rembrandt's Polish Rider.16 But Carstairs would not allow a huge amount of money be squandered outside his own establishment, and he prevailed on Frick to avoid such an expensive risk. Frick did emerge with one item from the show. He bought a still-life of flowers for $87.50 by Walter Pach.17

The Armory Show did not mesmerize or transform all the early patrons of twentieth-century art in a uniform manner. Duncan Phillips (Fig. 3e), who would later be known for his support of modern European art, was incensed by what he saw at the show, and it took him several years to change his mind. A banking and steel heir, Phillips lived in Washington, D.C. In 1912 he dismissed the French avant-garde because he believed that they had not incorporated the traditions of the old masters into their own work.18 After labeling Cézanne and the post-impressionists "a bunch of damned fools,"19 and finding Monet's surfaces too "messy,"20 he protested that the purpose of art was to enhance life with beauty, romance, and dreams. This assumption was violently undercut by the Armory Show, and Phillips walked out in disgust.21

In 1916 Phillips encountered Davies, whose romantic paintings he admired, despite the artist's dangerous association with cubism. He began to moderate his attitude toward Cézanne, van Gogh, and Gauguin, although Matisse remained anathema. Two years later, after both his father and older brother died within months of each other, Phillips decided to establish a "museum of modern art and its sources" in their memory.22 In resolving his own grief, he reconsidered his dogmatic views. Phillips bought his first Monet (Fig. 7) in 1918 and, by the time the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery opened, he had come to terms with cubism and fauvism and was their champion. Under his leadership, the Phillips Collection became a singular beacon of modernism in an otherwise aesthetically ossified city.

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

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