Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Portrait by Quentin Massys

"Portrait of a Man with a Pink"
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Pasted into the Glessners’ scrapbook is an article from the Chicago Tribune dated December 28, 1913 entitled “Art Masterpiece Discovered Here.”  Written by Harriet Monroe, the article relates the story of an art expert visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and identifying a previously unattributed portrait as the work of the 15th century painter Hans Memling.  The significance to the Glessners lies in the fact that John J. Glessner was the donor of the artwork.  However, the story and true identity of the artist are more complicated.

The portrait, entitled “Portrait of a Man with a Pink” was acquired by Art Institute president Charles L. Hutchinson in June 1890 through the prominent Paris art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.  Hutchinson and his good friend Martin A. Ryerson (a founding trustee of the Art Institute) had travelled to Europe that summer, returning with an important collection of Dutch masterworks including the portrait, for which he paid 13,000 francs.  It was first put on public display in Chicago on November 8, 1890 according to a Tribune article “At the Art Institute”:

“The old paintings by Dutch masters which were purchased last summer for the Art Institute by Messrs. Hutchinson and Ryerson were shown yesterday afternoon to the members of the press and will be exhibited this evening, at the reception which inaugurates the present season, to the members of the institute, being afterwards accessible to the general public.  

“A view of the paintings confirms the impression of their importance already gained from the inspection of photographs and conversations with officers of the institute.  They are unquestionably the most representative collection of pictures by the old Dutch masters ever brought to this country, embracing many works of the first importance, which the great European museums would be proud to possess and have indeed tried to secure.  They give to Chicago the supremacy among American cities in this department, and open for our students of art a vast field of profitable study.  Thus the thanks of the community are due to the gentlemen who so promptly and with such admirable public spirit availed themselves of a unique opportunity.”

1890 illustration from the Chicago Tribune

The collection of paintings included works by Van Dyck, Hals, and Rubens, as well as the iconic Rembrandt painting, “Young Woman at an Open Half-Door.”  Of the “Portrait of a Man with a Pink,” the article related:

“The last of the portraits to be noticed is also the smallest . . . and the oldest, belonging to the sixteenth century. . . This is the panel by the German master Holbein, which is a good example of the rigid, literal, sculpturesque style of Henry the Eight’s court painter, whose portraits form an intimately faithful historical gallery of that dramatic epoch.  His present subject might have been molded in copper, so dark is his color, or made of leather, so leathery is his skin.  But the face is unmistakably, humanly true; one does not doubt this man’s existence for an instant or miss one note of his rather strenuous character.”

When Hutchinson acquired the portrait, he believed it to be a work of the great German portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger, who by the mid-1530s had been appointed the “King’s Painter” to King Henry VIII, chronicling the English court during that turbulent period.  Hutchinson appealed to his friends to cover the cost of the significant collection of Dutch artworks he acquired and, in 1894, John Glessner retroactively provided the gift for the Holbein portrait.

However, at some point, the attribution of the painting as the work of Holbein was put aside, and by the early 1900s, the painting was described as the work of an “unknown Flemish Master.”  That changed in 1913 when Dr. Abraham Bredius, director of The Hague Museum, visited the Art Institute as part of a tour studying Dutch paintings in American collections, primarily the Rembrandts.  The 1913 Tribune article says of his discovery:

“Dr. Bredius’ opinion enriches the institute collection by a Memling portrait.  The ‘Portrait of a Man,’ hitherto ascribed to an ‘unknown Flemish master,’ which was presented to the institute nearly twenty years ago by John J. Glessner, is declared to be an unusually fine example of the work in portraiture of Hans Memling, the great Flemish master, who died in Bruges about 1492.  The picture is worth, therefore, many times the $4,000 which Mr. Glessner paid for it.”

1913 illustration from the Chicago Tribune

The Memling attribution was short lived.  The painting was photographed by Braun and reproduced by Max Friedlander in the second edition of his volume From Jan van Eyck to Bruegel, published in 1921.  It was Friedlander, generally recognized as the greatest expert of Dutch and German paintings, who identified the portrait as the work of Quentin Massys. 

Quentin Massys (1466-1530) was a Flemish painter and one of the founders of the Antwerp school.  The portrait, an oil on panel measuring 11 by 17 inches, was painted between 1500 and 1510.  As noted in the permanent collection label for the portrait:

“In the early 16th century, Antwerp experienced remarkable growth as a commercial center, and Quentin Massys was one of the most important and innovative of its many painters.  In this relatively early and rather damaged portrait, he followed 15th-century tradition by employing an immobile pose, barely allowing his subject’s hands to appear above the sill of the picture frame.  Yet Massys developed a distinctive and nuanced manner of modeling the face, which here conveys a strong sense of individual character.  The pink, or carnation, held by the sitter could refer to matrimony or to Christ’s incarnation.” 

Regardless of the controversy over who painted the portrait, it has been recognized as an important work at the Art Institute since the 1890s, and has been included in many catalogues of the collection.  It was part of the Art Institute exhibition at A Century of Progress in both 1933 and 1934, and travelled to exhibits in Antwerp and New York.  Although it is the only work by Massys at the Art Institute, it is not currently on exhibit, possibly due to its somewhat compromised condition.  It is hoped, however, that this significant donation to the collection by John J. Glessner will once again be put on public display for all to enjoy.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Big Bill Thompson and the Prosperity Parade

"Big Bill" Thompson campaigning for mayor, 1915

Today, Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in for his second term as Mayor of the City of Chicago.  Exactly 100 years ago, the city was celebrating the inauguration of another mayor – William Hale Thompson, known as “Big Bill” Thompson.  On April 26, 1915, John Glessner made the following notation in his wife’s journal:

“Monday, April 26 in Chicago was a great parade to mark the inauguration of Mayor William Hale Thompson.”

Thompson served three terms as the city’s mayor, from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931.  He was the last Republican to hold the office and, according to Mark Grossman in his 2008 book, Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed, was one of the most corrupt and unethical mayors in American history. 

William Hale Thompson was born in Boston in May 1869 but arrived in Chicago with his parents less than two weeks later, and it was here that he grew to adulthood.  His political career began in 1900 when he was elected alderman of the 2nd Ward.  He steadily rose up through the ranks, and considered his election as mayor merely a stepping stone to the White House.  That dream ended when he did not receive the nomination at the 1928 Republican National Convention.

After serving eight years as mayor, he declined to run for a third term, but reentered the race four years later, staging a now famous debate between himself and two rats representing his opponents.  He pledged to clean up corruption, but in reality worked hard to undermine the reformers, and relied on Al Capone’s support for his successful reelection to a third term in 1927.  By 1931, dissatisfaction with his leadership and his ties to organized crime led to his defeat by Democrat Anton Cermak. 

In spite of this less than exemplary record, at the time of his inauguration in 1915, the city was hopeful that Thompson would usher in an era of prosperity.  A grand parade, known as the Prosperity Parade, was planned for April 26, 1915 as one of numerous activities to mark the occasion.  Parade participants began gathering in Grant Park at 11:00am that morning and were all in place by the time the Mayor-Elect and his party made the rounds through the park at 1:30pm.  Then followed a “municipal salute of aerial bombs and daylight fireworks” in the park with 35 bombs symbolizing the 35 wards in the city.  The parade began at 2:00pm and proceeded west on Monroe, north on State, west on Randolph, south on LaSalle, east on Jackson and then south on Michigan. 

Mounted police at head of parade

Nearly 16,000 persons participated in the parade, heralded as the largest parade ever to take place in Chicago.  The parade stretched for 11 miles, took three hours to pass the reviewing stand in front of the LaSalle street entrance to City Hall, and was viewed by nearly 250,000 people along the parade route.  It included 1,711 automobiles, 662 automobile floats, and 323 horse and wagon floats.  The cost, estimated at $46,785, was offset by the projected $250,000 of revenue spent by the 50,000 out-of-town visitors who came to witness the spectacle.

Hundreds of businesses and organizations participated in the parade with floats, decorated automobiles, and other assemblages.  The Tribune noted a few of the more interesting displays:

“One unique group of floats has been provided by the Chinese merchants of the city.  The men and women on these will be clad in the richest oriental costumes to be found in America – costumes so valuable that a special guard of six policemen has been detailed to guard the floats.”

Chicago Public School "sewing float"
being readied for the parade

“The public school system was represented in a series of elaborate floats.  One carried girls dressed in white, working at sewing machines, and conveyed the information that Chicago schools teach sewing to 42,407 girls.  Another float bore young men and women working at typewriters and keeping books.  It represented the commercial courses of the schools.  Another carried a complete printing establishment with printers at work, and two others represented manual training and iron working in the schools.  Pupils of the Mozart school were uniformed and performed Red Cross evolutions in front of the mayor’s stand.”

The Electric Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association placed an advertisement in the Chicago papers encouraging owners of electric passenger vehicles to participate in their section.  The advertisement noted that:

“It is especially desired that there be a great showing of electrics, particularly those driven by women.  Therefore, to induce as many owners as possible to come into the parade, the undersigned will give to the Infant Welfare Society, one of Chicago’s most worthy charities, 50 cents for each electric passenger vehicle in the parade. . . It is hoped to raise at least $1,000.00 in this way.”

Following the parade, Thompson was sworn in at ceremonies held in the Council Chamber at City Hall.  At 7:00pm, motion pictures of the parade were shown at nine theaters operated by Alfred Hamburger around the city, including the Ziegfeld and Fine Arts Theaters in downtown.  A 30-minute display of fireworks took place in Grant Park at 8:30pm after which a series of inaugural and “prosperity” balls were held at various downtown hotels.  At 12:01am, the Mayor and his aldermanic party left for Springfield, bringing the long and memorable day of festivities to a close.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Violinist Joseph Joachim

Frances Glessner made the following notation in her journal for February 10, 1886, while travelling in Boston, “We bought an etching of Joachim – Watt’s painting.”  The reference is to an etching of the imminent 19th century Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, based on a painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts.  It occupied a place of honor near the piano in the Glessners’ parlor, and still hangs in the same location to this day.

Northeast corner of the Glessner parlor, circa 1890;
the Joachim etching hangs to the left of the door at top

The piece was referenced in an article written about the Glessners’ new home which appeared in the Chicago Times on April 5, 1888.  The article referred to the piece as “a superb etching of Watt’s ‘Joachim,’ the celebrated violinist, the original of which is owned by C. L. Hutchinson.”  The Glessners’ love of music is well known, so it is not surprising that they would have had this picture of the great violinist in their home, but perhaps it was also displayed to serve as an inspiration to their son George, who was actively pursuing the violin at the time.  The same Times article goes on to say, “The chef-d’oeuvre of the room, however, is a genuine Cremona violin, given to a great uncle of Mr. Glessner by a member of Marquise de Lafayette’s staff.  The instrument was repaired in 1710 and still retains its delicate tone, being used constantly by Master Glessner.”

Joseph Joachim was born in 1831 in the town of Kittsee (now in the Burgenland region of Austria) to parents of Hungarian Jewish origin.   By the age of eight he was studying at the Vienna Conservatory and a few years later became a protégé of Felix Mendelssohn.  One month before his 13th birthday, he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the London Philharmonic, Mendelssohn conducting.  His performance was praised, firmly establishing his reputation in London and beyond.  Returning to Europe, he performed with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and then served as concertmaster to Franz Liszt for several years.  In 1853 he met the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, and highly impressed by his abilities, introduced him to his friends Robert and Clara Schumann.  Brahms, Joachim, and Clara Schumann remained life-long friends following Robert Schumann’s death in 1856 and Joachim and Clara Schumann frequently performed together.

In 1869, he formed the Joachim String Quartet, which quickly earned the reputation as Europe’s finest.   He continued to concertize extensively, and many of the leading composers of the day including Brahms, Dvorak, Bruch, and Schumann wrote pieces specifically for him.  Joachim also composed extensively, although few of his pieces are performed today.  In the last few years of his life, he made several recordings, being one of the first prominent violinists to do so.  He died in Berlin in 1907. 

George Frederic Watts, self portrait, 1864

The etching hanging in the Glessner parlor is based on an oil painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts entitled “A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim.”  Watts was born in 1817 (on the birthday of George Frederic Handel after whom he was named).  He showed artistic talent at any early age, exhibiting at the Royal Academy by the time he was 20.  In time, he became one of the most popular English painters within the Symbolist movement.  By the 1860s, his work was showing the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in terms of subject and color.  It was during this period that he painted the portrait of Joachim. 

Watts was a close friend of Henry Thoby Prinsep, an English official of the Indian Civil Service, an historian of India, and a significant figure of the cultural circles of London.  Watts had arranged for Prinsep to lease the “Little Holland House,” the dower house of Holland House in Kensington, and he lived there with the Prinsep family for more than 20 years.  As noted in the biography of Watts by Jon Ernest Phythian, published in 1906, it was here that the Joachim portrait was painted in 1868:

“Music must not be forgotten; for it gave us one of Watt’s masterpieces.  The portrait . . . of Dr. Joachim, a lamplight study made at Little Holland House, while the great master was actually playing the violin, is the very soul of music: the face is thinking and feeling it; the fingers that lightly hold the bow, and those that touch the strings, are expressing it.”

"A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim"
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Near the end of his life, Watts built a home in Surrey in addition to the Watts Gallery – the first (and now only) purpose-built gallery in Britain dedicated to a single artist.  It opened in April 1904 less than three months before his death, and today contains over 250 oil paintings, 800 drawings and watercolors, 130 prints, 200 sculptures, and 240 pieces of pottery as well as other materials relating to Watts’ life.

Paul-Adolphe Rajon, self portrait, 1884

The etching was created from the Watt’s painting by the French painter and printmaker Paul-Adolph Rajon (1843-1888).  Rajon began his career as a photographer and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  He then focused on etching, creating new works and copying the Old Masters.  He became well known throughout Europe due to his acquaintance with the New York-based dealer Frederick Keppel (who was the primary source for the Glessners’ etchings, although the Joachim piece was not purchased through his gallery).

Charles L. Hutchinson

The 1888 Times article noted that the original Watt’s painting was owned by Charles L. Hutchinson, who was one of the Glessners’ closest friends, and a resident of Prairie Avenue.  A leading Chicago businessman and philanthropist, he is best remembered today for his extraordinary work building up the Art Institute of Chicago as its president, serving from 1882 until his death in 1924.  Two paintings by Watts – “A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim” (1868) and “Time, Death, and Judgment” (1866) were part of a collection of paintings bequeathed by Hutchinson to the Art Institute; the latter is currently displayed in Gallery 223. 

Today, the etching of Joachim remains one of the most significant pieces in the Glessner collection, both for its subject matter and for the artists and collectors who form its rich story. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Richardsonian Romanesque in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse City Hall

H. H. Richardson’s impact on American architecture was felt for many years following his untimely death in 1886.  Numerous architects around the country attempted to copy his style, which in time became known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  Architect Charles E. Colton designed two distinctive buildings in downtown Syracuse, New York which stand today as a testament to his ability to interpret Richardson’s style.

Born in 1847, Charles Erastus Colton was raised in Syracuse.  In 1873, he entered the office of architect Archimedes Russell where he remained for three years before establishing his own architectural practice.  Except for a brief period in the early 1880s when he was in partnership with James H. Kirby, he maintained his own independent practice throughout the remainder of his lifetime.  Colton was a prolific architect, designing numerous building including churches, business blocks, schools, apartment houses, and residences, most in Syracuse and the immediately surrounding area.  He served as Treasurer of the Western New York Association of Architects and in 1888 was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.  At the time of his death in 1914, he was praised as the most prominent architect in Syracuse.

Colton is best remembered today for his design of the Syracuse City Hall, begun in 1889.  The massive fortress-like structure at 233 E. Washington Street occupies the entire block bounded by Washington, Market, Montgomery, and Water Streets.  

Faced in rusticated Onondaga limestone, it has been suggested that Colton was inspired by Richardson’s design for the Albany City Hall.  That building, constructed in 1880, was named one of the best ten buildings in the United States in 1885, and would have been well known to Colton.  The buildings both share many features including the arcaded entry porch and the massive corner tower.  An interesting fact is that the north end of the building (at the rear) originally fronted on the Erie Canal as seen in the image below.  After the canal was filled in, it became Water Street. 

The interior of the building retains many of its original features including elaborate balustrades and encaustic tile floors, as seen in these images taken as part of the 1981 Historic American Buildings Survey documentation of the building.  

The most elaborate space was the two-story assembly room on the fourth floor above the main entrance which sat 1,200 people and featured a skylight and stained glass windows.  The pale yellow walls were decorated with a frieze of lilies.  The space was divided into two floors shortly after World War I to provide additional offices and space for mechanical equipment, but was restored to its original configuration as part of a major renovation and restoration project in 1977.  The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Another of Colton’s designs is located just down the street at 121 E. Water Street.  Known as the Robert Gere Bank Building, the structure was completed in 1894 at a cost of $150,000.  In the book Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County, the authors call it Colton’s finest work.  Constructed on a narrow lot between two existing buildings, the five-story structure employs a number of Richardsonian Romanesque details, most notably the grouping of floors three through five within tall narrow arcades, just four bays wide.  

Of particular note are the beautifully executed spandrel panels featuring foliate decoration surrounding a basket weave design.  

The ground floor of the building, faced in granite, features a classic Romanesque entry arch to the left, and is the only level with an asymmetrical arrangement.  

The second floor introduces the four bay rhythm which continues up through the remaining floors with slender brick piers.  

Perhaps the finest feature is the cornice at the top with a series of nine diminutive blind windows set within rich foliate decoration, reminiscent of the work of Louis Sullivan.  Overall, the beautifully executed design perfectly portrays the concept of base, shaft, and capital which Sullivan incorporated into many of his tall office buildings. 

The interior features original fireproof vaults beneath the sidewalk, and one of the few remaining open cage elevators in the country set within a bronze well screen.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it is also part of the Hanover Square Historic District comprising 17 architecturally significant structures in downtown Syracuse listed on the National Register in 1976. 

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