TIAMSA Member Julie Codell’s CAA 2020 Panel “The Collector and Cultural Narratives” (Abstracts ed. Julie Codell)

“The Collector and Cultural Narratives”
Chair, Julie Codell, Arizona State University

From the mid-19th century, a new kind of narrative about private collectors appeared in Europe and the US, e.g., Anna Jameson’s Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries (1844), Gustav Waagen’s Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris (Berlin, 1837-1839), trans. Elizabeth Eastlake as The Treasures of Art in Great Britain (4 vols. London, 1854, 1857); M. J. Dumesnil’s Histoire des plus célèbres amateurs (1853-1860); F. G. Stephens’s 90 Athenaeum articles on British collectors (1873-87); Edward Strahan’s (pseud. of Earl Shinn) The Art Treasures of America (1879-1882); and René Brimo’s The Evolution of Taste in American Collecting (1938), among others. To Oscar E. Vázquez, “collectors and collections…are a creation of the modern era” with “increased attention to…the collector over the collected object” (Inventing the Art Collection 57-58). Attention to collectors began in the 18th century; by the 19th century, collectors became cultural icons and national figures. Many gave their collections to museums, shaping public taste and the canon. Panelists examined the discourse around the cultural and national identity of the collector and considered such questions (but not limited to these): How did these narratives shape and revise collectors’ images over time? Did narratives about collectors inflect notions of the modern? Of tradition? How were gender, class or national identity applied to collectors? Did narratives about collectors endorse cultural hierarchies? Were collectors tastemakers? public servants? cultural paradigms? How did collectors’ perceived motives and desires affect their collections’ meanings?

Jo Briggs, Jennie Walters Delano Curator of 18th– and 19th-Century Art, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 175748
Art Treasures or Art Market?: The Collaboration of Author, Publisher, and Dealer To Construct the Collector”

Earl Shinn’s Art Treasures of America, published between 1879 and 1883, quickly emerged as a key source of information on Gilded Age collections. As early as 1912, historian of British art, William Roberts, drew on Shinn’s text to argue that there had been a dramatic and wholesale shift among American collectors in the previous decades: from the eager acquisition of contemporary European paintings, to a new found enthusiasm for the “Old Masters.” However, this paper questioned whether Shinn can be seen as a reliable documenter of American taste around 1880. Firstly, Shinn was selective. Why did he choose to cover some collections and not others? This question lead me to investigate links between Shinn’s publisher, Gebbie and Company of Philadelphia, and the art dealing and publishing firm of Goupil et cie, who dominated the international art market at the time. Despite Goupil going unnamed in Shinn’s introduction, Art Treasures of America was illustrated by full-page photogravures supplied by the firm, a fact which significantly shaped the volumes’ contents. Gebbie and Company collaborated with the Paris-based publisher, and in the late 1880s they recruited artisans from Goupil’s workshop to start the Gebbie and Husson Photogravure Company. These links suggest that author, publisher, and dealer were working together, on multiple fronts to construct a particular image of the American collector. Finally, I considered the agency of the collector when faced with these market forces. 

Ulrike Müller, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, 175878
“Personal taste, national representativeness and international competition: The collector as a cultural model in Belgium c. 1900” 

The turn of the twentieth century was characterized by an increasingly personalized approach to private art collecting, a growing emphasis on the subjectivity of taste and the widespread popularity of the idea of collecting as an expression of individuality and creativity. Simultaneously, the period was shaped by an increasingly international competition in political, cultural and artistic terms, as aspects of national identity and representativeness gained a new prominence in public discourse. This presentation explored how the ideals of individualism and Aestheticism related to the considerable reaffirmation of the private collector’s public image as an important cultural agent in Belgium around 1900. This trend is illustrated by the discourse surrounding the Brussels artist, collector, connoisseur and aesthete Charles-Léon Cardon (1850-1920), a leading figure in the Belgian art and museum world. In analyzing the reception of Cardon’s persona and collection in contemporary published sources, a new light was shed on the ways that public and private were interrelated in the cultural and artistic life of fin-de-siècle Belgium. It was demonstrated that the idea of private collecting as a highly personalized and aestheticizing practice was not incongruous with a collector’s prominence in the public debate on art, taste and national culture. In fact, the collector’s subjectivity and individualism made him an effective cultural role model in the public discourse and turned his collection into a prototype of taste, worthy of emulation by other private as well as public collectors.

Roxanne Goldberg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 121058
“‘A logical and luminous study’: How One Dealer Constructed the Collector of Islamic Art”

By the time of Henry Walters’s  death in 1931, the art collector had purchased nearly 1,700 objects — mostly of Near Eastern provenance — from Dikran Kelekian, an Ottoman Armenian art dealer, whose New York gallery at one point served as the Persian Consulate. In addition to Walters, Kelekian’s client list included J.P. Morgan, Charles Freer, Louise and Henry O. Havemeyer, and several institutions, most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As Marilyn Jenkins-Madina has remarked, “Although [Kelekian] was to sell [Islamic] objects directly to the Met over the years, it was his role as a tastemaker that he proved to be even more important for the young institution” (“Collecting the ‘Orient’ at the Met: Early Tastemakers in America,” Ars Orientalis 30 [2000]: 76). While Kelekian’s role as a, if not the, tastemaker in the early development of the field of Islamic art has been acknowledged, his writings have been largely ignored. The question thus remains, what rhetorical strategies did Kelekian use to construct an identity for the collector of ‘Islamic art,’ at a time when the category was still new and unstable? This paper seeked to fill that lacuna by engaging in a critical analysis of Kelekian’s catalogue publications and personal correspondence. Goldberg argued that in his rhetoric, Kelekian selectively reconciled with and mobilized his multivalent otherness to promote the collection of Islamic art as an intellectual and thoroughly modern pursuit. 

A. Deirdre Robson, University of West London, 149129 —33458
“The Businessman and Picasso”: Narratives of Gender and the Modern Art Collector in the United States

Between the 1930s and 1960s a radical shift in US attitudes toward the collecting of modern art occurred. This paper focused on how this reflects a re-gendering discourse of modern art collecting in the US, as narratives re-shaped existing gendered notions of the collector to establish collecting modern art as a respectable masculine endeavor. Re-gendering relates to collecting as an activity by which gender identity is expressed or marked (Belk 2002): men’s collecting reflected their erudition and taste, or economic and social power; a woman’s collecting was synecdochal, related only to her personal identity (Tiersten, 1996; McCarthy, 1991, p 179), a low-outlay support for the “new” based upon relationships with artists, or a low prestige activity unable to sacralize collectors or their art (Chafe 1972; Amott and Matthei 1991; Bonvillan 2007). Robson argued that gendered attitudes to collectors affected not just the status of collectors but of modern art itself. Being identified with women collectors was seen as an obstacle to modernism achieving canonical status (Chamberlain, n.d, p 152, MoMA Archives). Collecting modern art had to be re-gendered into an activity embedded in, and signifying, the public sphere, legitimated for American businessmen by parallels drawn between entrepreneurial commerce and collecting modern art. Institutional presentations of businessmen or professionals as modern art collectors and business and mainstream media articles valorized modern art as signifying both its cultural capital and its monetary value, and led to the blue chip status of modern American art by the 1950s. 

DISCUSSANT: Kenneth Haltman, H. Russell Pitman Professor of Art History, University of Oklahoma, 7316