Antiques & The Arts

Madeleine Fidell-Beaufort: “Samuel P. Avery as an Agent, Dealer, and Expert…”

– Our final speaker of this morning is Madeleine Fidell-Beaufort, whose academic training
includes a master in fine arts from Yale University and a doctorate from New York University’s
Institute of Fine Arts. She wrote her dissertation
on the graphic art of Charles Francois Daubigny. That research and her curiosity about why so many of Daubigny’s paintings
were in American collections led Madeleine to the
discovery of Samuel Avery’s travel diaries in manuscript form at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Avery’s granddaughters
and their grandniece encouraged her to edit those diaries and a research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities permitted further study of Avery’s career. She and her co-author Jeanne Welcher and Herbert Kleinfield
published the edited diaries that cover the years 1871 to 1882 and they published them in 1979. Madeleine further
researched Avery’s auctions in 1981 as the senior
visiting fellow at CASVA at the National Gallery of Art. She also received an American
Council of Learned Society’s grant that enabled her to focus further on Avery’s American correspondence. Articles that grew out of this research have been published in
the Oxford Art Journal, and the Van Gogh Museum Journal as well as in volumes of essays,
the Commerce of Art in the Renaissance to Our Time, the Artwork Through the Market
and The Past and Present and so now with this background steeped in the remarkable
career of Samuel Avery whom we’ve been hearing
about yesterday and today, we now will have him as the centerpiece of the next talk, Samuel P.
Avery as an Agent, Dealer, and Expert in Building
American Collections. Please welcome Madeleine Beaufort. (applause) – Good afternoon. I want to thank Linda and the
remarkable staff of the… The library and the people who are organizing this exhibition, this lecture. Anyway, I will start and we’ll see whether I can get through it. Too much information. So my goal today is to talk about circumstances leading to
Samuel Avery’s success as an art agent, an art
dealer, and an art expert. Essentially he was a wood engraver and… He… Was very busy in, oops. I’m not sure I can get it. What happened? – [Linda] It’s my fault, you have to use a different clicker. – [Madeleine] I’m sorry. Thank you. Okay, he was a wood engraver and it favored what he originally
called dabbling in art. His office was in lower Manhattan
where art auction rooms, art galleries, exhibitions,
artist studios were located and here in his business card he explains in a very concise way
which is very typical of his written style, that he can execute at short notice and on reasonable terms engravings in any genre, paintings, and views of buildings, it goes on. He can do anything. On the right is Thomas Farrer’s Avery at His Desk. This is actually a reproduction. The original seems to have disappeared. What I wanted to point
out was that on the walls, you will see many paintings or drawings that were made by artists
who were his collaborators. He had all of these framed images. It’s hard to know whether this was the beginning of his collection, or whether these were things
that were part of his scrapbook which was making as were
others who were associated with the Century Club. They took scraps and autograph material and made them into albums, and I’ll talk about these in a minute. Here is one. Oh this is essentially where his, where his various studios were located, but you can see he didn’t go very far. He stayed around Nassau
Street, Center Street, Broadway, City Hall Park,
and one of the things that is rather interesting is that he lived in Manhattan until a point where he and his wife
who he married in 1847 moved to Brooklyn, and essentially it was in Brooklyn that… It was in Brooklyn, he took the ferry, Fulton Street ferry. It took about 12 minutes
to get across the, the river and it cost very, very little. What happened also was that he, let’s see. He provided these sketches or scraps as sometimes were called
for William T. Walters who lived and worked in Baltimore, and he relied on Avery
to obtain small sketches for his scrapbook from artists
living in the New York area. This is George Augustus Baker who wrote to Avery in January of 1860
to say that the little head, for Walters was not yet ready. Baker made this sketch in
preparation for a larger work. So we have Avery moving to Brooklyn, where he worked for 20 years and he was in contact with many members of the Brooklyn
Cultural Associations. It was to his home in
Brooklyn that he invited people to what he called art evenings. I will get back to this in a moment, but I want to show you what’s typical of Avery’s first auctions. This is a painting by James Hart originally called Sunday Afternoon. It is, well no I’m sorry it’s originally called Sunday Morning. Many of the paintings, or
most all of the paintings in Avery’s auction catalogs
are in fact without dimensions. There’s no size, and this is difficult then to locate the paintings
which also change their titles. So to begin with, the art collector, an art collector from Troy,
New York named Irving Brown wrote to Avery on
January 4, 1861 asking to borrow Hart’s landscape
for the fourth annual exhibition at the Troy
Young Men’s Association. Avery had already helped
Brown to borrow paintings from previous exhibitions. From various art collectors. Avery then… Furnished this picture
which he actually had owned and the title changed later. Fortunately the landscape was purchased by William Hayes Fogg, a China trader and Fogg lived in Manhattan
when he bought the picture at auction, an auction of
Avery’s own collection in 1867. The auction catalog, as I said, has no indication of
the size of this picture and it was Fogg’s wife who eventually donated the picture to Harvard. It’s a small cabinet or
parlor size picture that was like many of the pictures in the early Avery auction catalogs. The price that Fogg paid
for the picture was $305. Not a great deal of money
compared to auction prices today, but looking back on early auctions later Avery explained that buyers
at his first auctions were afraid to be seen in public spending over four or $500 on one picture. They thought they would
lose their reputation for being sensible businessmen, and some picked up the attitude that art was important because of
patriotic associations causes that had to do
with charitable reasons. I show you quickly this
graph of auction sales. Commercial art auctions
featuring works of art were very rare before the Civil War, but as you can see dramatically
increased afterwards. Fortunes after the Civil War
grew with tremendous speed and were matched with an impulse to spend, and so collections grew rapidly and after 1876 the sale
of two art collections were sold at what was
observed a great profit. That was of John Taylor Johnson
and John Stryker Jenkins and it led to the belief that
art was a sound investment and paintings would increase in value. Newspapers began to carry
reports about art auctions with the names of buyers,
and in the late 1870s a very specialized group
of art periodicals began publication and provided
information about art, artists, and art collectors. I show you this picture which
has popped up several times but I do want to point
out that it has been dedicated to Avery and was actually done in Brooklyn. So in 1863 and it says Brooklyn there. Charles Loring Elliot was an extremely adored painter by Avery, and he died in 1868 and Avery created a kind of committee to donate a portrait bust of Charles Loring Elliot to the, the in his name and you’ll
see a little bit later something more about him. These are some of the engravings that Avery did of American artists who he appreciated. I think he was trying to
create a series of them. Again, for commercial reasons. I show you here a, a picture by, a photograph an anonymous photograph that talks about the, and I want to talk about the fact that essentially the artist J.G. Brown and William Hart are in this picture. J.G. Brown stated very
late after Avery’s death that he had many, many
pleasant memories of Avery, especially of being
invited to an art evening at Avery’s home on
Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn where Brown was introduced
to local artists. Brown said he had never met
any of the artists before, nor had he ever seen so many
pictures in a private house. He said every available
space in the room was used, and some work was hanging on doors. Brown said that Avery was the first dealer who bought little pictures
of children for his friends. So letters to Avery, in the 1850s and ’60s from American artists
thanked him for favors like lending him photographs,
stereoptic and views related to what they were painting and Avery even commissioned for himself small paintings directly from
artists like John Kensett and William Sydney Mount. I am going to show you next a portrait as you see
of William T. Walters, and William T. Walters then moved to Paris during the Civil War. He decided to sell part of his collection, and he asked Samuel Avery to organize an auction for him in New York. To do so, Avery worked with an
auctioneer named Henry Leeds. The auction took place on April 9, 1864 and Avery made the engraving for his, the title page and actually
put his own name in there. This is the very beginning of the auction as a start for Avery’s long
career as an art expert. He was soon to become
an art dealer as well. Sorry, I want to go back one. So this is the calling card for, actually it’s not the first
gallery that Avery had. Walters provided money for
Avery to open a gallery, and Avery was then able to sell pictures either at auction or at the
gallery that he opened in 1865. The announcement of Avery’s gallery was accompanied by 48
signatures by American artists who were probably looking forward to having Avery sell their work. The auction of Avery’s own collection is something that took
place because it was in preparation for his leaving for Europe where he hoped to buy paintings. He had just learned that he would be in charge of the American Arts section at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris. So Avery sold the contents of his library along with the famous scrapbook sketches by American artists that he had been working on for 15 years. I show you then a photo of George Lucas. He was an engineer from
Baltimore who arrived in Paris in the 1850s and remained in France
until his death in 1909. Lucas frequented the hotel
annual salon’s art galleries. He knew contemporary European
art very well and its prices. So Walters introduced Avery to Lucas and they formed a sort of team. As early as November
1865, well before Avery came to Paris or went to Paris, Avery wrote to Lucas to commission
a painting by Bouguereau for a Baltimore collector
named John Stryker Jenkins. It was a large painting
of Art and Literature intended for a specific
place in Jenkins library. Lucas reported that the picture would not be ready for a year and a half and would cost 8,000 francs, about $1,200. By July 1866, Bouguereau
was able to show Lucas a sketch for the painting, but the picture would now cost 12,000
francs because Jenkins later sent a tracing of the place in his library where it was hung, which was larger than he indicated. In fact this picture was not
ready until February of 1868 and when it was finished, Lucas
had a photograph made of it which he asked or had
photographs made of it and he asked Bouguereau
to sign on the back or the front, I’m not sure where, but it was proof of the
authenticity of Art and Literature. Lucas had a case constructed
for Jenkins Art and Literature. He shipped it directly to Baltimore on a steamer leaving from Liverpool. It had taken actually three years for Bouguereau to paint the picture, but Jenkins was absolutely delighted with the final result because he could say that the picture was
painted expressly for him. George Lucas on the right
is a very special photograph by a photographer who is also a sculptor who will see in a minute
also photographed Avery. He photographed John Taylor Johnson and several other places, people. Lucas’s diaries suggest how helpful he was in creating and helping Avery actually to bring his paintings or pictures that were delivered to the exhibition so to have them delivered
to the exhibition site. Lucas helped having
the paintings unwrapped and he helped Avery to
get the paintings hung. What you’re seeing on the extreme right is the American section, the universal exhibition building which was quite unique was in fact created in concentric circles. The exterior part was for machinery and it was towards the center that the American and other
galleries were actually there. As soon as the exhibition opened, and there were problems
with getting pictures, the American artists had decided that they would not
send their work to Paris ’cause they were afraid
that the US government would not pay for returning their pictures and they were very reluctant
to send their work abroad. A few American collectors stepped in and they lent paintings
that they already owned. It was a small group that
were a group of paintings, and essentially a small sample considering that there
were 400 American artists working in New York, Baltimore,
Boston, and Philadelphia. The work sent was usually
not the most recent and the space allotted at the
end of the British gallery was not optimal. The passage was constantly crowded, and the lower tiers of paintings were hung in poorly lit spaces. As soon as oops, I’m sorry
I gotta go back again. As soon as Avery hung the exhibition, he was able to proceed with Lucas and learn
more about European paintings, but I show you John Taylor Johnson, first president of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and the picture that Avery sold him, which was which is now in the Metropolitan and Prisoners from the Front. The painting that also is loaned by John Taylor Johnson was painted in 1857 and was 10 years old by
the time it was exhibited. Essentially it was awarded a silver medal, the only prize that American,
an American painter got and it was silver not gold. It was worth about $100,
and it was fairly clear that French art critics were not impressed by American landscape painting but they did like American nature. American genre and figure painting were not considered to be
worth looking at either. So the critics were highly critical and I think what happened essentially is American collectors began to look at European work only because they thought that it might be a better investment. Here is another picture that was lent by a collector. And essentially this picture lent by George Whitney
is rather fascinating because of the association
with the Civil War. Letters that Avery sent
received from Whitney during his buying trips later
show that George Whitney, a dedicated art collector was actually also providing financial backing for Avery in term of money that he would send Avery to buy paintings that evidently Avery would then send,
sell, or get for Lucas. Wealth generated by the Civil War meant that Americans were well able to afford more expensive and
much larger academic paintings. When artists had their work
accepted by the Salon Jury in Paris, they earned an
automatic seal of approval so American art buyers
believed that art from abroad would be a better investment
than buying American art. Here we have Avery who’s a
little squished in the corner. Again, same photographer Adam-Saloman. This one is dated 1872. You see Avery at the age of 50. He was quite sophisticated. He bought his clothes in
London on annual trips abroad. In 1868 he returned to the US after the Universal Exhibition and he was invited to
join the Union League Club where he worked on the art committee which organized monthly exhibitions of art from its member, members themselves. Once the Civil War was
over, the Union League Club began working on civic projects and the Union League Club was active in founding of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1872 Avery was made a
trustee and it was a position he occupied until his death in 1904. I show you a, a sort of graph of all of
the auctions that Avery held. And what I wanted to show you is that about 55% of the people
who were buying paintings attended only one auction, but it did not mean that there were no important collectors in this group. In December of 1866, an auction buyer from Baltimore, a dry goods
merchant named B.F. Gardener bought 10 American paintings
and paid high prices for them. Artists like John Frederick Kensett attended six auctions buying 15 paintings. Six American and nine European until he didn’t buy after 1872. Another artist, George Henry Hall also attended six auctions
buying eight American paintings, 15 European paintings,
and James Abner Harper attended seven auctions buying one American painting and 11 European works. One further person of
interest was Robert Gordon, a banker and Metropolitan Museum trustee and sometimes treasurer. He bought at seven auctions 14 paintings. The little tiny one way over on the right represents one man who went to 10 auctions and that was John Taylor Johnson. He bought 31 paintings
which is rather amazing. I show you three people who were essentially very active in buying paintings. Samuel Avery found important clients thanks to his artist friends. A letter to Cyrus McCormick effectively was something
that Avery wrote in 1866 telling McCormick that his friend Erastus Dow Palmer, a sculptor had written to ask Avery to make sure that Palmer’s bust of McCormick’s wife would be safely delivered
and Palmer told McCormick that he might want to consult
with Avery about a pedestal. So Avery wrote to McCormick and said he had in his rooms a
very beautiful pedestal that he could send home to
McCormick with the bust. The idea is that McCormick actually the
inventor of the reaper had a New York residence. He bought five European paintings at an Avery auction in 1868 and paid almost $2,000 for them. Afterwards Avery sent
clippings to McCormick about various things that he
thought would be of interest. The man at the screen
right, Edwin Denison Morgan, a leading New York merchant who became the 21st
governor of New York state and later served as a US senator is seen here in a picture that is one of many many portraits of Morgan and one of these
portraits, another portrait which I’ve never found, was painted by Charles Loring Elliot who painted perhaps 700 portraits and he was one of Avery’s dearest friends that I’ve mentioned before. So… Avery crossed the Atlantic frequently. He in this case he’s seen transporting the little sail that has the names of
people whose auction, whose paintings he bought. I think it’s not, the names
are not really reflecting what Avery also portrait, also painted. He bought paintings by other people. It doesn’t show any of the artists who are really the best known. One of the other things that I think is rather fascinating are all these cases marked porcelain because
they’re of interest, certain of Avery’s clients requested that Avery buy for them chandeliers, gas lighting fixtures, enameled plaques, even dresses and bonnets for their wives. Bric-a-brac was in fashion
and Avery was very happy to visit antique stores, mainly it seems to me in
Belgium and the Netherlands where he was happy to find rare
pieces for special clients. I show you here a painting of the Vanderbilt family by a guy who seems to have done several more paintings of collectors and their families. You see on the extreme left, William Henry Vanderbilt
seated in this picture that he, I’m showing it
to you because he painted, I’m sorry he bought paintings at five auctions that Avery ran. Three European and only
five American paintings. He and Avery sailed to Europe when it was clear that Vanderbilt was inheriting a great deal of money. They went on the steamship
Britannic in April of 1878. They were in London by May 8, visiting the Royal Academy Exhibition and dealers. They went on to France, and in Paris Vanderbilt bought paintings at the salon. They went to Goupil’s gallery. He visited Gerome’s studio and by May 22, Vanderbilt had seen Meissonier
and ordered a picture of an artist to be finished in 1879. Vanderbilt gave Avery 1,000
pounds for his services, and the end of June
Vanderbilt wrote to Avery “my visit to the different
artists affords me “a very good subject of conversation. “I am delighted with the whole trip.” Once the new house that
he built was finished and the paintings he had
commissioned arrived, Vanderbilt wrote Avery gleefully that no one but his family knew about the arrival of his treasures. He was waiting for Avery to tell him where paintings should be hung. Working with Vanderbilt placed Avery in an ambiguous social situation. He was neither a servant nor a friend, but he did state publicly that Vanderbilt would buy no painting
that he did not like. Clearly another sort of relationship was between Robert Gordon and his family. Here is another Guy painting. Gordon, then a banker and fellow trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art eventually became a neighbor when Avery moved to east 38th Street in Manhattan. He bought, I think I mentioned, paintings at seven of Avery’s auctions and you can see on the right wall what a collection of these parlor or cabinet paintings looked like. They are very small pictures, and they have rather large frames. So it looked like quite a lot. Anyway, Avery stopped
organizing independent auctions at the end of 1881, but he continued to manage sales of
collections of former clients. And this was the case
with Morgan’s collection which was sold in 1886. In conclusion, Avery’s unusual expertise and remarkable contact with American artists, collectors, and
art dealers and artisans throughout Europe and England provided a level of service that was
difficult to find elsewhere. Avery, like Lucas and Walters,
was a man of few words, but he was able to project an image of being a reliable, honest,
and eager promoter of art. He was able to earn himself
a comfortable living as well as donating money
to Columbia University for the Avery Library, and
he also gave 22,000 prints to the New York Public Library and established a print room there. So there you have his career
in a kind of nutshell. (applause)

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