Robert Winthrop Chanler’s Armory Show Screens: more than ever realized

By the Archives

November 4, 2013

Leading Armory Show scholar Laurette E. McCarthy, returns with a guest blog uncovering some new evidence found in some old photographs.

Gallery A in the Armory Show
Installation view of Gallery A in the Armory Show, 1913 / unidentified photographer. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Overhead view of Gallery A
An overhead installation view of Gallery A at the Armory Show, 1913 / unidentified photographer. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Upon entering the cavernous space of the 69th Regiment Armory in New York, site of the 1913 Armory Show, one was greeted in “Gallery A” by a riotous display of colorful and exotic screens by American artist Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872–1930). A member of the Astor clan, Chanler was, from numerous reports, quite an eccentric but he was also a serious artist who had studied in Paris and who had already exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris and in New York.

Press clippings scrapbook
Walt Kuhn scrapbook of press clippings documenting the Armory Show, vol. 1, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

According to the “official” catalogues for the Armory Show, Chanler was represented by nine screens at the New York venue and eight screens at the Art Institute of Chicago; however, first-hand visual and written sources that I have uncovered—including Walter Pach’s annotated New York catalogue and the Supplement to the New York catalogue located in the Armory Show records and the Walter Pach papers, respectively—indicate, astoundingly, that somewhere between twenty-five and twenty-seven screens were on view at various times during the three-week run in Manhattan, and at least nine were shown in the Windy City. Unbelievable! How did I find this?

For the past 100 years, there have been three interior views of the Armory Show in New York known to scholars—two of which show Gallery A.

In the course of my research on Walter Pach and the 1913 Armory Show, I’ve looked at these photographs at least 100 times, but until I began researching the works by Chanler in the Armory Show I assumed that these two photographs were taken on the same day just from different viewpoints. I was dead wrong.

Careful comparison of the elements in each picture of Gallery A reveals differences: which Chanler screens are on view provides the clues.

When you look closely you will see that in the screen in the center of the photograph is Hopi Indian Snake Dance (figure 1) and the screen to the right of it is one that is now called Dreamer’s Solitude (figure 2), owned by Henry Clews, Jr. (1876–1937), an American sculptor and expatriate. Given its appearance, this could be catalogue no. 1030 in New York and no. 61 in Chicago: Fantasy: Bamboo and Birds.

Gallery A, Armory Show
FIGURE 1: Hopi Indian Snake Dance     FIGURE 2: Dreamer’s Solitude

When we look in the Armory Show scrapbooks, more information comes to light about the screens by Chanler in the show. For example, Hopi Indian Snake Dance is reproduced in a February 15, 1913 New York Herald article.

Turning to the overhead installation photograph, we find that the screen in the center in that photograph is different from the other. The Chanler screen in the center of this image is the work variously titled, Bataille Sousmarine (Fight Under the Sea) (figure A), or Under the Sea. The verso of this screen has usually been called Astrological Screen but research I’ve found lists the original title as The Firmament. This work was owned by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. It might be catalogued as no. 1025 Fish in the New York venue, but it is definitely no. 56 Fight Under the Sea in the Chicago catalog. This work had been dated to 1917 or 1922, but clearly it dates much earlier than that. What’s even more exciting is that this work has also been located in a private collection!

Gallery A overhead view
FIGURE A: Bataille Sousmarine (Fight Under the Sea)    FIGURE B: Autobiography     FIGURE C: Porcupines

Also, to the right of Under the Sea, (with The Firmament on its verso) in the overhead photograph, is a work that several sources call Autobiography (figure B). This screen was also owned by Clews. This too could be catalogue no. 1030 in New York and no. 61 in Chicago: Fantasy: Bamboo and Birds, we just don’t know for sure.

Screen by Robert Winthrop Chanler
Armory show postcard with reproduction of a screen by Robert Winthrop Chanler, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

On the far right in the overhead photograph is Porcupines (figure C), clearly the same image as on the postcard made for the Armory Show and not the screen depicting porcupines that is currently in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think the confusion here stems from the fact the artist’s sister, Mrs. John Jay Chapman—the donor of the screen found in the Met’s collection—also lent the screen displayed in the Armory Show.

The screen to the left of the center screen in both photographs has yet to be identified—yet another Armory Show mystery to be solved!

 

Guest blogger Laurette E. McCarthy is an independent scholar and curator. She is an authority on Walter Pach and a leading Armory Show scholar, and the author of Walter Pach (1883–1958): the Armory Show and the untold story of modern art in America. She will present a paper, “Robert Winthrop Chanler and the Armory Show” at a symposium on the artist being held October 20–21, 2014 at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida.

Explore more:

Comments

I find it very interesting that many artists do not consider photography art, yet some of the biggest mysteries in art and art identification have been solved because of photography. Further the photographer of these images that present the evidence for the Armory Show, and the works contained therein, has faded off into obscurity. This article besides presenting evidence for historical facts also illustrates how these forms of expression can and are complementary.

Thanks, I'm really becoming a fan of Jerome Caja works!
Last picture is awesome))