Monday, 26 October 2015

Fortunes in odd places

Gordon Minhinnick (1902-1992), Cover drawing for Loan exhibition of antiques (1935)
Between 26 September and 10 October 1935, Auckland 'art lovers' were able to view what was described as 'a loan exhibition of antiques' on display in the – now demolished – L D Nathan buildings in High Street. There were over 1026 objects on show, drawn primarily from local private collections and embracing paintings, furniture, clocks, metalwork, ceramics, dress, books, prints and manuscripts, coins and medals, arms and 'Miscellaneous & exhibits received too late for classification'. Ostensibly modelled on the 1934 Antique Dealers' Fair held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, the exhibition had been developed by a selection committee and was accompanied by a printed catalogue, with a cover designed by the New Zealand Herald staff cartoonist, G E Minhinnick. Selected objects were made available for sale, an entrance fee was charged and profits were directed towards the Plunket Society and the Girl Guides Association. The Auckland Star reported the only difficulty encountered by the organising committee concerned the lack of suitable glass showcases for the smaller exhibits.
The Auckland Star report of the opening of the exhibition was juxtaposed against an account of a protest meeting in the Auckland Town Hall against poverty and distress by a group of clergy, including the future dean of St Paul's cathedral in London (1967-77),  the Rev Martin Sullivan.
Auckland Star (25 September 1935), p. 5
Parading an ostentatious display of wealth during the Great Depression, even under the fig leaf of charitable works, could be perceived as a provocative act, but the loan exhibition provoked no rioting, seems to have elicited no negative comment in the media of the time although it opened the day after a major meeting at the Auckland Town Hall protesting against poverty and has been ignored in historical accounts of the slump. Nonetheless the exhibition represents a significant threshold moment in New Zealand's material history culture for a number of reasons. While not the first assemblage of 'antiques' to be held in the country – Christchurch had an exhibition in 1932, Wellington another in 1933 – it seems to have been the largest and, as the New Zealand Herald bragged, 'probably the finest collection of antiques ever assembled in New Zealand.'
John Cecil Hill (1889-1974), Comment cartoon in the Auckland Star (26 September 1935), p. 8. Hill notes the indifference of neglectful national and local governments to the loan exhibition of antiques while his clerical observer draws attention to the more pressing concerns of the Town Hall protest meeting

Reporting on preparations, the New Zealand Herald observed such exhibitions 'had met with marked success from the artistic, educational and financial points of view.' Aside from its avowed charitable aim – and the making of a profit – the purpose of the exhibition seems to have been an attempt to address the city's cultural deficiencies by demonstrating the breadth and depth of its private collections. And, in the face of economic instability, it provided a tangible level of reassurance and historical continuity to a nervous bourgeois class. Its failure to acquire cultural or political visibility may have been deliberatively protective but it also reflects a prevalent sense of public ignorance and disinterest in portable material culture.
Unidentified maker, inkstand of painted and gilded earthenware, [England, (c. 1850)]. From the collection of the Rt Rev E A Anderson, bishop of the Riverina, NSW. Anderson sold this piece at auction in Sydney where it was described in the catalogue as 'an exquisitely pretty soft-paste Sèvres [porcelain]
inkstand [...] one of the gems of the collection'.
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney (A509)
Lenders to the exhibition encompassed what passed for Auckland society in 1935. Not only did Lady Galway, the wife of the governor general, George Vere Arundel Monckton-Arundell, viscount Galway, open the exhibition but the gubernatorial couple also lent material including a trove of silver (236), a collection of miniatures (726) and a 'Pewter communion cup, once the property of Captain James Cook, whom it accompanied on his voyages of discovery. About 1760.' (403). The Rt Rev Ernest Augustus Anderson, former Anglican bishop of the Riverina in New South Wales, lent a collection of Worcester porcelain (518-519), seventeen pieces of 'miscellaneous' English eighteenth century porcelain (530), 'two coloured Bartolozzi prints and one needlework picture. 1780' (687) and three enamel patch boxes (868). Unfortunately for the art lovers of Auckland, peculation of the funds of the diocese of Riverina by its solicitor led to the greater part of Anderson's collection of ceramics being sold by the Sydney auction house Lawson's in 1906. A number of pieces were acquired by the Sydney Technological Museum although, sadly for the museum, most of the pieces it purchased were not what they were claimed to be. In the absence of comparative examples, attributions tended to be aspirational rather than actual.
Day & Son after Frederick Rice Stack (1822-1873), View of Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, taken during the regatta of January 1862 (the race of the Maori war canoes), from F R Stack, Views in the province of Auckland, New Zealand (London: Day & Son, 1863), plate 1.
Six prints from the series were lent to the exhibition by the Northern Club.
Grey Collection, Auckland Libraries (GNZ 993.2 S78)
The president and members of the Northern Club lent 'six lithographs of early Auckland, from the drawing of Major F R Slack (sic)'. Club members or their wives were equally generous: Sir George Wilson, first president of the New Zealand National party, lent a collection of English watercolours. His fellow Kelly Gang member, Edward Russell, éminence grise of his father's law firm Russell McVeagh, loaned 'a Korean cabinet bound and ornamented in brass' (199) while his sisters lent a variety of things: Ada (Mrs R Anthony Carr) a 'Chinese work box in gold and black lacquer (913); Agnes (Miss Agnes Russell) a 'Engraved Egyptian copper tray. Probably 14th century.' (392) and a 'Spode fruit dish 1805' (486); and Grace (Dr de Courcy) a 'Pair of tall brass candlesticks, used in Palestine' (371), 'An oviform copper urn of Adam design. 1780' (377) and an 'Oak spinning wheel from Donegal. Early 18th century' (991). Russell's nieces were equally generous: Mrs Austin Carr (née Barbara Greig) lent a 'Child's high chair in two pieces 1800' (100) and a 'Copper tray engraved in Arabic "To the Glory of Allah: made by Solomon the gardener". About 1700' (374); and Mrs Paul Cropper (née Airini Carr) made available a 'Prie Dieu chair in walnut, upholstered in cross stitch. 1700' (74) and a 'Tea caddy in walnut, with claw feet. 1800' (901). The Islamic copper pieces had probably been collected by Grace de Courcy while working for the International Quarantine Commission in the Suez and the Egyptian Public Health Service during the second decade of the century.
Unidentified photographer, Includes no. 59 ['Five panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style with glass panels'] and part of no. 111 (sic) ['suite of Louis XVI furniture'] (1935). The photograph appears to have been taken at the Charles Nathan residence, 'St Ann's' in Arney Road, Remuera, prior to the exhibition.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 17
Pre-exhibition publicity emphasised the exhibition was drawing on the collections of the city's wealthier residents, notably that of Mrs Charles Nathan (née Gladys Cohen of Sydney); her husband's cousin's firm, L D Nathan & Co, provided the exhibition venue and she seems to have been an active member of the committee, evidently cajoling members of Auckland's Jewish community into supporting the exhibition, including Kenneth Myers and Dr [Augusta] Klippel (née Manoy) who lent a plethora of smaller objects ranging from a 'Medallion in bronze of Charles XII of Sweden. 1705' (399) to a 'Beleek (sic) bowl. Early 19th century' (439). Mrs Nathan's loans included a 'Five-panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style, with glass panels. 1753' (59), a 'Three-panelled folding screen, Louis XVI. 1780' (61), a 'Suite of Louis XVI furniture with Aubusson tapestry, six upright chairs, two stools, one settee. 1780' (114), 'Eleven Dutch silver birds and bear. 1800' (303), a 'Complete Rockingham teaset. 1825' (481) and a 'Waterford glass goblet. 1800' (614). Other members of the extended Nathan family were equally generous with loans: Mrs Sidney Nolan (incidentally a Wellington resident) showed a 'Monk's chair in oak with straight legs and wooden seat. 17th century' (69). Mr David L Nathan, chairman of L D Nathan & Co, exhibited a pair of Louis XIII chairs. 1601-1643 (112), 'Two Louis XV chairs with original tapestry. 1710-1774' (113), a 'Pair of hand-tooled leather Portuguese chairs. 16th century' (108) and a 'Pair of hand-painted Cordova leather chairs. 17th century (109). The Nathans seemed keen to demonstrate that, authentic or not, the Rothschild taste for French furniture had spread as far as Auckland.
Unidentified photographer, Viscountess Galway opens antique exhibition: Her Excellency with Captain G Humphreys-Davies, of Clevedon, a noted collector of antiques, after performing the opening ceremony yesterday.
New Zealand Herald (27 September 1935)
The most significant material both in terms of scope and quality was that lent by Captain George Arthur Wenham Humphreys-Davies (1880-1948), a sheep farmer from Kawakawa Bay, near Clevedon. Now largely forgotten, despite his generosity to his adopted land, he was without doubt the most sophisticated collector lending to the exhibition. Humphrey-Davies was a Welsh-born, Oxford-educated, former officer in the Household Guards – hence the military title – who had fought in the Boer War and World War I. More importantly he was a discerning and knowledgeable collector of Asian arts, notably Chinese ceramics and Japanese ukiyo-e. He also lectured regularly on the subject and had been involved in a number of exhibitions, notably in July 1933, when he exhibited 75 early Chinese ceramics from his collection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and in September 1934 when he exhibited a selection of his ukiyo-e at the Auckland Art Gallery; the museum later appointed him honorary curator of its oriental collections.
Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858), Kameido Tenjin keidai (Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine) (1856). One of a number of ukiyo-e from Humphreys-Davies' collection shown at the loan exhibition (722). The print was acquired by the Mackelvie Trust in 1946.
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (M77)
Humphreys-Davies's loans to the exhibition were not only extensive in scope but also numerous. The most prominent was his 'Collection of Chinese ceramics, illustrating the development in porcelain from 20BC to the early nineteenth century.' (421) but he also lent a 'Small collection of European earthenware' (591), a 'Small collection of Japanese colour prints, showing examples of the work of the most famous artists from about 1630 to 1830.' (722), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on linen warp, made in Asia Minor. Early 18th century' (750), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on cotton warp, made in North Eastern Persia. Early 18th century' (751), a 'Khira Bokhara rug of wool pile on woollen warp. Early 19th century' (753), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on cotton warp, woven in North East Persia in early 19th century' (754) a small group of eighteenth and early nineteenth century European porcelain (1017-1022), a 'Pair of Japanese dower chests. About 1650' and, finally, but not least, a 'Tiara said to have belonged to the Empress Josephine' (1024). Humpheys-Davies' collecting anecdotes, with his chatty accounts of treasures won against the odds, were a highlight of the exhibition's publicity push: as he blithely informed the Auckland Star, 'the history of nearly all the most valuable objects d'art in the world has been one of robbery, cheating and violence.' It was all good copy.
Unidentified photographer, Nos 155 and 634 (1935). Mrs Bruce Mackenzie's Sheraton (sic) writing table and her 'Bristol decanters'.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 21
On the basis of pieces with a Humphreys-Davies provenance in contemporary public and private collections it's reasonable to conclude that, with the possible exception of the tiara – which has disappeared – most of his attributions were fairly accurate. The few pieces photographed for the catalogue suggest this was not the case with many of the other loans. Mrs Charles Nathan's 'Five-panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style, with glass panels' (59) with the absolute date of 1753 was neither designed by Thomas Chippendale, nor was it made in a 'Chinese style' in 1753; it was probably French and made in a Louis XV revival style around 1900. Dr Klippel's 'Early 19th century' Beleek (sic) bowl also defied chronology, the Belleek factory being established in 1857. Similarly Mrs Bruce Mackenzie's 'Sheraton writing table. About 1760' (155) had no connection with either Thomas Sheraton or his influential publication Cabinet maker's and upholsterer's drawing book, published in parts in London between 1791 and 1793. Writing tables do not feature in the pattern book and the photograph suggests this piece was most likely made about 140 years after the date attributed to it in the catalogue. Moreover, it would have been a remarkable juvenile survival if Sheraton, born in 1751, had anything to do with its manufacture. Likewise, Mrs Mackenzie's 'Bristol decanters. About 1800' (634) were, on the basis of the photograph, neither of Bristol origin nor were they decanters. In part these ambitious attributions, with their extraordinarily precise dating, reflect the absence of public collections of decorative arts collections and, with the notable exception of Humphreys-Davies, any accurate and informed knowledge of the material under scrutiny. The New Zealand Herald's assertion that 'Not one of the exhibits is less than a century old' was a delusion.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 64
The presence of a number of objects marked for sale suggests not only that there were a number of antique dealers trading in Auckland but also, more poignantly, that a number of exhibitors were hoping the sale of their pieces might relieve pressing financial burdens. Only one dealer advertised in the catalogue: Mrs J [Winifred Lilian?] Cowley who had premises on two levels at numbers 17 and 116 Queen's Arcade. Mrs Cowley seeded the exhibition with a number of items including a 'Boulle cabinet. 1780' (187), a 'Corner washstand in mahogany with jug and basin. Late Georgian' (201) (inexplicably not marked for sale), a 'Silver pomander. 17th century' (241), along with a number of ceramic pieces including Derby figures (453), other Derby wares (460), and a 'Wedgewood (sic) cup. Late 18th century' (468), also not for sale.

Classified advertising by Karoly Antiques in the Auckland Star (1933-1940)
The only other dealer who can be identified as associated with the exhibition is the laconically described and studiously ignored Karoly. During the 1930s a series of wanted and for sale notices were placed in Auckland newspapers by Karoly Antiques located, initially, in Wellesley Street, 'opposite the Public Library' and later at 418 Queen Street. The shop survived until November 1940 when a public notice in the New Zealand Herald announced its imminent closure, advising clients to collect their goods. It is possible Karoly was, or may have been associated with, the Hungarian-born musician Charles Moor-Károly (18?-1948) who arrived in New Zealand in 1922. Karoly placed a number of items for sale in the exhibition, including an 'Oval table in mahogany. 1740' (4), which may have been acquired through a wanted advertisement for 'Old mahogany and walnut furniture condition immaterial' placed in the Auckland Star on 22 May 1933. Other pieces offered for sale through the exhibition included a 'Sheffield plate tankard. 1800' (327) and a 'Pair of plaques painted on porcelain. About 1830 (framed)' (596).
William James Harding (1826-1899), H F Turner Major 65th Regt Severely wounded Mahoetahi Nov 1860 ([c. 1860]). Henry Ferdinand Turner (1823-1902) sold his commission in 1862 and returned to New Zealand in 1867. After serving as resident magistrate in Patea he farmed at Whenuakura.
His son exhibited a silver racing cup he had won in 1854.
Te Papa Tongarewa (O.013569/01)
The reasons that prompted Alfred Turner and his sisters Helen and Margaret to identify their loans as for sale are unclear, but given that the pieces appear to have been family heirlooms suggests an air of genteel desperation. Turner, a retired farmer, and his sisters, all now living in Remuera, exhibited a number of pieces, notably, from Alfred, a 'Silver cup won by "Nainai", owned by Major [Henry Ferdinand] Turner of the 65th Regiment, at what is believed to be the first race meeting held in Wellington. 1854' (297). The Misses Turner lent six groups of material, five of which were for sale: a 'Pair of Wedgewood (sic) plates. Early 19th century' (514), a 'Set of five Royal (sic)* Worcester vases. 1800' (520), a 'Blue Royal (sic) Worcester bowl. About 1820' (524), a French 'Spill vase. 18th century' (558), a 'Lace veil and two lace scarves (limerick), also three pieces of black lace. Early 19th century' (800) and an 'Indian scarf. 18th century' (830). It is impossible to tell if there were any buyers but it does not appear that the silver racing cup survived. Its probable fate was to be consigned to pawnbrokers, such as the Meltzer Brothers who had premises in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, where it was likely melted for its metal value.

Aside from the governor general's putative Cook relic, the Northern Club's prints and the Turner racing cup, few of the exhibits had local connections, real or imagined. Mrs R N Moody exhibited a 'New Zealand inlaid wood  table, by [Anton] Seuffert. About 1845' (46), Mrs W J Coutts a 'Hall chair used in Government House, Auckland, in Captain Hobson's time. About 1841' (107) and Mrs Ball a 'Soup tureen and two plates. Part of a Coalport dinner service once the property of Bishop John Selwyn' (449). Artefacts with a colonial provenance seem to have had little currency with a selection committee more concerned to exhibit its worldliness; colonial relics, unless they could be invested with an aura of social superiority – a governor, the monarch (Queen Victoria allegedly patronised Seuffert), a bishop – were of no significance. But what passed for cosmopolitan taste in Auckland was realised in the exhibition as a sort of dreary provincialism; as Keith Sinclair archly observed some thirty years later, ‘a pleasant dream of taking tea at Lyons Corner House—or Buckingham Palace—has shaped society in Remuera and St Heliers.’<Keith Sinclair, ‘The historian as prophet: equality, inequality and civilization’, in The future of New Zealand: the University of Auckland winter lectures 1963, ed. by M F Pritchard, (Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs for the University of Auckland, 1964), 124-142, p. 126>. No matter its displays of exotica – Humphreys-Davies carefully curated Asian material and the Russell familys' dubiously identified Islamic metalwork – the prevailing appearance of the exhibition would have been its provincial Britishness; conformity, no matter how banal, was all.

Despite its avowed aim, the Loan exhibition of antiques was more than just an exercise in charitable philanthropy, the avoidance of economic reality and a foray into social frivolity. Its primary – if unspoken – purpose was to reassert the economic and social values of Auckland's urban elite. Using a language of untutored connoisseurship, the exhibition drew on an often false lexicon of objects in an attempt to sidestep the city's provincial condition. But by investing the city with a concocted veneer of metropolitan sophistication, the organisers of the exhibition unwittingly highlighted the disastrous impact unfettered capitalism had recently made on New Zealand's colonial economy and on its society.

* The Worcester Royal Porcelain Co Ltd was established in 1862.