Author Archives: Holly Phillips

American Art Association Auction Catalogs, a Selection II

During the Gilded Age, an association was formed in New York City with the goal of promoting and selling American art: The American Art Association. Its founders were James F. Sutton, R. Austin Robertson and Thomas E. Kirby.  The Association – formed in 1883 – held auctions beginning in 1885. In 1922, it opened the American Art Gallery.  In 1929, the AAA merged with the Anderson Auction Company forming the American Art Association-Anderson Galleries; and in 1938, it was taken over by Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc. which was bought by Sotheby’s in 1964.

Watson Library has digitized over two-hundred American Art Association auction catalogs dating from its inception in 1885 through 1927.  The catalogs represent not only American art, including an emphasis on the Barbizon school masters, but also works by major European and Asian artists.  Subject areas include: Old Masters of Dutch and Italian schools, impressionist and modern painting, miniatures, porcelain, engravings, antique and modern furniture, European arms and armor, jewelry and silver.

 Milliken sale index

The Milliken sale held on February 14th, 1902, is a good example of the scope of important modern European artists represented in the American Art Association auction catalogs.  The index for the sale includes such prominent French painters as Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Jean François Millet (1814-1875).

Press clippings from Milliken sale

Press clippings from Milliken sale

Press clippings from this auction announce the “excellent prices” in sales including Titian’s (ca. 1485/90?–1576) Portrait of Giorgio Cornaro (1537) which sold for $42,000, and Camille Corot’s (1796-1875) St. Sebastian (1851) which sold for $20,000.

"Allée of Chestnut Trees," Alfred Sisley (1878); © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Allée of Chestnut Trees,” Alfred Sisley (1878); © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Other works by renowned European artists sold by the American Art Association include Alfred Sisley’s (1839-1899) Allée of Chestnut Trees, 1878, which was up for sale in the January 8-9th, 1913 American Art Association auction catalog and eventually bought by Robert Lehman in 1948 and given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978 as part of Lehman’s bequest.  The owner of this collection was Tadamasa Hayashi (1853-1906), an important ambassador for Japanese culture in France, who moved to Paris in 1878 and introduced traditional Japanese art to Europe.

In addition to provenance, the AAA catalogs are valuable for their annotations, such as the one included here for the Sisley painting noting price and buyer.


Annotated catalog

Annotated catalog

In addition to major European artists, the auction catalogs also represent important American artists such as William Merrit Chase (1949-1916), George Inness (1825-1894), Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) and John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872).  Lesser known American artists include Frederic A. Bridgman (1847-1928), born in Tuskegee, Alabama and known for his Orientalist paintings.

Decorative works, salon pictures, eastern subjects and drawings by Frederic A. Bridgman

Decorative works, salon pictures, eastern subjects and drawings by Frederic A. Bridgman

Another lesser known artist was Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919), a romanticist painter born in New York City.


From "Catalogue of modern paintings: the private collection formed by the late Frederick S. Gibbs"

From “Catalogue of modern paintings: the private collection formed by the late Frederick S. Gibbs”

The Met owns several Blakelock landscape paintings including A Waterfall, Moonlight (1886)

“A Waterfall, Moonlight,” Ralph Albert Blakelock (1886)

The provenance for this work includes it being sold in an American Art Association sale held on January 20th, 1911.

In addition to the thousands of important works exhibited and sold by the American Art Association from the late nineteenth century up to the 1920’s, it is fascinating to see the many important American collectors both buying and selling in these auctions, reflecting the prosperity of the Gilded Age and the enthusiasm for current American and European art sold and disseminated during this thriving period of modern art.

To read about other American Art Association auction catalogs, see this Highlights post.

Dolls in the Digital Collections

1830 Doll

1830 Doll

In 1949, a train arrived in the USA from France with forty-nine boxcars for each state.  Termed the “Gratitude” or “Merci” train, this festive locomotive was sent in response to a large-scale American relief package sent to France in 1947.

The boxcars arrived on the ship Magellan in New York Harbor in February 1949.  The celebration was attended by over two hundred thousand people and included a ticker-tape parade as the New York boxcar traveled up Broadway.

Filled with gifts of gratitude, the treasures included a collection of forty-nine dolls dressed in French fashions designed by prominent couturiers of the time reflecting French dress from the early seventeenth century through the early twentieth-century.  Each doll, measuring approximately 24″ tall and made of open wire, was outfitted by a different designer to represent the evolution of French fashion.  The figures, which are in the Costume Institute collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, have been photographed by the Museum and have accompanying descriptions for each figurine summarizing the designers and their influences.

We also have thirty-two photographs of the dolls in our Costume Institute collection.   The full story of the Gratitude train and the boxcars can be found on the museum’s website here.

The design of the doll itself, originally created for Théâtre de la Mode, was conceived by Eileen Bonabel.  The head, made of plaster, was created by the artist Rebull; and the hairstyles are made of human hair. Each designer selected a year between 1715 and 1906 to fashion their doll.  Their sources of inspiration included art, literature and historic fashion plates.  As summarized on the Met’s website: “The Gratitude Train fashion dolls represent a unique moment in the history of couture as they represent not only creative interpretations of historic fashions by the greatest designers of the period, but also are infused with the unparalleled skill, care, and attention to detail that would have been applied in their full-size counterparts.”

1715 Doll

1715 Doll

For example, the 1715 Marcel Rochas doll was inspired by Jean-Antoine Watteau’s (1684-1721) painting L’Enseigne de Gersaint (1720) featuring a particular style of dress – a gown arranged in the back with loose box pleats which became known as Watteau pleats.

1779 Doll

1779 Doll

Jean-Michael Moreau le Jeune‘s (1741-1814) painting “Le Rendez-vous” was the inspiration for the 1779 doll designed by Lucille Manguin.  Moreau le Jeune was best known as an illustrator capturing “fashionable dress and interiors in the ‘Monument de costume physique et morale’ published by L.F. Prault in 1776-1783.  The original etching and engraving is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection” (see more on this doll here).

1892 Doll

1892 Doll

The Germaine Lecomte 1892 doll, adorned in black lace, was inspired by a painting by Leon Bonnat (1833-1992).

The dolls are part of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Syndicat de la Couture de Paris, 1949.

Educational Programs and Listings

As evidenced by our Educational Programs and Listing collection, guides, maps, lectures and courses have been at the forefront of the Museum’s educational program since it opened to the public in the early 1870’s.

One of the earliest guides from 1875 takes visitors through the Museum’s pottery and porcelain collection.   A 1923 children’s program, Story-hours for members’children, has a lively roster of over twenty stories told to children with whimsical titles including “Winged caps and Wooden Shoes” and “Boys and Girls of Sun-Bright Spain”.

Story-hours for members' children

Story-hours for members’ children

Today, the Nolen Library greets thousands of children a year, six days a week for “Storytime,”conducted by staff members from across the museum, who read books that range from childhood classics such as, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, to books about art, including Magritte’s Marvelous Hat, a Picture Book by D.B. Johnson and Vincent Colors: Words and Pictures by Vincent Van Gogh.

Family guides and maps have ranged in topic throughout the years and have included ones on women artists, mythical creatures, doors and doorways, tea sets, and medieval manuscripts.

Six women, six stories: family guide

Six women, six stories: family guide

Tea sets at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: a family guide

Tea sets at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: a family guide

A most unusual guide is Food and visual culture at the Metropolitan of Art, a clever gallery itinerary suggesting objects with culinary themes including the production, consumption and service of food of different periods and cultures.  For example, it includes a discussion of Edward Hopper’s Tables for Ladies and how the enticing fruit displayed in the window of the restaurant is in contrast to the reticence of the diners.


In addition to guides, there are also a number of family maps in the Digital Collections, including the most recent map illustrated by celebrated cartoonist, John Kerschbaum.


Illustrated map of the Museum

A poster puzzle, Kerschbaum’s award winning guide is a depiction of all the museum galleries with over five hundred objects that are currently on display rendered cartoon-style with visual humor.  According to Kerschbaum, the detailed map took him fours years to complete.  It was drafted on paper with ink and white out, then scanned and colored on the computer.  The actual size is 19” x 24” on Bristol board.
Last year, the Nolen Library and Teen programs invited John Kerschbaum to the Museum for an “ARText” event to lead a workshop for teens.  Kerschbaum discussed his experiences as an illustrator, after which teens visited the galleries and created their own illustrations of works of art that they saw.

This final image, appearing in a 1913 museum supplement to the Bulletin titled, The Museum and the Schools, is a rare glimpse of school children visiting the galleries accompanied by an essay, “If I Were You: A Museum Romance.”

From: The Museum and the schools

From: The Museum and the schools

The anecdote, written by a teacher from Missouri, recounts her experiences at the Met which are filled with praise.  She writes: “. . . my docent – was an indefatigable lady, refined and cordial, full of information on art, artists and curios . . . once you have seen this friendly docent, who seems eager to function, full of the feeling that she has intrusted to her riches that ought to be used, you see, when a piece of museum literature drifts your way, shining eyes of an invitation, and outstretched hands of welcome behind it . . . But chiefly we have learned that the museum and all it holds and stands for is ours” (found on page 9).

The same 1913 publication also contains reports and updates on educational programs, including this uplifting one: “Last year more teachers and their classes visited the Museum than ever before, and it is hoped that still more may come this year. The Museum desires to be of real service to this class of visitors, and to make every effort through its Instructor, class room, and lectures to meet the needs of all who find its collections helpful in teaching.”

All of this material can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection.

Dandies in the Digital Collections

Some of the earliest accounts of the “dandy” appear in the eighteenth century when it was generally defined as a person who places excessive importance on his or her clothing and personal appearance.  The Digital Collections captures eighteenth and nineteenth century European responses to and descriptions of the dandy.  Specifically, the collection contains Portuguese material with laws and ethics cautioning against excessive attention to one’s dress, as well as exhibition catalogs describing British and French artists and personalities who were celebrated dandies of their time.

The 1982 Met Museum exhibition catalog, La Belle Époque, reproduces Giovanni Boldini’s (1842-1931) portrait of the flamboyant Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921).  A known dandy himself, Boldini captures the count’s haughty air.  The description in the catalog describes Montesquiou as an “aesthete extraordinaire” who “occupied one of the most prominent positions in Parisian society.”  He is also described as a scolding dandy who “worshiped the exquisite, and in its name he meted out admonishments to all, both verbally and through a sizable literary production.”


The Costume Institute’s 2006 exhibition, Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, describes the English dandy at length, crediting George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840) as the originator of a type of Regency dandyism that influenced decades of design from the Duke of Windsor all the way through to late-twentieth-century Punks.  The catalog states Beau Brummell’s “emphasis on a relaxed, effortless appearance (achieved through arduous dressing rituals) was central to the dandy creed, [and he] is commonly regarded as the greatest exemplar of Regency dandyism.”  The catalog includes an illustration of Richard Dighton’s caricature, “The Dandy Club” (1818), which conveys the extremes the dandy went to in order to achieve a strong masculine profile, often resulting in almost comical effects.


In addition to French and English descriptions of the 18th and 19th Century dandy, the collection contains Portuguese morality poems and plays, reports, and sumptuary laws warning about the perils of fashion fads.  A narrative written by a dandy in 1784 Lisbon describes the dangers of a hunt while wearing “various garments of silk” which, according to this account, attract vermin.


Another account takes the form of an instructive poem written by a father lamenting his dandy daughter’s transformation into a “woman of fashion”:


He laments: “You used to fight with me to make me agree to buy the ridiculous garments. When I told you I did not like you in those fashions, you had a fit and threw a tantrum.  You liked your dress short (actually the skirt lifted up on one side) and did not see that this was madness.  Our ladies of fashion do not realize that what they wear makes them look ugly, and they don’t care as long as it’s ‘fashionable.’  They will follow the most horrible taste as long as they think it is modern.”  The title of the poem, Amusing and instructive poem about a lady-dandy, who flew through the air by her scarf, and by the hood of her cape, is a reference to the invention of the balloon in 1783 (see our Highlights post about “balloon mania” here).

A particularly colorful Portuguese text, written in 1788, is replete with reproaches about the dandy’s excessive intake of sweets and the fines and penalties imposed on them: “The bombastic title calls our attention to the fact that it took more than the right dress to make a Dandy.  He had to love luxury and eat the kind of food which was in fashion.  His lifestyle included an addiction to sweets.  There were times when our Dandies always had a candy between their teeth.  The people did not like it.  Because your love of sweets is threatening to make you a glutton, a trial is being held to bring all sweets to justice.”  The offensive candies included licorice, cheese cake, plum preserve and rum tarts.

The Portuguese texts all come from the Costume Institute collection, while the exhibition catalogs both come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection.

Extravagant Table Settings

In the eighteenth century, elaborate banquets featuring lavish table settings and complicated codes of social protocol were the focus of court society.  The table settings were extravagant, displaying decorative gold and silver server objects including plates, flatware and serving platters.

A main feature of the dinner ensembles was fanciful napkin folding designs. Complementing The Museum’s 2010 exhibition, Vienna Circa 1780: an Imperial Silver Service Rediscovered, which featured napkin designs, the library purchased several books on napkin folding, including Serviettes and how to Fold Them (Belfast: Robinson & Cleaver, ca.1890,) and Kniffe zum Servietten Kniffen: der Hausfrau gewidmet (Braunschweig: Gebrüder Ring, ca.1900).


The former catalog, from linen manufacturer Robinson & Cleaver, provides a nineteenth-century take on elegant napkin folding.  As a furnisher of linens to the royal family, Robinson & Cleaver represented excellence in Irish linen and produced everything from damask to lace goods.  Focusing solely on serviettes, this catalog includes diagrams and step-by-step instructions on how to create napkin folding designs such as the “Fan,” “Water Lily,” “Cardinal’s Hat,” “Greek Cross” and “Collegiate.” Below are the instructions for “The Casket Open“:


The latter guide to napkin folding, Kniffe zum Servietten Kniffen, published by German flatware manufacturer Gebrüder Ring, highlights the company’s patented silver-plated cutlery with eleven spreads pairing different product lines with instructions for and depictions of decorative folded napkins.


The Library also owns Urbain Dubois’s (1818-1901) Artistic cookery: a practical system for the use of the nobility and gentry and for public entertainments (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1887).  His illustrated guide to gastronomy served as a major resource for festive banquets.


Dubois was an important figure in French cuisine.  He published eight cook books and served as chef to Prince Orloff of Russia and joint chef to Emperor Wilhelm of Prussia.  Artistic Cookery contains eighty copper-engraved plates illustrating three hundred and thirty-seven examples of meat, fish, and dessert dishes presented on elaborate serving pieces or stands, as well as sample menus and preparation instructions for both food dishes and their decorative serving platters that accompany the illustrations.


Written by Holly Phillips and Diane De Fazio

Miniature Books and Balloon Mania

In 1783, brothers Joseph-Michel (1740-1810) and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (1745-1799) made history with the debut of the hot air balloon.  After the device’s first manned flight and subsequent public exhibitions, and as the French nobility clamored for more information on balloons and ballooning, images of the Montgolfiers’ contraption became ubiquitous in popular culture including fashion, hairstyles, decorative arts and publishing.


L’Amour dans le globe, with gilt balloon ornaments on the spine and the corners of both covers, is an illustrated history of the Montgolfiers’s hot-air balloon development, including folded engravings that depict the progression from early tests to the more fantastic demonstrations staged for Louis XVI at Versailles.


The two individuals depicted inside the gilt balloon stamp on the front cover of the Almanach Royal and Le calendrier de la cour, are not the Montgolfier brothers but Jacques-Alexandre-César Charles (1746-1823) and Marie-Noël Robert (1760-1820), collaborators of the world’s first hydrogen balloon.  Known as the charlière balloon, Charles’s and Robert’s invention debuted on the Champs de Mars in Paris two months after the Montgolfier Brothers launched their first hot air balloon.  These three volumes are part of a gift from Mrs. Charles Wrightsman of sixty-five fine bindings.

Written by Holly Phillips and Diane De Fazio