Frederick Draper Kalley
Prince of the American Renaissance
a Recollection upon the Occasion of his Death
No story epitomizes the American promise of individualism and prosperity than that of Frederick Draper Kalley. Born into the most modest of circumstances, he founded the Artistic Novelty Company at age twenty-four and had amassed a considerable fortune by his mid-thirties. Not content with that accomplishment, Kalley sought to use his resources and considerable energy to enrich the society in which he had thrived through his love of art and culture. In this he was not alone, of course, and indeed, an accumulation of the "trappings" of wealth was almost obligatory in the society in which he moved. Nonetheless, the image of the log cabin of his birth with its grand additions in successive fashionable styles is breathtaking (and to this author - and I am admittedly not a trained architectural art historian a trifle confusing, what with the Victorian apparently having been added before the Classical Revival). And it says something about the man that he chose to retain the cabin rather than have it demolished. Yes, Kalley could play the Gilded Age fop - that is he on the right with his brother Horace as they appeared during their Moresque period - but he never lost touch with his sturdy New England origins nor forgot from whence he came.
The Novelty Artistic Company, ostensibly based in Cincinnati (at the time, a fervent center of the arts and crafts) was actually situated in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Its genesis derived directly from the travels and subsequent obsessions of Kalley's older brother Horace, who can be seen (left) as both an Egyptian pharaoh (note his partially completed pyramid in Columbus Circle, N.Y., now demolished) and Chinese war lord. Among the products of the Company may be counted an early Japanese mobile (which may have served as inspiration to Alexander Calder a half century later), as well as the "Ki-Mona Li-Sa" (below). The latter artifact was a best seller, dovetailing perfectly with the raging fashion for far-eastern exotica and the most famous art of the Italian Renaissance. The Kalleyesque touch was in the advertising more than the product, with its insistence that the Ki-Mona Li-Sa actually depicted a Japanese girl who so closely resembled the Leonardo masterpiece that she sported a fine craquelure of the skin rather than being a simple, and not very convincing, darkroom trick.
Other products of the Artistic Novelty Company (there were some 234 in all) can be seen on these pages. The "Peto Repeto" (right) sought to capitalize on the popularity of still life paintings by John F. Peto (American, 1854-1907), showing little concern for ownership rights as was typical of the age. The device rotated, permitting viewing of four different chromolithographic facsimiles of paintings by the artist, thus saving wall space for the myriad other objects which adorned the typical middle class interior. The "Venetian Viewer" (below) made the dubious claim of allowing the user to see through the clothing of the viewed. The advertisement, which incorporated the two famous versions of the "Maya" by Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746-1828) satisfied Kalley's dual criteria for his products, to wit artistic pretension and dishonesty in salesmanship. This product lives on in various forms, usually found on the back covers of comic books and volumes of pulp fiction, and like Kalley's version, intended to appeal to men.
The wealth generated by the Artistic Novelty Company allowed Kalley to indulge in the first of his artistic adventures - the building of a summer cottage (these images) . Designed in the popular "shingle style", the house teetered on a dramatic waterfall (above) . The interior held other surprises, such as the soaring Gothic Revival banquet room (quite unexpected, given the horizontal orientation of the exterior), a perfect space for an equally vertical spindled Frank Lloyd Wright dinning set (right). The manly study (below, top) carried the waterfall motif indoors, although the deafening roar of the water made reading and repose well nigh impossible. The conservatory (below, bottom) was decorated in the Persian style. It was also permanent housing for a grouping of rug merchants, thus lending an air of authenticity to the surroundings.
Another indulgence, and one which was to change his life, was the purchase of the steam ship Henry VIII (right) and subsequent embarkation on a Grand Tour. It is hard to overestimate the confidence - and some might say poor taste with which well-to-do Americans of the Kalley era ventured forth into the world. And perhaps it was a tad gauche to mount a bridge in the Elizabethan style atop what was essentially a warship and proceed to sail into the harbors of "old Europe" with flags flying and guns blazing. But such bombast was soon quieted by the glory of European art and culture. Kalley marveled at such old-master treasures as Gothic Wedding by Jan Van Eyck (right). But just as quickly, he found himself seduced by a new spirit in European art, and his attentions soon focused on the art of his own time.
What to make of a landscape (right, left) in which the sky was a single brushstroke. It showed boldness he had never seen. Equally perplexing was the portrait of the artist's father by James McNeill Whistler with its flat composition and odd title (right, right). And like that portrait, there was another work that hovered between something real and unreal - the sculpture by Edward Degas of a child - like dancer with three legs (right, left). Is it any wonder that Kalley had that work reproduced as a lamp base by the Artistic Novelty Company? The work (show in his own house, right, right) embodied all that was the new art for a new age - and it was wonderfully stable as well.
If art can provide solace for the troubled soul, that ability was most surely tested when Frederick Draper Kalley lost his brother Horace on the ill-fated Titanic. One of many famous personages (right) Horace Kalley was surely the only passenger dressed like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, and survivors recounted how he played that part until the end, exhorting others not to lose hope, until finally succumbing to the enveloping waters like the ancient pursuers of Moses and the Israelites. All Frederick do was erect a stone tower (below) as a memorial to those lost, incorporating the engineering skills learned during the years of ownership of his undulating and sodden house overlooking the invasive waterfall.
It should not surprise that the art which most mattered to Kalley after the tragedy of Horace's death was spiritual, even utopian. Works like the odd mélange of the natural landscape enveloping a Mondrian-like painting (left) had a sense of the transcendental Kalley longed for. The utopian highboy, exhibiting characteristics of the Queen Anne style as well as that of Gerritt Rietveld (below , left) also entered his collection. Finally, the photograph of an architectural model (below, right) was a proposal for a new Kalley residence. Architinkeron Toykos was never built, but its other-worldly spirit revealed the state of Kalley's mind and heart during this difficult time.
When did "Modernism" begin? That was a vexing issue to Frederick Draper Kalley, and of course to many who have followed. He was struck by the power of The Toe Stubber by Auguste Rodin (right), especially after having suffered the same discomfort during a tour of Chartres Cathedral. Had that sculpture tipped a balance from the Romantic into some form of a modern notion of isolation and suffering? What of the preparatory three dimensional sketches by the artist (the Toe, right, bottom - later reproduced as a door stop by the Artistic Novelty Company). Disassociation, the cult of the fragment (which -prophesized Kalley - would inevitably lead to an obsession with body parts), the shattering of Renaissance perspective its replacement by the space time continuum of Cubism - it was all so overwhelming. And it was everywhere .
Frederick Draper Kalley's progress as he absorbs Modernism is indeed wondrous to behold. He has been criticized for gravitating to the most literal of examples for his collection, but what passionate collector does not wed objective knowledge with personal taste? Three works by Brancusi reveal his biases. As a hunter of water fowl, Kalley naturally preferred Duck in Space (right, left) with its recognizable bird to the more abstracted versions for which the artist is rightly famous. The same holds true for Mlle. Pogany (right, right) - no oddly arcing eyebrows here! Torso of a Modest Young Man (below) is a simplified form in the torso itself, but the added fig leaf is both a realistic touch as well as a requirement of Kalley's insistence on modesty at all times.
Much has been made of the animosity between Kalley and Gertrude Stein. The bad blood began when Kalley traded The Pink Flamingo (right), an example of American cubism from his collection, for Tennis , Anyone? (right, center), a Stein owned work (bottom left) with a distinctly European flair. Kalley regretted the trade when he realized his new work was not by Picasso despite its use of chair caning, and challenged Miss Stein to a tennis match for both works. She proposed doubles, a clever trap since her partner was Fredericka “Topspin" Brown, a Princeton-trained athlete who dominated the match despite using a bat instead of a racket. Kalley never forgave the chicanery.
Kalley became so steeped in Modernism that he found himself evolving from collector to patron. Yes, he had convinced an aged and desperate Cezanne to paint the Kalley visage atop a version of Mont Sainte Victoire, (left), sweetening the pot with his sponsorship of a retrospective of the masters' early work (poster shown at left, bottom). A more ambitious and risky enterprise had been the Amory Show of 1912 in Baltimore Maryland (bottom). Kalley assembled thirty-four works including The Kiss by Constantin Brancusi as well as several suits of amour. Less influential than its namesake show in New York, the exhibit was criticized for being too literal.
Other treats from the Armory Show included Frog Descending a Staircase (right). Kalley had the work created as homage to Marcel Duchamp's masterwork, but the somewhat puritanical collector understandably preferred an amphibian subject matter to that of a female nude for his study with its waterfall-dominated decor. Also included in the show was another object derived from Duchamp, this time with a distinctly American theme. The chess set (below) has cleverly reinterpreted the pieces of the set using cubist style to depict the foods traditionally served at a Thanksgiving dinner.
More personal yet was the great bronze relief series of Kalley's famous mustache created by Henri Matisse (below). Reminiscent of that artist's studies of a female back, The Kalley upper lip undergoes a similar metamorphosis, from the literal (naturally, the collector's favorite) through various stages of simplification to a final severe form. It is a lesson in cubism, artistic courage and facial hair.
We end with images of the last years of Frederick Draper Kalley in Paris (below). Café scenes with patrons balancing eggs in the Brancusi manner (below, top, left), and trolling for pie in the Dutch taste (below, top, right). The cache of documents from the church sale also contained the last known photograph of Kalley himself (below, bottom, left). Lastly, an image of the world that Kalley so loved, an artist's atelier (below, bottom, right) showing nude models being photographed. Barely a hint of self-consciousness is seen on their faces, so accepting of bohemian values and the imperative of a life in art. These were the values Kalley took as his own, and with an uneven but good hearted application, used to build one of the truly problematic collections by any American in his time.