Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wedding Banquet of Irene and Solomon R. Guggenheim

New York City, 

Russian-born painter Wassily Kandinsky is credited with creating the first abstract painting, perhaps as early as 1910. Thirteen years later, he painted Composition 8, a large canvas with interacting circles, triangles, and linear elements that he considered the high point of his postwar work.1 Mining magnate Solomon Guggenheim and his wife Irene purchased Composition 8 from the artist at his studio in Dessau, Germany in the spring of 1929, and hung it in their suite at the Plaza Hotel, the first of more than 150 works by Kandinsky to enter their collection. The avant-garde painter and these important patrons, all born in the 1860s, came from the same generation and would later say that their interest in art was sparked by an event in 1895. For the Guggenheims, the artistic journey began shortly after their marriage in April of that year. A menu from their wedding banquet suggests that it was a conventional, upper-class affair of the fin de siècle, the closing phase of the nineteenth century when art was running out of new things to say, and the seeds of a more daring expression had not yet taken root. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

King Kalākaua of Hawaii

 New Bedford & Honolulu,

For those of us who live on the Mainland, the words “king,” “palatial residence,” and “Hawaii” are likely to conjure up images of Elvis, Graceland, and the movie Blue Hawaii, before recalling that Hawaii once had a royal family. One of the kingdom’s last monarchs was David Kalākaua who ascended the throne in 1874. Kalākaua entered the history books again that year when he became the first foreign head of state to visit the United States. While the purpose of his trip was to sign a treaty of reciprocity, assuring Hawaii a duty-free market for its sugar and other goods, he used the opportunity to visit people and places in America that had had a long relationship with his country. Two menus dating from this period, one from a dinner with old contacts in the whaling industry, the other from a luncheon after he returned to Hawaii, reveal interesting details of his goodwill visit and daily life at home.