#117 Post – Thursday December 17, 2020
Posted by Denny Hatch
How the Greedy Met Museum Markets Itself
To Billionaires and Shortchanges the Public
Ronald Lauder Gives Major Arms and Armor Gift to the Met
The galleries will be
named after the collector, whose 91-object gift is the museum’s most
significant since 1942.
—The New York Times, Dec. 9, 2020
Look at the smug smile on Ronald Lauder’s face. He is about to be
memorialized forever with his own wing in the world’s second most famous museum.
(#1 is the Louvre in Paris.) You betcha he's puffed-up.
The memorial to this smugly duckling was made possible by Ronald's mother, one of the greatest women entrepreneurs of the 20th Century. Along with Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, Estée Lauder (1906-2004) was a business genius and titan. Her vast empire of upmarket cosmetics for upmarket women has 50,000 employees worldwide with annual revenue of $14.3 billion and market cap of $89.5 billion.
A favorite story: Mrs. Lauder once gave a dinner party so her friends could dine with the former King Edward VIII, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His Other Realms and Territories, King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith and Emperor of India.
The place card at the table for the former king's notorious mistress-cum-wife read: “The Dutchess [sic] of Windsor.”
Did Ronald honor his mother's extraordinary accomplishments by creating the Estée Lauder Museum of the 2000-year History of Cosmetics and Body Painting (that started with the Egyptians or maybe lots earlier)? Nah. She was just a nice little lady from Corona, Queens (NY) who managed to make good.
But Ronald! Now he’s somebody worth remembering for eternity! Here’s a guy who became expert at parlaying his share of Mommy's business into a personal net worth of $5.1 billion and founding a museum to honor himself and show off his personal art collection.
Lauder's Neue Galerie is on Fifth Avenue just north of the Metropolitan Museum. The thing is full of so-so art and
tchotchkes in glass display cases
The crown jewel centerpiece and raison d'etre of Lauder's boutique museum is a huge (4'6"x 4'6") blazing drop-dead gorgeous gold portrait painted and gilded in 1903-1907 by Viennese master Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Its story was made into a fascinating film, Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren with Ben Miles playing Ronald Lauder.
After Ronald Lauder Is Simply Preposterous!
My Family’s Met Museum Connection
My great grandfather, Alfrederic Smith Hatch, was a 19th-century financier. He invented what became known as war bonds (made famous in WWII) and sold a ton of them to raise money for the Union cause in the Civil War.
In the financial panic of 1884 the brokerage firm of Fisk & Hatch went bust and Alfrederic was forced to resign as president of the New York Stock Exchange. Suffice it to say he made millions, spent millions and died broke.
In 1873, he was flying high. He bought the magnificent 100’ yacht Resolute and paid famed American artist Eastman Johnson $10,000 ($213,300 today) to paint The Hatch Family Portrait—himself, wife, in-laws and eleven children.
The portrait hung in my grandfather’s house until 1926 when he gifted it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has been on permanent display ever since and is considered a masterpiece of its genre.
I never met my grandmother’s brother, Charles Noe Daly (1868-1933). He died two years before I was born.
A gun nut, he amassed the largest private firearms collection in the world. Among the goodies:
• Saddle Gun used by William of Orange
• Elephant Gun of Henry Morton Stanley (as in “Dr. Livingston, I presume.")
Most of the collection—over 1000 lots—was auctioned off in
1935 following his assuming room temperature. A small number of choice items was bequeathed to the Met.
The Crown Jewel of Uncle Charlie's Collection
Below is a pistol especially made to order for the legendary British naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson.
In the 18th and early 19th century all pistols were single shot. You poured a powder charge down the barrel followed by a lead ball and a plug to keep everything in place. Firing it required two hands—one to hold the gun and pull the trigger and the other to cock it.
This presented a problem to Lord Nelson who was missing his right arm.
A Breathtaking Breakthrough Weapon
The pistol was a world's first—designed and built in 1800—a nine-shot self-loading repeater with a unique lever that enabled Nelson to cock it on a ship’s rail.
From The Bulletin of the Metropolitan
Museum, October 1935
The pistol which belonged to Lord Nelson is a repeating flintlock of technical as well as historical interest. Within the hollow walnut stock two magazines for powder and round balls respectively, are loaded through a hinged door lever; a third, smaller magazine for priming powder adjoins the rear of the pan. The bullet chamber has a capacity of nine balls. This pistol can be recharged and cocked with one hand, an indispensable feature to Nelson, who lost his right arm in 1797. With the muzzle of the pistol pointed downward, pressure of the hooked lever (pivoted at the left side of the stock) against a support revolves the chamber and so puts a new ball and a fresh charge of powder into the barrel, cocks the hammer, and closes and reprimes the pan. The octagonal barrel is screwed to the breech and may be removed with a wrench and replaced by a reserve barrel, if it becomes heated as a result of rapid firing. Both barrels are provided with an adjustable sight and are of 17/32-inch smooth bore. The inscription "H. W. Mortimer, London, Gun Maker To His Majesty" appears on both barrels and on the lock. On the bottom facet the barrels are stamped E C-1273, possibly an inventory number. The gunsmith's trade card is pasted in the original mahogany box, which contains a bullet mold and a punch as well as the wrench and reserve barrel already mentioned.
The walnut stock is checkered and the steel mountings are engraved with wreaths, trophies, foliation, and an anchor cabled, surmounted by the crown of the King of England. On the stock is a silver shield engraved with the private stamp of Lord Nelson.
From the Met bulletin:
Lord Nelson's Repeating Flintlock
Pistol in Case with Accessories
• Date: ca. 1800
• Geography: London
• Culture: British
• Medium: Steel, wood (walnut), silver
• Dimensions: L. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm); barrel L. 6 in. (15.2 cm); Cal. .55 in. (14 mm); Wt., 3 lb. 15 oz. (1.79 kg)
• Classification: Firearms-Pistols-Flintlock
• Credit Line: Bequest of Charles N. Daly, 1934
• Accession Number: 35.81.3a–e
• Not on view
Note the last 3 words: “Not on view.”
Many years ago as a child I saw the pistol on exhibit. Since then, every time I have visited the arms and armor collection I was told the piece was in storage.
Imagine! This great historical treasure being consigned in near
perpetuity to a padded drawer in the bowels of Fifth Avenue museum!
Quite simply (in my strong opinion), this is the sad case of the wrong object in the hands of the wrong institution.
Admiral Horatio Nelson was (and is!) England’s greatest military hero. To the Brits Nelson is equivalent to George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, George Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Admiral Bull Halsey, John F. Kennedy and Douglas MacArthur all rolled into one.
Along with being a museum nut, I am a British Navy nut, having read (twice) all 20 Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian plus the Horatio Hornblower series by E.M. Forester. These action tales took place during the Napoleonic era.
Peggy and I actually took a Mediterranean cruise devoted to the O’Brian novels. In addition, we have visited the spectacular Nelson exhibits at the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich on the Thames and we journeyed to Portsmouth to tour Nelson’s flagship Victory.
To stand on the orlop deck at the very bottom of Victory where Nelson lay dying 21 October 1805 during battle of Trafalgar is thrilling!
The Charles Noe Daly pistol is the real deal—no doubt the only one like it in the world—with the cocking lever and engraved with Nelson’s seal. No question exists about the authenticity and provenance.
It absolutely belongs as a permanent centerpiece in either one of the two massive Lord Nelson collections mentioned above—Greenwich or Portsmouth—where Nelson-adoring Brits can be inspired by it.
Instead it reposes in perpetual obscurity.
I wrote the British Museum people and Met Museum people and pointed out this serious wrong. From the Brits to me:
Dear Denny (if I may), RE: A Royal Navy Treasure Buried in the
Metropolitan Museum. Thank you for your email on the 12th January. Your enquiry
has been forwarded on to the Registration team, we are responsible for loans
and acquisitions. Thank you for the information you have included on the
pistol, this has been forwarded on to our Curator responsible for firearms.
With regards to borrowing the firearm for a display at the National Maritime
Museum, this Curator would consider objects from other institutions for our
exhibitions. We rarely take on new ‘permanent loans’ for our displays as our
galleries are rotated at intervals which are planned several months in advance.
We would borrow objects from other institutions for a set period of time
(usually three years maximum) or for a specific upcoming exhibition. This is to
ensure there is a ready and available place for the object on display. As our
Curator is aware of this object and the Metropolitan Museum loan objects, this
can be considered for any relevant future project. I can also see from the
webpage that the pistol is on display at the Metropolitan Museum. I hope this
information is of some use. Kind regards,
Registration Assistant (Trainee)
Takeaways to Consider
• Jeez. Maybe I should petition the Met to rename Gallery 763 “The Alfrederic Smith Hatch Gallery of 19th Century American Painting."
• Hey, why not call the whole shooting match "The Alfrederic Smith Hatch American Wing?"
• Just kidding…
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