Thursday, December 17, 2020

#117 Greedy Museums


#117 Post – Thursday December 17, 2020


Posted by Denny Hatch


How the Greedy Met Museum Markets Itself
To Billionaires and Shortchanges the Public


                                                   Karsten Moran for The New York Times

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 Gaffe     
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 tables of 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.

Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1881-1925 (meningitis, age 44) 
     I have been to the Neue Galerie twice. Both times I spent a good half hour or more camped out in front of The Lady in Gold trying to get my head around (1) this amazing image and (2) the $130 million price tag. I finally decided, yeah, it's worth it.
Naming the Met's Arms and Armor Galleries
After Ronald Lauder Is Simply Preposterous!
 Lauder's gift to the Met is—in two words, teensy-weensy—a paltry 91 goodies added to humongous collection of "approximately fourteen thousand objects, (of which more than five thousand are European, two thousand are from the Near East, and four thousand from the Far East.)"
   The second largest such collection is in Worcester, Mass (1500 objects) and #3 is the Art Institute of Chicago with a measly 700 objects.
     Clearly the venal directors of the Met saw an opportunity to put a potential billionaire donor in their pockets, even though it probably represents a gross insult to the families whose forebears donated the 14,000 items that make up this magnificent collection.

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.


Great Uncle Charley

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.


Her Majesty savors the Nelson Collection at Greenwich.


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,

Molly Tillett

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…



Word count:1831

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At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


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  1. Lewis Elin gave me the okay to run this comment. He has my thanks.
    To:Denny Hatch
    Thu, Dec 17 at 2:05 PM
    Your points about Lauder are essentially correct. Many of the donations in the league do enhance the pubic art scene. Without the ego aspect I don’t think there’s be as man gifts. It’s a “package deal”. They get their allies and the public gets the art.

    I think it’s fascinating how the liberals have always put the robber barrons on the chopping block and condemned them as the Devil and Co. Incarnate. OK. So they weren’t the good guys by out standards today. Carnegie ran a sweat shop yet look what he did for the general literacy with his donations for libraries. The town of 5000 in northern Indiana where I grew up had a Carnegie Library. Yet isn’t it interesting how these liberals and now progressives blaspheme, condemn and try to eradicate these people based on their conduct of business, yet just love the museums, libraries, cools and other institutions of public culture and the arts that they made possible?

    So screw the critics. Carnegie’s handling of his employees Harriman’s conduct of the railroad business, they don’t have to use his libraries or use the descendants of Harriman’s railroads. For living and shining examples of hypocrisy, we know where to look. The latest example, of course, is the governor or Rhode Island. Gotta love those demos!

    Lewis Elin
    I’d put this in your correspondence column, but EVERY time I've tried, it never showed up. If you can figure out how it’s done, be my guest.

  2. as always, a fascinating article. Don't retire, keep writing. Regards, and stay safe, Ira

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Ira.
      This was fun was fun to put together and write. I am—and have been for a long time—upset by the situation of the wrong museums having object of great interest. And the right museums having no relevant objects.
      Example: I remember we were in Aix-en-Provence a number of years ago and when all of the tourists in our group went to the local gin mills to taste and discuss the local wine. We wondered up the hill to visit Cézanne’s studio. It was a glass-faced jewel filled with magical light. On display were the clay pipes, chapeaux, crockery, glassware, props and tchotchkes the master used in painting his portraits and still-life scenes. And not a single Cézanne painting. Not one! In fact, it’s my understanding that not a single Cézanne (or Van Gogh) painting exists anywhere in Southern France. Particularly galling is that the world’s greatest cache of Cézanne paintings is in my own back yard—Philly. The Barnes Foundation has 69 of the things and the Philadelphia Museum has dozens more. For example, between them they have 8 paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. EIGHT! Some practically identical. Could not one of these great institutions donate (or send on permanent loan) one measly Cézanne Mont Sainte-Victoire to that sweet little studio museum, thus making that sad sack collection come alive??? Jeez, the two Philly museums could create a little take-one brochure touting Philadelphia tourism. The headline:
      Thanks again, Ira.

  3. Nice piece of nostalgia, Denny.

    But I wonder that you didn't mention that the Lauders (in the person of Leonard in this case), self-interested as you make them out to be, have endowed the Met with many treasures, not least of which a $1 billion exemplary collection of cubist art, giving, as the Guardian pointed out, "this palatial museum on the east side of Central Park 78 works that illuminate the art movement that took every previous art movement apart."

    We should laud the Lauders and be grateful.

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