Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic

By Gina Wouters, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens


Photograph of Robert Winthrop Chanler, c. 1900, Private Collection

Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic, co-published by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and the Monacelli Press (released May 2016), is the first publication on the artist since his death. Although Chanler moved within a network of well-known artists (he has been portrayed by Man Ray and Carl van Vechten among others) and he received a steady number of commissions from high profile patrons, after his death he was marginalized by an art-historical discourse that centered on a singular path to modernity, as well as owing to practical difficulties regarding accessibility to his works.


Robert Winthrop Chanler and Hunt Diederich, Mille Fleurs, 1919, Private Collection

The introduction to the book follows the trajectory of Chanler’s ascent as an artist and his fading from the public eye after his death. The fact that he commercially labeled himself as an interior decorator and his preferred medium was the screen –a decorative and thus “lesser art form”– are without doubt some of the factors behind his obscurity.


Robert Winthrop Chanler, Swimming Pool grotto at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 1916, Miami, Florida

Chanler had a penchant for altering spaces, whether through the immersive qualities his architectural interiors impart, or by way of a movable yet space-defining object such as the screen. The screens are often two sided and represent a variety of worlds, aquatic, avian, celestial and terrestrial. Chanler’s work is largely absent from the public eye, save for the swimming pool ceiling at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida and the Breakfast room at Coe Hall in Long Island, New York. These are both complex architectural spaces that present themselves in a compromised state due to the preservation conundrums his architectural works present.


Robert Winthrop Chanler, Vizcayan Bay, 1920, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, Florida


Robert Winthrop Chanler, Tigers, no date, Private Collection

Chanler’s dozens of screens are for the most part in private collections, largely handed down to descendants from those who commissioned them directly from the artist in the 1910s and 1920s. Or they are buried deep in museum storage like works in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art. Only the Metropolitan Museum of Art has Chanler’s Porcupines and Nightmares panel in open storage in the Henry R. Luce Galleries.


Robert Winthrop Chanler, Porcupines and Foxes, no date, Private Collection

Within the art historical context, Robert Winthrop Chanler’s fame lays in his monumental participation in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, popularly known as The Armory show, which was held in New York City, Boston, and Chicago. His work covered the walls of Gallery A the first space all guests would enter, which was dedicated to American Sculpture and Decorative Art. Not only did he show over a dozen works, as new research in the publication reveals, but he was also an important patron of his European peers, purchasing works by Odilon Redon, Constantin Brâncuşi and Amadeo de Souza Cardoso. As Laurette McCarthy writes, the works by the latter two were regarded as “extreme and revolutionary. Chanler’s acquisition of these works would have been thought quite daring and placed him in a relatively small circle of those who bought modern art from the show.”

The monumentality of Chanler’s work and the immersive experiences they impart made him into a highly sought after artist in his years, yet the complexity and fixity of the architectural spaces and the often times immobility of his enormous screens hampered anyone other than the select strata they were created for to encounter them. Although Chanler embraced modernist ideals during their nascent years in the United States, his work became outdated after the bold direction of post-war Abstract Expressionism left his work out of vogue.


Robert Winthrop Chanler, Before the Wind, 1919, Private Collection

Essays in the publication cover aspects of his life and work and focus on the 1913 Armory Show, Chanler’s workshop at the House of Fantasy, Gilded Age patrons and commissions, patronage by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and preservation challenges his works present. Chanler’s decorative work has been peripheral to the artistic canon for over eighty years and this publication is his first return to the public eye. Hopefully, the research presented in the book will catalyze scholars and provide a springboard for continued research. 



‘art in the periphery’ annual workshop 2016/2017: program



Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Chamber-pot in the shape of John Bull, c. 1890-1900, red clay, 23 x 29 x 41 cm, Museu da Cerâmica – Caldas da Rainha

November 14, 2016

18.00-18.40 Arthur Valle, “Afro-Brazilian Art and Material Culture: Persecution, Incarceration, Iconoclasm”,  Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro

18.40-19.20 Inna Pravdenko, “South American painters in the salons of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (1890-1899)”, Institute for Transtextual and Transcultural Studies, Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3

19.20-20.00 Debate

December 6, 2016

18.00-18.40 Nuno Senos, “Local Dynamics in a Global Context: Franciscans in Colonial Brazil”, CHAM-FCSH, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

18.40-19.20 Mihnea Alexandru Mihail, “Art in the ‘Periphery’ and the Domination of Style in the Geography of Art. The Case of the Hungarian Kingdom in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries”, National University of Arts, Bucharest

19.20-20.00 Debate

March 6, 2017

18.00-18.40 Joris van Gastel, “Materiality at the Periphery. The Troubled Historiography of Baroque Naples”, Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome

18.40-19.20 Gregor Taul, “Twentieth-century Mural Painting from Capitalist and Socialist Peripheries”, The Lisbon Consortium

19.20-20.00 Debate

April 3, 2017

18.00-18.40 Shelley Hornstein, “Views from the Margins: Albert Kahn, Archives of the Planet (1908-1929), and Borderlands”, York University, Toronto

18.40-19.20 Nikki Petroni, “Maltese Modern Art History and the Search for Identity”, University of Malta

19.20-20.00 Debate

May 8, 2017

18.00-18.35 Renate Dohmen, “Unsquaring the Circle: Considering Indian Threshold Designs”, The Open University, UK

18.35-19.10 Annie Kontogiorgi and Manolis Karterakis, “Popular Art and Material Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Greece: The Case of Florentini Kaloutsis”, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Directorate of Modern Cultural Assets and Intagible Cultural Heritage; G. Gounaropoulos Museum

19.10-19.45 Johannes von Müller, “Cultural Artefacts as Interfaces”, The Warburg Institute

19.45-20.30 Debate

June 5, 2017

18.00-18.35 Elena Stylianou and Nicos Philippou, “Greek-Cypriot Locality: (Re) Defining our Understanding of European Modernity”, European University Cyprus; University of Nicosia

18.35-19.10 Birgit Hopfener, “Disjunctive Contemporaneity. Artistic Narrative Cartographies of Transcultural and Art-historical Self-positioning”, Heidelberg University

19.10-19.45 Fernando Loffredo, “Connecting Peripheries across the Spanish Empire: Sculpture and Devotion between 17th Century Peru and Sicily”, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art (to be confirmed)

19.45-20.30 Debate


moderated by Joana Cunha Leal (Instituto de História da Arte, FCSH-NOVA) & Foteini Vlachou (Instituto de História Contemporânea, FCSH-NOVA)

organized by Foteini Vlachou (postdoctoral fellow, Instituto de História Contemporânea, FCSH-NOVA; researcher, Instituto de História da Arte, FCSH-NOVA)

venue: sala Multiusos 1, edifício I&D, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Av. de Berna, 26-C)


32-ihc FCSH RGB





‘art in the periphery’ workshop – call for submissions


Drawing from a mandinga pouch, Lisbon Inquisition, 1731, Processo 11774, ANTT

The ‘art in the periphery’ research network will resume its activities for the academic year 2016/2017, inviting submissions for its yearly workshop (October-May), with meetings scheduled to take place at the beginning of each month. Each hour-and-a-half session, held at the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), will feature a 45 min presentation, followed by a debate.

The October seminar will be delivered by Nuno Senos, the newly appointed assistant professor of early modern art history at the Department of Art History (FCSH/NOVA). His talk is entitled “Local Dynamics in a Global Context: Franciscans in Colonial Brazil”. The November seminar will further develop with a focus on Brazil. Arthur Valle, who teaches art history at the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, will discuss “Afro-Brazilian Art and Material Culture: Persecution, Incarceration, Iconoclasm” (exact dates to be confirmed).

The network is interested in framing the periphery not in exclusively geographical terms (as a region distinct from the center), but rather as situated at the margins of dominant discourses, art historical or otherwise. As such, it may refer to areas, periods or even materials that have been delegated a secondary position in hierarchical and canonical structures. Contributions that discuss the non-linearity of cultural phenomena and of historical time, the temporal dimensions of the periphery, and propose a radical rethinking of the term will be particularly welcome.

The workshop therefore invites submissions for the remainder of the academic year (sessions of December, February, March, April and May). Proposals (appr. 500 words), together with a short CV, should be sent to nandia.vlachou[at] until September 25. 


Organized by Foteini Vlachou, postdoctoral fellow at the Instituto de História Contemporânea, FCSH-UNL / Researcher, IHA, FCSH-UNL



Whose Orient is it anyway?

These paintings were executed by two non-French artists, who both studied in Paris, under the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, known for his history paintings and frequently Orientalist subject matter. Would it be possible to distinguish between them, based on the information that one of these painters was in fact Ottoman?




Image captions:

  1. Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), Reciting the Quran, undated, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 53 cm, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul
  2. Arthur von Ferraris, The Coffee House, Cairo, 1888, oil on panel, 46.3 x 32.4 cm, Sotheby’s sale (2008)
  3. Osman Hamdi Bey, Public Scribe, undated, oil on canvas, 110 x 77 cm, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul


Osman Hamdi Bey’s works (first and third painting) seem to avoid, to a certain degree, the excessive attention to surface detail and the preciosity characteristic of much Orientalist painting. While this could be an opinion unfairly based on a limited amount of works, there is another, perhaps more significant difference. Hamdi Bey painted a number of works representing people engaged in the acts of writing, reading or studying. Apart from the scribe and Quran scholar depicted above, one can cite such paintings as the splendid 1878 Scholar (Sotheby’s sale, 2012) or the 1905 Young Emir Studying from the Walker Art Gallery. Even in Ferraris’s painting, which includes a man engaged in the reading of what seems like a single-sheet newspaper, the action is taking place in a setting associated primarily with leisure, and the viewer’s attention is drawn to the pouring of the coffee and the prominently featured hookah (narghile).


Osman Hamdi Bey, Scholar, 1878, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 90 cm, Sotheby’s sale, 2012

Hamdi, Osman, 1842-1910; A Young Emir Studying

Osman Hamdi Bey, A Young Emir Studying, 1905, oil on canvas, 120.7 x 222.2 cm, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Even when Orientalist painters have avoided the more blatantly Orientalist subject matter (such as harems, elaborately dressed warriors, people simply posing or standing, or similar lack of activity that confirms the myth of the lazy Oriental), having instead opted for more positive representations, many seem to have focused on manual aspects of labor, or the splendid material culture of the Islamic world (such as the examples by Deutsch and Discart below). The implication is that the achievements of Islamic culture were more or less unrelated to intellectual pursuits. On the contrary, Osman Hamdi Bey’s work, although far from unambiguous, offers a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of choosing to look at one’s own world through the lens of a different culture.


Ludwig Deutsch, The Lamp Lighter, 1900, oil on panel, 56.5 x 43.8 cm, Sotheby’s sale, 2009


Jean Discart, L’Atelier de poterie, Tanger, oil on panel, 35 x 45.5 cm, Sotheby’s sale, 2012


* On Osman Hamdi Bey, one can further listen to the Ottoman History Podcast by Emily Neumeier “Lost and Found: Art, Diplomacy, and the Journey of a Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Painting.” Images accompanying the podcast can be found here.


South-North-South, ARTL@S Bulletin vol. 5


Screenshot 2016-06-16 23.10.02.png

The latest issue of ARTL@S Bulletin, entitled “South-North-South” is out. In the special issue’s introduction, “Le triangle des circulations artistiques transnationales, Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel and Catherine Dossin propose a transcontinental and triangular model of artistic circulations, in an attempt to avoid both the traditional “North-South” hierarchies and the simplistic view of center-periphery relations.

The issue contains articles ranging from nineteenth-century architecture in Algiers to the reception of Spanish painting in Argentine, and from the presence of South American artists in Paris and London in the 50s-70s to the reconstruction of the historical 1978 International Art Exhibition for Palestine. The issue is available in its entirety on-line.


‘art in the periphery’ welcomes Tomasz Grusiecki


Regni Poloniae et Ducatus Lithuaniae voliniae, cut out from a large map, trimmed and pasted on a sheet, c.1680-1690, engraving with hand-coloring, British Museum, London

‘art in the periphery’ is pleased to announce the arrival of its newest member, Tomasz Grusiecki. A PhD candidate at McGill University, Tomasz is completing his dissertation on ‘Globalizing the Periphery: Poland-Lithuania, World-Making and the Contradictions of Exchange, 1587-1668’. This projects attempts to introduce Poland-Lithuania into recent discussions of early modern cross-cultural entanglement. In examining the status of Poland-Lithuania in the larger cultural landscape of the period, this project asks wider questions about the periphery’s impact on the center. But rather than understanding Poland-Lithuania’s impact through the prism of material, artistic or intellectual causality, this project foregrounds the center’s dependence on the periphery, arguing that the perceptions of Poland-Lithuania loomed large in the conceptualizations of Europe’s place in the world forged in Rome, Amsterdam, Paris and Vienna.

Tomasz’s next project, tentatively entitled Building New Capital / Making New Worlds: Spaces of Encounter in Warsaw, 1611–1657, will draw on his doctoral project, but instead of focusing on the representations of Poland-Lithuania as a liminal place between worlds, it will examine these worlds as they appeared in Warsaw: the new capital city of a recently formed confederate Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Although at Europe’s periphery, Warsaw was primed to become a site of cross-cultural mediation, given its location at the crossroads between the east and west.

Tomasz’s interests span early modern power dynamics, centers and peripheries, cross-cultural entanglement, and European perceptions of the wider world. His most recent publications include:

Between Sacred and Profane: Devotional Space, the Picture Gallery, and the Ambiguous Image in Poland-Lithuania‘, Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 64, no. 4 (December 2015): 521–542.

Going Global? An Attempt to Challenge the Peripheral Position of Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian Painting in the Historiography of Art‘, The Polish Review 57, no. 4 (December 2012): 3–26.