Monday, September 23, 2013

Christine Rogers: Leland Jr.: The Collector

Much of Leland Stanford Jr.’s time was spent traveling with his family. Between 1879 & 1883, he traveled to England, Constantinople, Lyon, Marseilles, Frankfurt, Norway, the Sierra Nevadas, New York, Rome, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Pompeii, the last 11 of which were all part of one grand tour of Europe in 1881. During his travels he did such activities as meeting the pope and visiting the Colosseum, Vesuvius, and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. While he was enthusiastic about most of the places he visited, Leland Junior was not always so complimentary. In his letters, he referred to both Lyon and Marseilles as “dirty cities,” going so far as to describe the people of Marseilles as “filthy.”

Heavily influenced by travelling, Leland Jr., under the encouragement of his parents and with the help of his tutor, Hebert C. Nash (who, after Leland Jr.’s death, would later go on to be Senator Stanford’s secretary and, after Leland Sr.’s death, Jane’s secretary) began collecting artifacts and relics from the places he travelled. Leland Jr. was incredibly interested in archaeology and especially Egyptology. He examined artifacts and practiced deciphering hieroglyphics. 

During his travels, he went around with his tutor collecting items for the museum he hoped to start (and which he eventually did start in their house on Nob Hill). His parents, wanting to encourage Leland’s interest, gave him money by to purchase items at various sales, antique stores, from various dealers and collectors, and on the Acropolis. While they were in Naples 1884, Leland wrote to a friend that his father had given him 4000 francs to support his museum, which would be somewhere between $16,000-20,000 today. Leland Junior collected Egyptian bronzes, Greek statuettes, Greek and Roman glass, and ancient coins, among other things. He intended to continue expanding his collections and began a collection of Chinese and Japanese curios and “relics of the American Mound dwellers.” 

Leland Jr. was far more shrewd than many expected from a boy of his age. His tutor recalled that, “It frequently happened that in looking over specimens offered him for sale, Leland would hand some back to the dealer, quietly remarking that they were imitations. Invariably the man, after a look at his young customer, would apologize, excusing himself on the ground that the imitations had accidentally slipped in with the others.” 

On his travels, Leland Jr. found (not purchased) the following items: a mummy’s foot, a piece of pottery 2800 years old, a piece of a fresco from the ruins of Pompeii, a fragment of a column capital and inscribed relief treating rituals sacred to Demeter & Persephone from Sanctuary of Eleusis, and a relief from Tomb of Cecilia Metella. He collected the piece of fresco from Pompeii, when their tour guide, who Leland Jr. commented had been watching him very closely, allowed him to take a piece of fresco that had fallen on the floor.

Here is a sampling of the various things he collected for his museum: colored Greek glass vials & Lacrymatories, stones from the various countries he visited (which were made by his parents into a mosaic tabletop, arranged to show where they came from), dead animals including a large stuffed turkey buzzard that he shot in Palo Alto in 1882 and a case of stuffed birds that he had mostly shot himself, a Moorish scimitar of the 18th century, an Algerian Dagger (modern), an Italian poignard, an old French Halbarde, a Sword-pistol, French cavalry helmets and swords, a cuirass of French cuirassier, a French soldier's shakos, a French chassepot rifle, a German needle gun, a French clarion, a model of a knight of Middle Ages armed cap-a-pie, a Persian helmet, sword, & armlet inlaid with gold and covered with Arabic tracings, an ancient bronze Egyptian figure of the god Osiris, an ancient Egyptian figure of the goddess “Pacht”, seated, with the head of a lioness, and a large alabaster Egyptian vase, brought to France by one of Mr. Champollion’s assistants, from whom Leland Jr. obtained it.

Some of the most famous pieces Leland Stanford collected at the time the museum opened were the Tanagra Figurines, made of Terracotta, one depicting a woman suckling an infant and the other depicting a female musician asleep in a chair, a tambourine at her feet. He also collected some Athenian pottery, small terra cotta lamps that filled ancient Greek sarcophagi, and small fetishes or charms from the Troad, found by Dr. Schliemann in the 6th city of Troy. These items were in Dr. Schliemann’s museum at Athens and were taken out of their case and presented to Leland Junior. 

Leland Jr.’s budding career as an archaeologist and a collector, unfortunately, was ended in 1884. In early February 1884, in a letter to a friend, Leland Jr. said he had been going at it too hard [with all the travel and efforts to expand his collections] and wasn’t feeling well. A month later, in Florence, Leland Jr. died of Typhoid fever. Before his death, Leland Stanford, when talking with the famous collector Luigi Palma di Cesnola, expressed his interest in the “art-education” of the American People. The Stanfords, distraught at the death of their only child, wanted to honor their son’s memory and his dream of a museum. Their first idea was to build the museum in San Francisco, but, according to David Starr Jordan, they abandoned that idea because it “did not satisfy them as being sufficiently generous.” Eventually they merged the museum with the University and built what is now, several earthquakes later, the Cantor Museum to house their son’s collections and well as continue adding to them. In describing the museum and the heart and soul that Leland Jr. put into in, Leland’s tutor, Hebert C. Nash said, “Possibly at no distant date the student of archaeology may stand with one hand on this case, the other stretched out to a richly-stored museum and say in his heart: ‘Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth.’”

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