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Description: Antonio Mancini: Nineteenth-Century Italian Master
~The gift of fifteen major works by Antonio Mancini to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the estate of Vance N. Jordan (1943–2003) provided the impetus for the present publication. Although highly impressive in its own right, this collection represents only a partial reflection of Jordan’s remarkable involvement with the arts that began...
PublisherPhiladelphia Museum of Art
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Afterword: The Gift of Vance N. Jordan
The gift of fifteen major works by Antonio Mancini to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the estate of Vance N. Jordan (1943–2003) provided the impetus for the present publication. Although highly impressive in its own right, this collection represents only a partial reflection of Jordan’s remarkable involvement with the arts that began professionally in the 1970s.
Description: Vance N. Jordan by Unknown
FIG. 51 Vance N. Jordan
Raised in Yonkers, just north of New York, Jordan claimed both Sicilian and Neapolitan ancestry, and in private life he nurtured a passion for Italy and all things Italian. In professional life, however, he was known for nearly thirty years as one of the most prominent dealers in American art. The unlikely path that led him to a career in art was sketched in his own words with a touch of characteristic irony:
After graduating near the bottom of his engineering class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Vance Jordan put his extremely limited knowledge of this subject behind him in order to work as a squash instructor at the New York Athletic Club. He further prepared himself for a [twenty-four-year] career as an art dealer by establishing a very successful children’s talent agency. His knowledge of art came from thirty-five years of harassing scholars and colleagues with endless inquiries, countless hours visiting museums, galleries, and auction houses in Europe and America, and approximately three times the number of art history classes required for the most stringent Ph.D. degree.
Left unsaid was the unwavering enthusiasm and devotion with which Jordan pursued his interest in art. In the mid-1970s he established the Jordan-Volpe Gallery in New York’s burgeoning SoHo district, where he pioneered the revival of interest in the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The gallery’s ground-breaking exhibitions and publications highlighted the furniture of Gustav Stickley, Roycroft, Charles Rohlfs, and others, as well as American art pottery, including the Rookwood, Grueby, and Fulper manufactories. During that period he also developed a growing interest in American painting. In 1987 he moved his gallery to 958 Madison Avenue, where he ceased his professional involvement with the decorative arts in order to concentrate exclusively on American paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name of the business was changed to Vance Jordan Fine Art.
A collector by nature, Jordan’s love for discovery was combined with an ability to communicate his knowledge and enthusiasm to clients and museum professionals alike. In discussing questions of art history, connoisseurship, or worthwhile avenues of research, Jordan held his own with, and even pointed the way for, more than one scholar of American art. His commitment to learning manifested itself in the important research library he created, noted as much for antiquarian editions as for every significant contemporary publication within his professional field of activity. One of his advantages as a dealer in American art was his interest and experience in areas such as Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, an admiration shared not coincidentally with many of the nineteenth-century American artists whose work he represented.
Jordan was a constant learner, and although not a scholar in the ordinary sense, his intelligence and discerning eye identified artists and subjects that he believed deserved attention. As a dealer, he found it not only natural but also an absolute duty to contribute to the knowledge of his chosen fields. One of Jordan s greatest legacies is the light he directed toward unrecognized and under-appreciated American artists.
In the last decade of its existence, Jordan’s gallery led the way among commercial firms in organizing small, museum-quality exhibitions; these were invariably accompanied by scholarly publications that shed important new light on many long-neglected American artists. This era began in 1991 with the landmark exhibition and publication on the Ten American Painters, and it continued in 1994 with the first comprehensive monograph of the American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam. A series of monographic exhibitions followed: Charles Sprague Pearce (1993), John La Farge (1995, 1998), Henry Roderick Newman (1996), Richard E. Miller (1997), Julius LeBlanc Stewart (1998), Emil Carlsen (1999), and Edwin Lord Weeks (2002), among others. At the time of his death, he was preparing to underwrite the catalogue raisonné of American modernist painter Charles Demuth.
By necessity, Jordan kept his personal collecting largely separate from his professional activities, but this still allowed room for a wide pursuit of objects that extended from oriental carpets to art nouveau furniture, ceramics, paintings, and American first editions. Beyond nineteenth-century Italian paintings—which included, in addition to Mancinis, notable works by Angelo Morbelli, Odoardo Borrani, Guglielmo Ciardi, Ippolito Caffi, and others—he lived with turn-of-the-century furnishings and objects, some carried over from his involvement with American Arts and Crafts. These included important pieces of furniture by Gustav Stickley and Charles Rohlfs, Tiffany lamps, and major pieces of Rookwood pottery, which sat side by side with even more numerous works of European origin, including Italian Baroque gilt tables and chairs and notable pieces of furniture by Louis Majorelle, Carlo Bugatti, Hector Guimard, and Edward Colonna.
Description: Foyer of Vance N. Jordan's New York apartment by Unknown
FIG. 52 The foyer of Jordan’s New York apartment featured Mancini’s double-sided painting Almond Blossoms (see plates 10, 11) on its specially built pedestal. Next to it is a Carlo Bugatti side chair. Out of sight to the right were a pair of eighteenth-century Italian silver-gilt console tables and paintings by Emma Ciardi and Ettore Forti, beneath which was assembled on the floor a small collection of circus-clown shoes
Description: Corner of Vance N. Jordan's living room by Unknown
FIG. 53 Corner of the living room with Mancini’s The Saltimbanco (see plate 13)
Jordan’s unflinching devotion to quality was leavened with an ever-present penchant for humor: his penthouse apartment on upper Park Avenue had the character of a museum with overtones of a fun house. Serious works of art were persuaded to co-exist with antique marionettes from the Commedia del Arte and sardonic puppets purchased from the 1980s British television comedy Spitting Image, of which caricatures of Martina Navratilova, Frank Sinatra, and Vincent Price were favorites. Toys, masks, and gadgets were incongruously arranged everywhere so that a weighty library shelf lined with monographs on Annibale Caracci and Michelangelo might also find space for a moldering rubber monster’s mask used in the 1954 horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon. Jordan’s fascination with eighteenth-century Neapolitan presepio figures and their trappings extended to inexpensive trompe l’oeil miniature sculptures that replicated everyday objects. Life-like wax foods—sausages, loaves of bread, market baskets loaded with artichokes and other vegetables, bowls of fruit, wine bottles and cheeses—could be found on display throughout his house.
Description: Corner of Vance N. Jordan's library by Unknown
FIG. 54 A corner in the library with a grouping of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Neapolitan presepio figures
Description: Detail from a sideboard in Vance N. Jordan's dining room by Unknown
FIG. 55 Detail from a sideboard: Rookwood vase, a Neapolitan presepio figure, and trompe l’oeil wax miniatures
Traditional representational skills—especially realism in figure painting—always took first place in Jordan s estimation. His personal taste ran toward intelligently descriptive painting, based upon traditional, highly competent draftsmanship and elevated in original ways through exceptional color, light, and imagination. He regarded these skills and the values on which they depended as the central continuum of western art. Mancini was therefore a natural magnet for him. Next to Caravaggio, he once wrote, Mancini was his favorite painter. He admired in equal measure the masterful, descriptive skill of Mancini the craftsman, and the intense, exotic, old-world flavor of the small Neapolitan world to which Jordan felt distantly tied. His first Mancini, Old Woman Drinking Tea (see plate 38), was bought in 1979; fifteen years later he acquired the most famous of Mancini’s paintings, The Saltimbanco (see plate 13); the last addition to his collection, Young Boy (see plate 24), was purchased in 2002. Convinced of Mancini’s great value as an artist, Jordan wanted very much to share his little-known work with American audiences. Of all of Jordan’s considerable collections, the Mancinis alone were designated to be given to a public institution.
Tastes do change, but only with knowledge and awareness. Antonio Mancini, Italian nineteenth-century painter, is hardly a household name outside Italy. Yet reaction to his paintings from many who have recently seen then for the first time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been remarkably positive and enthusiastic. For the small band of existing Mancini enthusiasts, such reactions are as gratifying as they were unpredictable.
Afterword: The Gift of Vance N. Jordan
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