Sunday 22 November 2020

The Dispersal of the Miniatures of Édouard Kann

Édouard Kann [Source]

The catalogue of the collection of miniatures of Édouard Kann has 46 entries for Western manuscripts (some entries describe multiple items) and 6 for Persian; only a few items are not reproduced among the 48 high-quality plates. It was written by Amédée Boinet and published in 1926 in an edition of 250 numbered copies:

Amédée Boinet, La collection de miniatures de M. Edouard Kann (Paris: Les Beaux-Arts, 1926).

Ever since 1997, when I bought a copy of the catalogue (deaccessioned from the library of the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU), I have had an interest in the collection and its fate, but until now I did not know how or when it was dispersed.

About two thirds of the cuttings and leaves are now in the Musée Marmottan, having been in the personal collection of Georges Wildenstein (discussed here), which his son Daniel subsequently donated to the museum. The published catalogues of the Wildenstein collection rarely provide any provenance at all, and do not say how Georges acquired the Kann illuminations.

Two leaves in my forthcoming catalogue of the French illuminations in the McCarthy Collection have sister-leaves in the 1926 Boinet catalogue, so I went to some effort to try to find out when/where/how they were dispered, but without success.

There was an auction of the library of Édouard Kann in 1930. It contains a few hundred lots, mostly printed, but including a few important medieval manuscript codices, including Pope Leo X's Preparatio ad missam, now MS H.6 at the Morgan Library, discussed in this blogpost:

But the catalogue does not describe any cuttings or single leaves. Although it seemed very unlikely, I wondered if the miniatures might possibly have been sold in a second Kann auction, which was to take place without a catalogue?:

Part of my problem is that I have been able to find out very little about Édouard Kann; in contrast to his well-known art-collector relatives Maurice [fr.Wikipedia], Rodolphe [fr.Wikipedia], and Alfonse [Wikipedia] Kann, there seems to be very little written about him. I have not even been able to ascertain with certainty the year of his death, which might help to clarify when his collection was dispersed. When the 1930 auction was held, the library is not described as the "Bibliothèque de feu Édouard Kann", which suggested to me that he was still alive:

I then found evidence to suggest that the miniatures were indeed dispersed in 1930. While looking into the Santa Maria degli Angeli cuttings for previous posts, I found that this cutting by Silvestro dei Gherarducci (which was lot 182 in the 1838 Ottley auction catalogue, and was used for the colour frontispiece of the 1926 Kann catalogue, shown above), is now in Cleveland:

Cleveland, CMA 1930.105 [Source]

The Cleveland website records minimal provenance, but de Ricci's 1937 Census tells us that it was acquired by the Museum in March 1930 from the New York dealers Seligmann & Rey. 

It would of course be perfectly logical for the Kann illuminations to be sold in the same year as his illuminated manuscripts and other books, whether prompted by his death, failing eyesight, need for cash, or some other reason.

When I was investigating the provenance of the cuttings illuminated by the Master of the Murano Gradual for this blogpost, I found some puzzling clues in Mirella Levi d'Ancona's catalogue of the Lombard illuminations in the Wildenstein Collection [1]. Of the ex-Kann cuttings that she attributed to Belbello da Pavia (now mostly re-attributed to the Murano Master), all are stated to have been acquired by Georges Wildenstein in 1946, except for no. 14, which is said to have been acquired in 1926. I assume that "1926" is probably a typo for "1946", prompted by the 1926 date of the Boinet catalogue, but whether or not "1926" is a typo, [see note 1a] it leaves unexplained how Wildestein acquired the majority of the cuttings in 1946. If the collection had ben dispersed in 1930, as suggsted by the Cleveland cutting, then there must presumably have been an intermediate owner.

Returning to the CMA website I found another miniature from the Kann collection (it is no. XLIII in the 1926 catalogue):

Cleveland, CMA 1927.161 [Source]
The Museum website provides no dates or details of the acqusition:

but the "1927" inventory number looked intriguing and, although it is not listed in the Bibliography on the website, I tracked down an article published in November 1927 about the acquisition of this miniature (again it was de Ricci who provided the necessary information), which includes this sentence [2]:

At last we have conclusive contemporary evidence: the collection was "dispersed" in 1927.

Other cuttings previously in the Ottely and Kann collections are now in the Lehman collection at The Met in New York. Looking again at the catalogue by Sandra Hindman [3] I found something that I should have noticed years ago: they were both acquired by Robert Lehman from Wildenstein & Co., New York, in March 1927, and they were exhibited in "New York 1927". Turning to the list of exhibitions catalogues in the Bibliography, I discovered that "New York 1927" refers to an exhibition catalogue of  Wildenstein Galleries, New York:

Catalogue of the Edouard Kann Collection of Miniatures of the XIV, XV, XVI Centuries : March-April 1927 (New York: Wildenstein Galleries, 1927).

I had never seen -- or even heard of -- this exhibition catalogue before, and it soon became apparent why: according to the union catalogue of UK research libraries, there is no copy in the UK; and Worldcat records only two copies, both in the USA.  I immediately emailed both US institutions and got prompt responses: one was unable to help at all, but the Art Institute, Chicago, very kindly sent me a scan.

In one sense, the catalogue is disappointing: it has just six pages of text, no reproductions, and is little more than a brief handlist, describing each item in just a few lines, clearly based on the 1926 catalogue by Boinet, but apparently with little comprehension. Leaves, miniatures, and cuttings are described indiscrimiately as "pages", for example, and where Boinet, writing in French, refers to the "école ganto-brugeois", this becomes "Ghento-Bruges school" in English!

But the 1927 catalogue provides one very useful piece of information: it includes (almost) the entire collection as catalogued the previous year by Boinet and the numbering is (almost) exactly the same.

The only exceptions -- and the reason why I have to write "almost" in the previous sentence -- is that the 1927 catalogue lists only seven of the twelve items itemised by Boinet in the group of Murano Master illuminations, and rearranges their order. The reasons for this will have to wait until a future blogpost.

For now, I can summarise my current state of knowledge as follows:

I now feel sure that the Édourd Kann, owner of the miniatures, must be the Parisian lawyer Édouard Gustave Kann (1873-1927), son on Maurice Édouard Kann (1839-1906) and nephew of Rodolphe Hirsch Kann (1845-1905), who died in January 1927: this certainly fits well with what I now know about the date of the dispersal of his miniatures.

CORRECTION: I have now done more work on the various Kann collections (blogpost here) and now realise that Edouard was the son of Rodolphe, and nephew of Maurice, not vice versa.

It is not clear why Kann decided to have a catalogue of his collection published in 1926, but if he is indeed the man who was born in 1873 and died in January 1927, he was only about 53 years old when he died. Perhaps by the early 1920s he was already suffering from a terminal illness, and felt that a lavishly illustrated catalogue was the best way to entice offers from potential purchasers.

Wildenstein & Co. had an office in Paris and would surely have known the collection by the end of 1926, even if they did not know it before the publication of the Boinet catalogue. They must have acquired it shortly before, or very soon after, Édouard's death, in order to ship it to New York for an exhibition opening in March 1927.

Robert Lehman bought two items in March 1927. The Cleveland Museum bought one the same year and a second in 1930 via Seligmann & Rey, but it seems that most of the collection remained unsold, and was consigned to the Wildenstein & Co. storerooms (the company is famed for the vast stock it kept out of sight, sometimes for many decades).

If Mirella Levi d'Ancona is correct that Georges Wildenstein acquired his ex-Kann illuminations in 1946, and I have no reason to doubt her, this is when ownership formally passed from the company to the individual, and there is no reason to think that there were any intermediate owners. Perhaps he was astutely making the most of the fact that values were depressed in the immediate aftermath of the War, and was able to acquire the unsold residue of the Kann collection at a bargain price.


[1] Mirella Levi d’Ancona, The Wildenstein Collection of Illuminations: The Lombard School, Storia Della Miniatura: Studi e Documenti, 4 (Florence: Olschki, 1970).

Edit, 5 Dec. 2020:

[1a] I now think that "1926" is not a typo; instead, it is d'Ancona's claim that this initial was in the Edouard Kann Collection that seems to be wrong. It is not in the Boinet catalogue. In 1926 Wildenstein acquired at least one other item from the 1908 Borner sale (discussed in this post), so this may have come from the same source.

[2] W. M. M[illiken], ‘A Miniature Attributed to Timoteo Viti’, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 14.9 (1927), 144–46.

[3] Sandra Hindman and others, The Robert Lehman Collection, IV: Illuminations (New York & Princeton, 1997).


  1. In case you are interested, the following passage from a letter written by Belle da Costa Greene to Bernard Berenson, dated March 28, 1927, references the catalogue of Kann miniatures sold through Wildenstein: "Have you the catalogue of the Edouard Kann single leaves, bought by Wildenstein & now offered for sale by him here? –
    I can’t send you the catalogue itself as I only have 2 copies, but I had all the Italian leaves here, and did the dirty trick of photographing them before I sent them back – so I can send you those photographs (made through the glass frames as I did not dare remove them –"

    1. Interesting! Please contact me or identify yourself!



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