Saturday, January 16, 2010

Night: Gustave Dore, Francis Kinney & Kinnelon III

NightThis story from John J. Connelly is titled Night. It started with Gustave Doré Captures Soul, Memories & Coincidence. It continued with Gustave Doré, His Art, His Times. This is the third and final part.

Night - Part III

Francis S. Kinney Brings Gustave Doré To Kinnelon

It is no secret that Francis Kinney was a true American magnate who traveled to Europe on many occasions. Like many industrialists of his generation, he had an eye for art. We have only recently discovered that he was quite taken by the bronze works of Doré.

While researching the life of Beatrice Kinney, Tom Kline discovered that St. Hubert’s chapel once housed a full-sized sculpture of the Madonna and Child. He emailed me photos of the masterpiece and I was thrilled as I imagined the huge bronze standing on the pedestal under the stained glass window. But when he mentioned that the artist was Gustave Doré, I was stunned. This was the same creator of the “Poem of the Vine” which had entranced me just a few months before.

Doré had made his entrance.

Tom went on to discover that Kinney had purchased other Dorés. The rock with the enigmatic “Night” carved into it, had in fact once served as a pedestal for another Doré. He even managed to find a nearly 100 year old picture of “Night.” She was a sensuous slender bronze girl. Her gentle sloping “S” shaped naked form high atop the rock had once overlooked Lake Kinnelon.

But that’s not all.

When Tom was younger, he befriended a group of older women who lived in Butler and who had worked for the Kinneys at the turn of the century. They confirmed to Tom that Smoke Rise once was home to quite a collection of bronzes. They were plentiful on the lawns and grounds. Given that we now know that Kinney prized Doré's art particularly, it is quite possible Smoke Rise was once home to one of the largest collections of his bronzes in the world.

But, what happened to them?

In one of life’s little ironies, the ladies of Butler claimed that the good people of Kinnelon began to whisper disdainfully about Kinney’s “Lawn ornaments.” It seems that during the First World War “Lawn ornaments” were thought to be Germanic in nature and at their urging the priceless bronze works of art were gathered up and sent to foundries to be melted down for the war effort.

Gone forever, Doré’s masterpieces would never again adorn the hillsides and rock formations of Smoke Rise.

Ironic that Doré, the fierce French ultra-nationalist who devoted his youth to the denigration of the German nation, would have his works of art melted for scrap because they seemed too “Germanic” to the good people of 1917 Northern New Jersey.

Or perhaps someone thought it fitting that his work should go into the making of shell casings which bombed the German people.

The life-sized Doré bronze Madonna and Child that once stood in the St. Hubert’s chapel survived, safely hidden in the chapel itself.

Bequeathed to Beatrice after the death of her father, Francis, in 1923 it remained in situ until the madness of another World War ended, at which time Beatrice, for reasons unexplained, quietly removed the Madonna and entrusted it to a church in Aiken, South Carolina.

I think I know why.

Doré lived to see a darkness overtake his homeland that must have been unimaginably painful for an artist to witness. A dark gloom born out of nationalism, militarism and hubris. A dense fog that would eventually expand and consume the entirety of the world, bringing shadow and misery on a scale never before seen.

As the British statesman Edward Grey observed at the start of the First World War, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the Belle Epoque in Europe was over as was the Gilded Age in the United States. In its place a dark night that would cast its shadow over the whole world, including one wondrous village in New Jersey called Smoke Rise.

Yes, I think I know why Beatrice removed the Madonna.

The lessons and questions of our lives are at times easily learned and answered, as was the lesson of September 1970. Others, like the lessons of 1870, seem to perplex well into old age.

Perhaps Horace’s words apply best to Doré when he said "Exegi monumentum aere perennius” or “I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze.” Perhaps.

But, I finally understand a riddle which perplexed us as kids: The meaning of the single enigmatic word carved into a lonely stone in the middle of a forest near a lake.

A chill will always accompany my memory of that single word:


Thank you, John.

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