The Hahlo Exhibition

The Hahlo Exhibition

The Exhibition of Bronzes, Marbles and Medallions by Victor D. Brenner at the galleries of Arthur H. Hahlo & Co in April 1912 was the largest solo-exhibition of Brenner’s work during his lifetime.

With 150 individually catalogued items it makes a fitting tribute to revisit it for the sesquicentennial of his birth. Like the individual works themselves, the exhibition has a context within the time when it occurred. It is worthy of a few paragraphs of attention in its own right.

Victor D. Brenner
(1871-1924)

Figure one. Victor David Brenner in the 1910s

Victor David Brenner was born on June 12, 1871 in what is now Lithuania (Figure 1). Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists in the United States. While his most well-known piece is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, Brenner created more than 200 medallic works and three-dimensional sculptures throughout his illustrious 35-year career. He produced works privately, for the United States Mint, the Medallic Art Co., and several other producers of early 20th-century medals and badges. Even in his own lifetime, his rise to fame in America—during a time of mass immigration to the United States—was heralded as the ultimate achievement of the American Dream. The website, unveiled on June 12, 2021—the 150th anniversary of his birth—is a dedication to his life, his work, and the Hahlo Exhibition.


Arthur H. Hahlo
(1876-1958)

Arthur Harold Hahlo founded the New York Co-Operative Society shortly after he graduated from Harvard in 1896 (Figure 2).1 A co-operative retailer of books, prints, drawings and autographs, the society was also a publisher, and an art gallery. Publications included works for Jacob Henry Schiff: The Two-Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States, 1955-1905: An Address Delivered at Carnegie Hall, New York on Thanksgiving Day, MCMV, Together with Other Selected Addresses and Proceedings (1906) and the 1907 surprise from his family Our Journey to Japan. In 1909 the Co-Operative held an exhibition of pictures selected for the decoration of P.S.65 for Florence Levy and the Art League of the Public Education Association—for whom Brenner had just done the Haney Medal.2 In 1910, before closing, it held an exhibition of the works of sculptor, Jo Davidson.3 The Co-Operative included George S. Hellman, a specialist in rare manuscripts, so their patrons even included Pierpont Morgan. Hellman continued as a prominent dealer in manuscripts after Hahlo ended the Co-Operative.

Figure 2: Advertisement for Arthur Hahlo’s New York Co-operative Society, taken from page 45 of the October 7, 1899 issue of The New York Times.

In 1910 at the request of his family, Arthur closed up shop and sold his remaining inventory at auction so that he could assist his father-in-law, Isaac Stern with the family business—the famous Stern Department Stores.4 Stern was quite ill and he passed away by December of that year. After serving as the Executor of Stern’s Estate, Hahlo returned to the business of being an art-dealer and gallerist.  He joined with M.A. McDonald (d.1943) who had been working in the company run by the print dealer, Frederick Keppel (1845-1912). Keppel and Company was also the publisher of The Print-Collector’s Quarterly. Hahlo and McDonald announced their new partnership in the pages of the October 1911 issue of that journal (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Advertisement for the new Arthur H. Hahlo & Co. Galleries at the Windsor Arcade at 569 5th Avenue, New York as it appeared in the October 1911 issue of The Print-Collector’s Quarterly.

On his draft card, signed September 12, 1918, Arthur indicates that he has two employers—himself, and the American Red Cross. In addition to being a picture dealer he identifies himself as the Assistant to the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Red Cross.  This was precisely the time when the notorious second wave of the 1918 Influenza pandemic began and the Red Cross was fighting it on the front-lines at home. After World War I, he changed his name to Arthur Harlow.


The Hahlo Galleries and the Windsor Arcade

Figure 4: The Windsor Arcade, Fifth Avenue, 46th Street and 47th Street, New York City. Photographed by H.N. Tiemann & Co by 1912. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society, via Digital Culture New York

Arthur Hahlo & Co. opened for business in the Windsor Arcade at 569 Fifth Avenue on October 3rd, 1911, just seven months before Brenner’s exhibition.5 They would give at least one more exhibition of Brenner’s work. In 1915, he exhibited “Portraits as Memorials” which included just four pieces—the memorial plaques for Emily Blackwell, Ambrose Swasy, John Hewett, and Rupert Norton.6 He may have been the only commercial gallerist in New York who gave solo exhibitions to Brenner.

Hahlo & Co.’s first location, the Windsor Arcade, was a three-story arcade with an open courtyard at the center which carriages could enter from the street. It housed numerous galleries, studios, and shops.  Built in 1901, after a tragic fire destroyed the Windsor Hotel, it was an elaborate Beaux-Arts building. But it was meant to be a temporary structure (Figure 4). In its time it was often described as the only “modern” shopping mall in Manhattan. The Northern half of the building was demolished in 1911—the year before this exhibition—and the rest in 1921.7

The Hahlo/Harlow galleries were active with various names and addresses until the 1950s. These included: Arthur H. Hahlo & Co, 569 Fifth Ave (Windsor Arcade); the Harlow, McDonald & Co., 667 Fifth Ave; the Arthur H. Harlow & Co., 42 E. 57th St.; and Harlow, Keppel & Co, 670 Fifth Ave.).


The Exhibition of Bronzes, Marbles and Medallions
by Victor D. Brenner
April 15 – May 1, 1912

He has drunk at many springs of inspiration

This exhibition had a very close precursor in Hartford, Connecticut, organized by Samuel Putnam Avery, Jr. for the Morgan Memorial Library at the Wadsworth Athenaeum (February 4-March 11, 1912). Some of the works are described in detail in the local newspapers and those descriptions have helped identify—or add clues for identifying some of the lesser-known material in the Hahlo show which opened just weeks later.8

Figure 5: Front page of The New York Times, April 15, 1912—the day Victor Brenner’s exhibition opened at the Hahlo Galleries

When the Hahlo show did open—on April 15, 1912, the news that day was that the R.M.S. Titanic had struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic with an unknown loss of life. By the next day the scope of the tragedy was clear, and newspapers were filled with stories, updates, and memorials to the dead for weeks to come (Figures 5 and 6). One of the lost passengers was Frank Millet—the artist, journalist and author (among other things) who happened to be the acting director of the American Academy in Rome at the time. They sponsored his trip. He also happened to be the author of the foreword to the Hahlo Catalogue. Millet originally wrote the text for the foreword for the Grolier Exhibition of Brenner’s work in 1907. Part of it was reused here, updated to mention that Brenner was the creator of the Lincoln Cent. It is a bizarre coincidence.

Figure 6: Front page of The New York Times, April 16, 1912 as the magnitude of the Titanic disaster became clear.

With all of this competition for attention in the papers during the few weeks of the Hahlo Exhibition it seems remarkable that it managed to get reviewed in The New York Times (Figure 7). But it did—on April 21stThe Times review is also unusual for its reportage on Brenner—it is one of the few times that the coverage of his work focuses entirely on its quality and style and says nothing at all about his background.

The review appeared under the headline “Interesting Examples of the Medallist’s Art in Victor D. Brenner’s Work Now on Exhibition Here.” The reviewer begins with:

“Mr. Victor Brenner, whose work is now on view at the Hahlo Galleries is decidedly the most important medallist in America at the present moment: both in the amount and in the character of his accomplishment. He is not easily placed in a category with romanticists or realists or classicists. Like most moderns of any degree of intellectual force, he has drunk at many springs of inspiration and has evolved from various influences a personal style of genuine expressiveness and distinction.”

After a brief aside on medallic history, the review goes into detailed praise for some of the works, first noting that “certain examples are touched with the inexpressiveness of the photograph…but those are comparatively few in number and sink to insignificance by the side of the gracious and spirited works which form the larger part of the exhibition.”

Among the medals and plaquettes, the reviewer singles out the Carl Schurz portrait (#24 and #134) with the America Leading the Immigrant reverse (#28), the portrait of Mr. Vadé, Painter (#85), and the Souvenir Plaquette of the National Arts Club (#35 and #150) for praise. Schurz is described as “displaying the mingling of realism and symbolism characteristic of the age we live in…” while the lines of Vadé “float across the medal with charming lightness and the sweetness of and revery of the physiognomy are in harmony with the manner of execution.”

For the sculptures it is the Return to Nature (#147), The Faun (#141), and The Lily (#139) that get special mention. In describing the sculptures, the reviewer emphasizes that there has been consideration for “every point of view” when examining them.

The review ends crediting Brenner with “admirable spontaneity of the execution as though no difficulties had existed to be overcome—that indispensable deception of the public without which art cannot be.”

Figure 7: The New York Times review, “Interesting Examples of the Medallist’s Art in Victor D. Brenner’s Work Now on Exhibition Here,” which ran on April 21, 1912.


The “Hahlo Catalogue”

1. Dr. Otto Binswanger. Medallion. Jena, Germany.

2. Seal of the New York Public Library

3. Mrs. Hambuchen. Medallion. Jena, Germany.

4. Mrs. Julia W. Oettinger. Plaquette.

The Hahlo Exhibition in 1912 is the source for the Hahlo numbers used by Dick Johnson (1930-2020) to catalogue many of Brenner’s works. He also used the standard reference—Glenn Smedley’s catalogue in The Numismatist (1983-4, and 1987), the catalogue of the American Numismatic Society’s International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals (IECM: 1910), and the Grolier catalogue (1907). Smedley, the IECM and the Grolier catalogues are easy to find or readily available online. It is almost impossible to find a copy of the Hahlo catalogue and opening up access to it is one of the goals of this website. A pdf copy of the original from the library of the ANS can be found below.


Footnotes:

[1]Harvard Class of 1896. Secretary’s Fifth Report. June, 1916. (The Plympton Press: Norwood, Mass, 1916), 114. https://archive.org/details/1896report05harvuoft/page/98/mode/2up.
[2] “Art Education in the Schools.” American Art News, v.VII, n.27 (April 17, 1909), 3. https://archive.org/details/jstor-25590441/page/n3/mode/2up.
[3]Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 25, 1910, 16.
[4] Etchings, color engravings, water-colors, etc.: the remaining miscellaneous stock of the New York Co-Operative Society, The Anderson Auction Company (Sale 847, May 26, 1910). https://archive.org/details/etchingscoloreng00ande/page/n3/mode/2up.
[5] The Print-Collector’s Quarterly, October 1911, v.1. no.4, 486. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t02027n2j&view=1up&seq=92.
[6]The New York Herald, May 4, 1915, 8.
[7] Marcia Reiss, Lost New York: Revised Edition (Pavilion Books: London 2020).
[8] “Brenner Medals at the Atheneum” Harford Courant, February 5, 1912, p.6.