'I believe the next century is going to see the Slavs make great contributions to the culture of the world and that these contributions are not going to be wanting in a strong spiritual quality.'
CHARLES R. CRANE
(15 December 1914)
Born in Chicago on August 7, 1858, Ambassador Charles R. Crane was the eldest child of Richard Teller Crane. Crane was expected to work at his family's successful firm, R.T. Crane Brass and Bell Foundry, until his resignation in July 1914. Nevertheless, his life's notable accomplishments are not as an industrialist, but rather almost entirely in the fields of politics, international diplomacy, and philanthropy. Crane was an idealist who believed in the human spirit and its destiny toward self-betterment, even in the most disheartening times. Over the course of his life he invested his money on political campaigns, endowing schools, colleges and research institutions, establishing scholarships, organizing and funding relief efforts, and supporting artists, writers, journalists and intellectuals. A fundamental aim for him was to make information about the lands that were of interest to him available to Americans, and in return to have foreigners become more acquainted with American principles.
His wide and far-reaching travels around the globe began as a result of the malaria he contracted in 1877. The doctor's prescribed treatment of rest and travel to England was extended to Egypt, Syria and Turkey, and Crane's illness abated as he traveled to more distant and exotic places. Crane used the excuse of poor health with his strictly business-minded father on numerous occasions to justify his travels to curious and distant lands. By 1939 Crane had traveled comprehensively to lands spanning from Czechoslovakia, to Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Basra and Muscat among others, leaving a trail of friends and connections.
It was Crane's wide network of connections in and his knowledge of these distant lands that made him a candidate for a variety of diplomatic positions. In 1909, President Taft appointed Crane to the position of United States Minister to China - an appointment that never materialized. In 1913 and 1914 President Woodrow Wilson offered Crane the Ambassadorship to Russia, which he declined citing business obligations. In 1915, President Wilson appointed Crane the only American delegate to a five-member commission under the Advancement of Peace Treaty between Russia and America. In May of 1917, Crane was appointed envoy extraordinary to the Root Mission, a commission consisting of ten delegates sent to Russia to deliver a message of good will from America. In 1919, President Wilson appointed Crane to another commission, ultimately named the King-Crane commission, which gathered information from the communities in the dissolving Turkish Empire concerning the selection of a Mandatory. Finally in 1920, Crane was again appointed United States Minister to China, this time by President Wilson, and after successfully serving as Ambassador for a year in Peking the Chinese government decorated him with the Order of Chiao Ho, First Class with sash.
Another of Charles Crane's political involvements of consequence was with Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. Crane met Masaryk in 1896 in Prague. Masaryk at first thought Crane was a missionary seeking money. Masaryk came to understand he was mistaken when he accepted Crane's invitation to lecture at the University of Chicago during 1900-05 as part of a program on Russian and Slavic culture, which Crane had endowed. In 1917, two years after claiming independence for Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk asked for Crane's aid in arranging an interview with President Wilson in Washington D.C. to seek Wilson's support for the new country Masaryk was trying to establish. A year later, when Masaryk became the first president of Czechoslovakia, Crane's son, Richard T. Crane was appointed the first Ambassador to Czechoslovakia for the duration of 1919 until 1921. The entangled destinies of these two men was further enhanced when Masaryk invited Crane's younger son, John O. Crane, to work for him as his personal secretary and by the marriage of Masaryk's son, Jan, to Crane's daughter Francis.
In 1904 Crane became involved with another famous Czechoslovakian in a very different but no less impressive capacity. Crane's well-documented patronage of Alphonse Mucha, the most important Czech artist of all time, continued well into the late 1920s. Crane's financial generosity during 1910-28 enabled Mucha to complete the grandest achievement of his career: an impressive series of twenty large panels entitled The Slav Epic. In 1920, Mucha duplicated a panel from the series The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia, 1861 for his patron Charles R. Crane (lot 25). There even exists correspondence regarding payment and delivery of this work to Charles R. Crane. This is the only panel from The Slav Epic that Mucha reproduced as a completed painting. Interestingly, Mucha played a critical role in fostering the final connection between Crane and Masaryk because Mucha's portrait of Crane's youngest child, Josephine, was selected by Masaryk to be put on the Czech 100Kr. bank note.
Crane's patronage of artists was not limited to Mucha alone. Crane was also a personal friend of Nicholas Konstantinovich Rerikh (Roerich), and it is widely believed that he may have been the sponsor of Rerikh's trip to Central Asia between 1925-28. The Rostov Monastery (lot 23), was painted in 1922 in New York, was commissioned by Crane. According to family lore, on a trip to Russia, halfway between Yaroslavl and Moscow on the North-South Railroad, Crane came across the Rostov Kremlin, which would become his favorite in all of Russia. Upon Crane's return to the States, he mentioned the monastery to his painter friend Rerikh, who agreed to paint it on commission for Crane based on drawings of the building he made some thirty years prior. When delivered, The Rostov Monastery would be one of Crane's favorite paintings.
Liturgical chorus music of the Orthodox Church also fascinated Crane, and he always hoped that in some way the church would develop into a guiding spirit for the widely held desire for democracy. It is for this reason that over the course of his life Crane was involved with the Orthodox Church in New York, as well as in Russia and in Greece, particularly on Mount Athos (lot 30).
In 1891, Crane met the little-known Georgian artist Georgii Ivanovich Gabashvili in Tiflis (Tbilisi in the current day Georgian Republic) and sponsored him to travel to Bukhara and Samarkand. Crane paid Gabashvili handsomely for a number of canvases three of which are included in this sale (lots 6, 7 and 9). For the Georgian artist, this exceptional interaction with the American millionaire presented new opportunities. In addition to his travels to Central Asia, paid for by Crane, Gabashvili also traveled to Munich and resided there for a period. As a result of this exposure to Western art, the influence of artists from the German school of painters like Carl Leopold Müller becomes apparent in Gabashvili's compositions. In the following years Gabashvili's career took a sharp turn for the better and he is listed as a founding member of the Georgian Academy of Fine Arts and in 1929 he was appointed the rank of The People's Artist of the Republic of Georgia.
Crane also was in direct contact with Vasilii Vasilievich Vereshchagin and Prince Pavel Trubetzkoy and there is correspondence concerning Crane's purchases from these artists (lots 5, 20 and 29). Trubetzkoy was even commissioned to complete a series of sculptures for other members of the Crane family in 1914.
Another artist whose life was transformed after meeting Charles R. Crane was Feodor Zakharov. In 1923, Zakharov arrived in New York as a member of the Russian delegation to attend the Russian Art Exhibition at the Grand Central Palace which opened in 1924. It was at this exhibition that Crane met Zakharov and acquired a portrait by the artist of the Russian painter Victor Vasnetsov (lot 26). Over the years Crane commissioned numerous other portraits from Zakharov (lot 27), and continued to support the artist. Zakharov, content with his new found success in America, never returned to Russia and became a society portraitist in New York.
It is a rare opportunity to present the private art collection of a man as complex and interesting as Charles R. Crane, and to find it still intact in over 65 years after his death. The formation of a collection is personal; it involves aesthetic and intellectual choices, and conveys much about the individual who formed it. Although each work in the collection is significant in itself, an overall view clearly shows Charles R. Crane's undying desire to see and experience the foreign, the distant, and the universal apparent.