Halsted Billings Vander Poel (1911-2003)
The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.
- Samuel Johnson
Halsted B. Vander Poel was one of the great gentlemen of the 'old school'. He was one of those people, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, who was exactly the same to all he met - never favoring one person over the other for what the person could do for him. His son, Halsted II, remarked that he never saw his father without a tie, except when swimming. The gracious manners, the warm smile, the caring that he had for so many people from all walks of life, made him well loved by many. It was my great pleasure to have known him.
Halsted was born at Fort Tryon Park, on the estate of his grandfather, C.K.G. Billings. This is now the site of The Cloisters, an annex of The Metropolitan Museum, in northern Manhattan. His literary interests flourished at Yale University, under the tutelage of Robert C. Bates and he began to collect exceptional first edition books and manuscripts. He graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Science degree.
He saw distinguished service in World War II (started as Lieutenant (jg) and rose to the rank of Commander) in the Navy. He went down with the U.S.S. Wasp, the U.S.S. Hornet, and the U.S.S. O'Brian. Thereafter he served on the U.S.S. Henry R. Kenyon (DE-683), an anti-submarine ship. After the war, he moved to Washington D.C. and worked in The Office of Defense under President Eisenhower for two years where amongst other things he compiled the first evacuation plan for the White House in case of nuclear attack.
In 1956 he moved to Rome, and, through the intercession of Prof. Michail Rostovtzeff, of Yale U., he was put in touch with the renowned Russian archaeologist, Prof. Tatiana Warscher, who was an expert in the field of Pompeian Archaeology. He worked and studied with Prof. Warscher until her death in 1960. After, he continued to collaborate with the Director of the excavations in Pompeii, Prof. Matteo Della Corte, and it was during this period that he excavated in the Casa di Meleagro. After Prof. Della Corte died, in 1962, Halsted continued studying and excavating on his own, and compiling information for the publication of various parts of the CTP (Corpus Topographicum Pompeianum), issued as follows: Bibliography, 1977, Pars IV; Cartography, 1981, Pars V; Toponomy, 1983, Pars II; R.I.C.A. (Researches in Campanian Archaeology), Maps of Pompeii, 1984, Pars III, The Insula of Regions I-V, 1986, Pars IIIA. This work was published under the aegis of the University of Texas at Austin, and the various parts are used today by scholars carrying out research for further studies in Pompeian archaeology The maps for Regions VI - IX and environs are completed, but unfortunately the text was not finished before Halsted's death. His most recent contribution comprises the production and analysis of the Giornale degli Scavi (from 15 Sept. 1861 to 31 Dec. 1867), which have never been published.
He assembled one of the most important libraries on Roman archaeology, and especially Pompeii, which he recently donated to the Getty Museum.
During his years in Rome, he was an honorary member of the German Archaeological Institute, and worked closely with the British School at Rome and at the Vatican Library. In 1964, he was one of the founders of St. Stephen's School in Rome, a secondary school accredited to Universities and Colleges in the U. S., for which he prepared the initial school catalogue. He was also a Trustee and Treasurer of the Keats Shelley Memorial Association in Rome, located by the Spanish Steps.
He was elected to the Grolier Club in 1938 and when he died, he was the longest standing member of the club. He was a member of the Johnsonian Society, 17 Gough Square, England, to which he made contributions to help with maintenance and other expenses. In Rome, as President of the club, he hosted a legendary black-tie dinner in the Castel Sant'Angelo, replete with waiters in period livery, and lit torchiers around the ramparts. It is remembered to this day.
It was fitting in a way that Halsted Vander Poel spent most of his adult life in Italy. He was, in many senses, a Renaissance man. His abiding passion in life was scholarship and he applied it to everything he did, most especially his collecting. He was assiduous in his research of the background of his many objects; their history fascinated him. Books and more particularly manuscripts were his great interest. Old Master paintings such as these we see here, good English furniture, English silver, clocks, and American portraits all interested him. He was a passionate collector of many things and he collected .
When Halsted first came into my father's shop, Arthur Vernay, Inc, in 1938 a life-long friendship was immediately formed. His collection of English furniture, which began there, will be sold in April at Christie's in New York.
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF HALSTED B. VANDER POEL (LOTS 166-172)