HALSTED BILLINGS VANDER POEL
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 (fig.1). 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 when he began to collect exceptional first edition books and manuscripts.
He saw distinguished service in World War II and survived the sinking of 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, an anti-submarine ship. After the war, he moved to Washington D.C. and in 1952 he joined the Office of Defense under President Eisenhower where, among other duties, 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 University, 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 and thereafter worked closely with the Director of the excavations in Pompeii, Prof. Matteo Della Corte. 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 the CTP (Corpus Topographicum Pompeanum). The work was published under the aegis of the University of Texas at Austin, and is used today by scholars carrying out research for further studies in Pompeiian archaeology. The maps for Regions VI - IX and environs are completed, but unfortunately the text was not finished before Halsted's death.
He assembled one of the most important libraries on Roman archaeology, and especially Pompeii, which was donated to the Getty Museum in 2001. 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.
Halsted was elected to the Grolier Club in 1938 and when he died, he was the longest standing member of the club. He was also a member of the Johnsonian Society. 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 torcheres around the ramparts. It was a spectacular event still 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 but Old Master paintings, good English furniture, English silver, clocks, and American portraits also interested him.
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, shows his deep love for early Georgian walnut and mahogany furniture of unusual forms. Over the span of 40 years, Halsted put together a collection of great distinction. I hope the future owners of these objects find as much joy living with them as he did.
- Christian Jussel
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF HALSTED B. VANDER POEL