Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Did Carlo Pellegrini win an Olympic Gold in 1912 for a painting of a curling scene?

Carlo Pellegrini (1866-1937) provided the artwork for many postcards. Above is a favourite from my own postcard collection. It shows a game in progress on outside ice, in a snow covered landscape. It was published by Vouga and Cie, Geneva, as D10 of a series. It is postally unused and is not dated.

Some months ago I decided that Pellegrini's postcards might make an interesting and colourful post on the Curling History Blog. I set out to find more about the artist, and immediately became fascinated with what I discovered.

Firstly, he should not be confused with his father, also Carlo Pellegrini, the well known caricaturist known as 'Ape'. Carlo Pellegrini of postcard fame was born on October 26, 1866, in Albese con Cassano, in the Province of Como, Italy. He studied at the Brera Academy in Milan, and around 1900 moved to Switzerland. He painted in oils and tempura and was inspired by the winter landscapes and activities of the Engadine, in the south-east of the Swiss Alps. He provided the artwork for many postcards and posters. He died in Geneva in 1937 at the age of 70.

Did you know that there used to be art competitions at the Olympic Games? In 1912, the first of these was held in Stockholm as part of the Fifth Olympiad. In the paintings section of the art competition the Olympic Gold Medal was awarded to Carlo Pellegrini for his submission of 'Three connected friezes representing Winter Sports'.

On learning this, I immediately wondered if one of the 'friezes' showed a curling scene? Would that not be an exciting discovery! I searched the digital world for the artwork, initially with no success.

Information was available about the Olympic competition, and the Official Report was my first stop.

This can be downloaded from here.

Here's the record of Pellegrini's win as noted in the Official Report. Note that his name is misspelled, and his first initial is incorrect, although, as I discovered later, 'G' is his middle initial.

The Official Report has the information that the Stockholm Games included competitions in Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Music, and Literature. The Jury only considered subjects not previously published, exhibited or performed, and having some direct connection with sport. And that the winner of each of the five competitions would be awarded the 'Gold Olympic Medal'. The exhibits selected were, as far as possible, to be published, exhibited or performed during the Olympic Games of 1912. Competitors had to notify their intention of entering for one or more of these competitions before January 15, 1912, and the exhibits themselves had to be in the hands of the jury before March 1, 1912. There were no limitations as to size or form for manuscripts, plans, drawings or canvasses, but sculptors were required to send in clay models, not exceeding eighty centimetres in height, length or width.

Pelligrini's work was deemed to be the only submission worthy of a medal in the paintings category, and silver and bronze medals were not awarded. It is not stated how many entries there were in the paintings category.

All the medallists' work was exhibited to the public in special premises at 10 Karlavagen, Stockholm.

It was at this point that I came across an article entitled 'Postcard and Poster Artist Carlo Pellegrini, Jr (1866-1937)' by Henry Gessler, which can be found here. This mentions the 'disappearance' of the Olympic paintings. Tantalisingly, the author says, "Recently a large litho (Vouga Series 211 #2), of one of them, has come to light."

It is due to the work of Richard Stanton that I've learned more about the Olympic Art Competitions, and Pellegrini's three friezes of winter sports. 

'The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions', by Richard Stanton, was published in 2000 by Trafford, BC, Canada. It is the result of painstaking research, and is a remarkable work, containing just about everything you need to know about the Olympic Art Competitions in the twentieth century. It runs to 412 pages. Just how these competitions came to be included in the Olympics is a fascinating read. It had been a vision of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who was responsible for re-establishing the modern Olympic Games in 1896, to include the fine arts alongside sports. He faced many obstacles, but it was at Stockholm that he realised his dream. Stanton charts the journey. Stockholm was a 'first step', and was only a partial success, the inclusion of a Concours d'Art failing to to receive the support of Swedish art associations.

After his book was published Richard Stanton maintained an interest in Carlo Pellegrini and the 'lost friezes'. He made contact with Henry Gessler, and in 2016 wrote an article for the Journal of Olympic History titled, 'Lost Artwork from the 1912 Olympic Art Competition Emerges'. That's a screenshot of part of the first page above, and shows an image of Carlo Pellegrini. Read the whole article here. Stanton writes that two of the three friezes can now be identified. He reproduces one of them in the article. It is a skiing scene. I recognised this immediately.

On January 28, 2009, three chomolithographs went on sale at Christie's in London. All three had been published by Vouga and Cie, Geneva, the company already mentioned as associated with Pellegrini's postcards.

This is the auction house description of one of the lots: 'WINTER BEGINS', chromolithograph, published by Vouga and Cie., Genève (Série 220, No.1), not backed. 9½ x 41in. (24 x 104cm.) 

This lot sold for £1375. And it is this image that Stanton reproduces in his 2016 article with the evidence that it is a reproduction of one the Olympic paintings! 

Stanton does not reproduce, nor describe, the second of the missing friezes that has come to light. But he does indicate that a reproduction was also sold by Christie's in the same 2009 sale as the chromolithograph described above. Two other Pellegrini lots were in that sale, and one IS a curling scene! Here it is:

The auction house described this lot: 'CURLING - CHESS ON ICE', chromolithograph, published by Vouga, Genève (Série 220, No.2), not backed. 9½ x 41in. (24 x 104cm.) This sold for £1062. 

In my opinion this is an accurate portrayal of a curling match on outside ice in Switzerland in the first decade of the twentieth century. Curling was popular in that country at that time, many resort hotels having their own curling rinks. To study 'Curling - Chess on Ice' in more detail I have divided the scene into three, but have not removed the yellow cast that is on the image on Christie's website from the 2009 sale.

The left side of the artwork shows two players, both with brooms, four seated spectators, and one other standing figure, perhaps the umpire. There are six stones in view, and an apparently discarded corn broom.

The middle of the scene shows two sweepers both using corn brooms. The curler on the left may be the player who has delivered the stone and followed it up, although it could be a member of the opposing team watching to see the result of the play.

The right side of the scene shows the skip directing the play, the opposition skip and a member of the opposition team. A tee-marker (sometimes referred to as a 'dolly') marks the centre of circles scraped on the ice. The artist's signature is at the bottom right of the piece.

Overall, the condition of the artwork, with its mottled appearance, reflects its age and perhaps how well it had been stored. I wonder if the purchaser has had it restored? And who did buy it in 2009? Has it changed hands since? Does anyone reading this article recognise this artwork?

Unfortunately, I do NOT have confirmation that this is the image that appeared in one of the original Olympic paintings. I feel that it is likely to be so. Both the curling scene, and 'Winter Begins', are reproductions from the same Vouga and Cie Series 220, and are the same size, long and narrow. That's not to say that the original paintings would have been the same size as the reproductions.

The other Pellegrini in the Christie's sale in 2009 is shown below, again with the auction house description.

Christie's description: 'ICE DANCE', chromolithograph, published by Vouga and Cie, Genève (Série 225, No.1), not backed. 9 x 23½in. (23 x 60cm.) 

This sold for £1750. Note the size difference to that of the other lithographs.

Have the original Olympic paintings survived? Surely they would be known of if they had. Henry Gessler notes that Pellegrini's main publisher had been Vouga and Cie, of Geneva, 'until they had a disastrous fire, in which most of his originals were destroyed, probably including the Stockholm Gold Medal trio'. How sad, if that is indeed the case.

Stanton also writes that the diploma, which was awarded alongside Pellegrini's gold medal, is in the Olympic museum in Lausanne.

My own postcard collection contains more examples of Pellegrini's curling artwork.

This original postcard was published by Vouga and Cie. It is postally unused. Not dated. No 43 in a series. A stylish delivery from a crampet, with a corn broom alongside.

Another original, No 45 in the same series, showing sweepers in action. Postally used. The cancel is not clear, but could be 1911. This would fit in with the age of the stamp which was in use in the years 1909 to 1914. Sent from St Moritz to Hamburg.

This is a Photoglob reproduction, No 3319 of 'Edition Photoglob SA, 8045 Zurich'. This has the following printed (in French) on the reverse. It is a letter from Baron de Coubertin to the artist. "Dear Mr Pellegrini. The King gave me on Monday at the distribution of the prizes the gold medal which is intended as laureat of the painting competition. I'll bring it back to you on my return if you like. Very friendly congratulations and sincerely yours. Pierre de Coubertin, International Olympic Committee V Stockholm 1912, Saltijobaden (Sweden) 7/20/12."  (Thanks to Google for the translation.)

I have two other Pellegrini images in my postcard collection. His images were used on promotional postcards for the Palazzo del Ghiaccio, an ice centre in Milan.

The reverse of the card. The rink opened in December 1923, see here, which suggests that Pellegrini was still working around this time.

Here's another card from the same series which shows curling - a backswing during a crampet delivery. There's no evidence that curling was ever played in the Milan rink. Others in the same series of cards show different sports. 

The search for more information on Pellegrini's three friezes showing winter sports goes on. I think we are close to being able to conclude that the sport of curling featured on one of them. I look forward to being able to say definitively that a painting of the sport of curling won an Olympic gold medal at Stockholm in 1912, twelve years before the sport itself featured in the first 'Winter Olympics' at Chamonix in 1924, see here. Updates will be posted here when more information comes to light.

Other than the images from the 2009 Christie's sale, which are from that company's website, all are from my own postcard collection, or as indicated. As noted above, the work of Richard Stanton has contributed greatly to my knowledge of Olympic Art Competitions. These were abolished after the London Games in 1948.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Curling stones and curling stone makers

Not all curling stones originate on Ailsa Craig. This was particularly true at the end of the nineteenth century when you could buy curling stones of a variety of types, as David Smith wrote in a blog article, see here. Back then, if you wanted to curl, you had to purchase a pair of stones for your own use on outside ice. There was a variety of stone types to chose from, such as Burnock Water, Crawfordjohn, Carsphairn, Crieff Serpentine, Tinkernhill and of course three types of Ailsas (Red Hone, Blue Hone, and Common). Where exactly had the different types of stone come from, and who had made the raw material into curling stones?

Just before lockdown, I attended an auction viewing, at McTear's Auctioneers in Glasgow, where the contents of Partick Curling Club's house in Victoria Park were to go on sale (above). It was fascinating to look at the many stones, and to try to identify them. A few days later I followed the auction online, and I believe the sale went off successfully. It was sad in a way that such a sale had to take place, but hopefully all the lots went to good new homes with collectors and curling enthusiasts. One such is Graeme Adam, my old skip, who has an unrivalled collection of stones of different types.

Back in March, Graeme involved Lindsay Scotland, mastermind of the Historical Curling Places site, to begin thinking of a map with which might show where the various curling stone types originated, and also where these materials were turned into curling stones.

This map has now gone online. Above is a screenshot of just part of the map. The full map shows 'places' as far north as Inverness, and as far south as Trefor in Wales, and is here.

The map currently has fourteen ‘makers’ and nine ‘quarries’. It works in the same fashion as the existing maps on the Historical Curling Places site. Zoom in, click on a place, and click through for more detailed information.

I was happy to assist with the project in a small way. Harold Forrester, expert 'pondhunter', has also helped. I had already written about the source of 'Crawfordjohn' curling stones, here, and 'Carsphairns', here.

As the project developed, it soon became clear that research would lead us into the very disparate areas of geography, geology, industrial archaeology, and social history. I'll mention here just three examples of new information which has come to light.

The first concerns the origins of Kays in Mauchline, the company that still makes curling stones today. The original company of T and A Kay was begun by two brothers, Thomas Kay and Andrew Kay, around 1876. Andrew, the younger brother, married Catherine Kirk at Ochiltree in 1877, and, according to the census in 1881, the couple were living at the Haugh, with three daughters (age 3, 2 and 8 months). In that year Andrew was described as a curling stone manufacturer with thirty employees.
Andrew Kay died on June 23, 1887, at just 32 years old.
In his book 'Curling: an illustrated history', David Smith suggests that Andrew Kay's widow 'evicted' her brother-in-law. I've never been happy with this. The opposite may have been true, and she had to fight to keep her share of the business.
There was legal action, and the business of T and A Kay went to auction, the details of which can be found in the Ayr Advertiser in 1888. Thomas Kay won the auction, and thus took the business name. He did not get the premises at Haugh because these were rented from Sir Claud Alexander. Catherine was able to keep hold of these. She then developed a successful company under a new name, Andrew Kay and Company. Thomas Kay also continued to make curling stones and moved into Mauchline. The two companies were rivals for some years thereafter.

Catherine Kay had more than her fair share of grief in her life. At the beginning of 1887, she and Andrew now had four children, and she was pregnant again. At 11.55 pm on June 18 and at 30 minutes past midnight on June 19, 1887, she gave birth to twins, Andrew and Thomas - no doubt named after her husband and his brother.

Four days later, on June 23, 1887, her husband Andrew died, age just 32. Then on July 20 and 22 both the twins died. It must have been a heartbreaking time for Catherine. But she was a strong enough woman to fight for her livelihood, and become the owner of a successful business. There's much much more to be written about her life, but that will be for another time. I'm still looking for a photograph of this remarkable woman who deserves to be better known. Look at the linked page on the map to read of the history of the Andrew Kay Company through the twentieth century.

One mention in an old newspaper shows that Catherine Kay obtained the rights to a quarry on the Sorn estate. After a bit of research, I found this to be a quarry on Tin Corn Hill (which is still operational today). At some point, when communication was mostly verbal, the name of the stone was garbled as 'Tinkernhill' and it is by this name that stones from this quarry became known to curlers of the time.

The Scottish Curling Stone Company began life in the 1960s in Polmadie in Glasgow. I was excited to find the image above showing the inside of the factory. This was the front cover of the North American Curling News of November, 1966. The Polmadie area has long since been redeveloped, and I do not know exactly where these premises were. I'm wondering if they were in part of the old locomotive works? The company was to move to Inverness later in the decade. The image is a rare one indeed, and captures a moment in time in the sport's history. The stone being used was from Ailsa Craig, to which the company had the rights at the time.

Finally, the name 'Keanie' turns up often in any study of curling stone makers. The new map has four 'Keanie' entries. I had been intrigued a couple of years ago, when visiting the National Library of Scotland at the Kelvin Hall, to find a relatively recent photograph of a Keanie Company based in Bellshill, Glasgow. When looking for information on this company, I came across a similar image and an article in The Sphere newspaper from October 1954. It shows curling stones being packed into barrels to be shipped to Canada. What sort of stone were these made from? The image caption reads, 'Curling stones earn dollars for Britain', so it is clear that most of the stones were to be exported to North America.

The penny dropped when looking at the website of the Canada Curling Stone Company, in Ontario. The company today makes new stones using Welsh Trefor, and refurbishes old stones. On their page titled 'granite types' see here, there is a description of 'Keanie' stone, below.

I recognised this material immediately as I had visited the quarries at Furnace on Loch Fyne a year ago. From this article I knew that Furnace had supplied curling stone blanks, as well as granite setts for roads, in the 1950s. It was clear that 'Keanie' stone was from Furnace, and so the curling stones exported in 1954 by the Keanie Company in Bellshill were made from stone from the side of Loch Fyne. I have a wonderful image in my mind of the stone blanks being transported from the quarry by puffer! Since then the quarry at Furnace has been opened up again and is part of the Breedon Group, see here. But the days of that quarry supplying curling stone material are long past.

The curling stone and curling stone makers project is very much a work in progress. To quote David Smith from 2008, "I personally couldn’t recognise a Blantyre, whether black or silver grey, and although I know where Muthill and Earnock are, I have no idea what a stone bearing the name of these places looks like. As for Giells, is this a place or a person?" Yes, there's still much more to be discovered. 

Lindsay Scotland says, "We would welcome any more information that is out there, whether that would be new places, and corrections to, or expansion of, what we currently have documented." 

Thanks, as always, to the British Newspaper Archive. The image of 'Keanie' stone is from the Canada Curling Stone website. The other images are from my own archive, or are as indicated.