“I’m glad you care to have a photograph”
Royall Cortissoz, photograph by Peter A. Juley & Son, New York, after a 1939 painting by Louis Betts.
James N. Carder (April 2014)
Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, the founders of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, were noted collectors. Little known, however, among their varied collections are 293 photographs of their friends and diplomatic acquaintances. These photographs are conserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives and include studio photographs, photogravures, and images made from paintings and drawings of the sitters. Among the photographers represented in this collection are Edward Weston (1886–1958), Pirie MacDonald (1867–1942), and Alice Boughton (1866–1943). Among the notable sitters are Henry James (1843–1916), King Gustaf V of Sweden (1858–1950), Ignacy Jan Paderewsky (1860–1941), and Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971).
Although the circumstances and dates of the Blisses’ acquisition of these photographs are typically unknown, occasionally there is documentation that provides the context. This is true of the photograph of Royal Cortissoz (1869–1948), the American art critic and art editor for the New York Herald Tribune (1891–1948). The photograph that he sent the Blisses was made from the artist Louis Betts’s painting of Cortissoz. This 1939 oil painting had been commissioned by the New York City Century Association, where Cortissoz was president between 1933 and 1944. The photograph’s mat board is inscribed: “To Mildred and Robert Bliss, with love from their ever devoted friend, Royal Cortissoz, January 1940.” In a letter to Mildred Bliss, dated January 5, 1940, Cortissoz wrote:
Carissimissima Mildredinella Mia, I’m glad you care to have a photograph of my portrait and am sending it to you by this mail. Everybody at the club seems to think well of it. I have a curious feeling as of one canonized when I see the thing set above the mantelpiece in the west room. Since you will give haven to the photograph, I gather that you think it is faithful. If it pleased you in the reproduction it may please you even more in the better version, and that makes me happy.
The Dumbarton Oaks Archives is presently processing and re-housing this collection. Digital scans will be made of each photograph.The following is a sampling of other photographs in this collection.