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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, July 24, 1929

The Bath Club,
34, Dover Street, W.1.

Dearest Mildred, I forgot, the other day, to tell you about the capital.Capital with the Sacrifice of Isaac, Romanesque, ca. 1150, limestone, Île-de-France, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. A.6-1968.

I saw it one day at Christies [sic]:Godfrey Brauer sale, Christie's, London, July 5, 1929, lot 245; described as “Italian 15th century.” a very beautiful French Romanesque capital, which I took to be Ile-de-France mid-XIIe, with Balaam on his ass on one side and the sacrifice of Abraham on the other. As it was catalogued: ‘Capital carved with lions (the ram provided for Abraham’s sacrifice) and festoons, Italian XV’, I thought it might go cheap.

Being noble, I told Eric about it. He saw and wanted it. We drew lots for the right to go for it, and I won.

On the day of the sale, I was very busy and couldn’t leave the city. Elisina was in London, and I asked her to go and bid for it up to £350. She had never bid at a sale before.

When she arrived at the sale, she saw two or three French dealers bunched up in a corner. Presently Brummer (N.Y.) joined them, and afterwards came over to Elisina, and asked her whether she was interested in anything, so that he mightn’t bid against her. She mentioned the capital, and he said ‘Oh, don’t buy that. We think it’s wrong.’

Elisina rushed to the telephone and tried to get me, but I was at the Bank of England. She did get Eric, and told him the difficulty. Eric said, naturally, that he couldn’t advise her.

Elisina, left to her own devices, reflected that she had been asked not to nose round and find out what the dealers were saying about the capital, but to bid for it up to £350, so she went back to the sale room.

The capital started off very lamely, and Elisina thought she was going to get it for a few pounds—doubtless because of the dealers’ suspicions of it. However, it went up, slowly, and she got it for £195, plus charges, making £204 in all.

The next day I took it to the S. Kensington, and Eric, BedfordRichard Perry Bedford (1883–1967), a British sculptor and keeper of architecture and sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (in charge of the sculpture there) and I examined it thoroughly, with the result that the S. Ken. wanted to buy it from me, and I refused to sell, but consented to lend it.The sculpture (no. A.6-1968) remained on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum until 1968, when William Royall Tyler gave it to the museum “in memory of the friendship between his father Royall Tyler and Sir Eric Maclagan, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

A few days later, Eric went to Paris, and told Marcel AubertMarcel Aubert (1884–1962), a French art historian and assistant curator in the department of medieval, Renaissance, and modern sculpture at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. (of the Louvre) about the capital. M. A. immediately recognized, from Eric’s description, a capital which he had known some years ago, loose, in the church of Deuil, near St. Denis. He added: ‘les animaux l’ont sans doute vendu.’“Those animals have no doubt sold it.” This is particularly interesting because I felt sure, from its style, that the capital was Ile-de-France.

The question arises about Brummer:

(a) did he really think (on examination) it was wrong;
(b) did he try to bluff Elisina out of buying it; or
(c) did the other dealers successfully bluff him out of examining it (it was very awkwardly placed at Christies) and did he sincerely want to put Elisina on her guard?

On the whole, I think (c) more likely. Elisina showed spirit of decision, didn’t she? I’ve just been looking over the Luttrell Psalter and the Bedford Hours, which are to be sold at Sothebys on the 29th.Sotheby’s, London, July 29, 1929, lots 10 (withdrawn) and 11. See Catalogue of the Luttrell Psalter and the Bedford Horae . . . (London, Sotheby & Co., 1929). The Luttrell Psalter (British Library, Add MS 42130), an English illuminated psalter of ca. 1325–1335, and the Bedford Hours (British Library, Add MS 42131), a book of hours produced for the wedding of John, Duke of Bedford, to Anne of Burgundy on May 13, 1423. The American financier and collector John Pierpont Morgan, believing that these manuscripts should not leave England, helped the British Museum (of which the library was then part) acquire the psalter privately for £32,476 ($157,500) and purchased the book of hours at auction for £33,000 ($165,000). He lent both manuscripts to the museum for a year on the condition that it could acquire them for $157,500 and $165,000, respectively. The Luttrell Psalter has a large handwritten label pasted on the inside verso of the modern leather binding that reads: “This great monument of fourteenth century England was saved for the British Nation by the generosity of an American citizen, John Pierpont Morgan, who advanced the entire purchase money, thirty thousand guineas, lending it to the Trustees of the British Museum without interest for one year.” See “Foreign News: Luttrell Psalter,” Time, August 12, 1929.

Much love
R. T.

Associated Places: London (United Kingdom)