The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

I love visiting museums on holiday, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco this summer. The Museum has an excellent collection of ancient art, particularly from the Mediterranean area, including some fascinating objects from ancient Cyprus. Louise Chu, the Associate Curator of Ancient Art and Interpretation, very kindly showed me round the collection, including a visit to the Museum’s storeroom – it’s always a treat to see behind the scenes!

The California Palace of the Legion of Honor – to give its full title – opened in 1924, and was founded by the philanthropists Adolph and Alma Spreckels as a museum of fine arts and a memorial to the Californian soldiers fallen in the First World War. The building is modelled on the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, and is beautifully situated overlooking the Pacific Ocean, though rather foggy on the day of my visit.

Legion of Honor s

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The ancient Cypriot objects on display are in the Ancient Art gallery, and include several pieces that were given to Alma Spreckels by the Queen of Greece in the 1920s, including this Late Cypriot bull askos.

Bull askos s

Bull askos © Legion of Honor

Also on display is a Cypro-Archaic Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration, the gift of Dr Morris Herzstein. This bears a close resemblance to the amphora from Thomas Hollings’ collection on display in the Leeds City Museum, said to be from Amathus. The two are not identical – the shapes are different, especially the foot, and the decorative schemes vary – but it’s tempting to trace some family resemblance.

Amphora s

Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration © Legion of Honor


Bichrome amphora from the collection of Thomas Hollings © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Down in the store, I very much enjoyed seeing more of the collection, including a delicate Black on Red juglet with an almost lustrous burnished surface – a technique which reduces the porosity of the clay, and therefore slows down evaporation of the juglet’s contents, possibly expensive perfumed oil.

BoR juglet s

Black on Red juglet © Legion of Honor

The highlight was this Red Polished zoomorphic jug, with incised decoration picked out in white, with a long spout, raised loop handle and a perky little tail. It seems to me somewhere between a duck and a pig, with its short legs and full-bellied shape. Unlike some fantastical ancient Cypriot vessels, this would have been quite sturdy and practical for holding and pouring liquids, as it stands firmly on its four splayed legs.

Red Painted jug s

Red Polished askos © Legion of Honor

I had a wonderful time at the Legion of Honor, and am very grateful to Louise for arranging my visit. I hope to return some day!


Thomas Hollings’ collection of ancient ceramics


I’ve previously written about Thomas Hollings’ two Cypriot jugs which are attributed to Alexander Palma di Cesnola. Since then I’ve been doing some more digging in the records, and detective work on the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s become clear that Hollings owned more ancient ceramics than had previously been thought.

A total of 20 pieces of ancient pottery can now be attributed to Hollings. The location of two is unknown, but all the rest have been identified in the Leeds City Museum collection. They include simple Greek cups and bowls in glossy black slip, and Egyptian St Menas flasks, which can be seen on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery. From my perspective, the most interesting objects are those from ancient Cyprus. These include a globular jar with a small, sharply angled handle and a pierced lug on the opposite side, possibly for string. It’s made of coarse clay, with traces of incised decoration.

Globular jar

Globular jar
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a Black-on-Red two-handled flask with flaring rim and characteristic ridged neck, perhaps representing a seam on metal prototypes. It has a small, shallow foot and is decorated with concentric circles. This vessel is in a Phoenician style, but probably manufactured on Cyprus. It dates from the Cypro-Geometric period (c.1050-750BC).

Black-on-Red flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Black-on-Red flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

My favourite piece is this Bichrome amphora from Amathus, of the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC). It’s decorated in rings of black and reddish-brown paint, with a stylised lotus flower decoration on the neck. Prior to its arrival at the Museum, it had been subject to some rather unconventional restoration – a metal candlestick holder had been used to support the internal structure when the base was repaired. This has now been removed!

Bichrome amphora © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bichrome amphora
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s also a White Painted jug, probably dating from the later end of the Middle Cypriot period (c. 1800-1650 BC). It has a high neck and cutaway spout, and a rounded base. It’s decorated with straight and wavy lines and cross-hatched panels, extending round the base of the jug, on a background of buff slip.

White Painted jug © Leeds Museums and Galleries

White Painted jug
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Born in 1860, Thomas Edward Hollings is best known for his extensive and important collection of English pottery, which came to the Leeds City Art Gallery by gift and bequest in 1946 and 1947. His business was woollen manufacturing, managing the firm established by his father, Isaac Hollings.

Isaac Hollings and Son

Isaac Hollings and Son

This occupation evidently allowed him sufficient leisure and resources to devote to his collection, some of which can still be seen at Temple Newsam. His primary interest was Leeds pottery, supplemented by Staffordshire ware. He bought extensively at sales in Yorkshire, Staffordshire and London, and may well have acquired his ancient pieces at auction. Alternatively, it could have been a collection previously assembled by someone else; a letter of 1946 offers to the Art Gallery ‘many specimens of old Roman Glass which formerly belonged to Samuel Margerison’, which presumably Hollings had bought as a set. As I’ve previously mentioned, Hollings kept detailed records of purchase dates and prices for his huge collection of English ceramics. It would be highly out of character for him not to have kept any notes on these ancient ceramics, and such notes are high on my ‘wish list’ of documents to come across; though no luck as yet!

One interesting side-issue is that in the accession register, all Hollings’ ancient ceramics are marked ‘from the Sandwith collection’. T.B. Sandwith is not known to have assembled such a far-reaching collection, and it seems highly unlikely that this disparate group of ceramics originated with him. That said, it is certainly the case that objects from his Cypriot collection which were displayed and sold at the Yorkshire Exhibition of 1875 went into circulation around Yorkshire, and some of these could well have been bought at second- or third-hand by Mr Hollings.

The Cypriot ceramics make a valuable contribution to the Leeds Museum collection, and it’s particularly interesting to have objects linked to the notorious Cesnola brothers. We are lucky that Mr Hollings chose to collect them, and to pass them on. A newspaper cutting kept among his papers, annotated ‘1928’, states that

‘Dr. J.W.L. Glaisher… [left] his collection of china and pottery to the Fitzwilliam Museum together with £10,000 to be applied for any building which may be necessary for the housing and exhibition of the collection.’

Could it have been Dr Glaisher’s generosity that inspired Mr Hollings to gift his own collection to the Leeds Art Gallery?

Finding the links: Mr T. E. Hollings and A. P. di Cesnola

One of my priorities in working with the Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum is to reconstruct the history of the ceramics – both their original area of manufacture and use, and their relatively recent excavation and subsequent changes of hands. While they are interesting and beautiful in themselves, it does add to their value as a source of information if we know something of where they came from, and who collected them.

This is often unrecoverable, as the information was never recorded or has been lost somewhere along the way.  Excavations in the late 19th century were not carried out according to modern archaeological standards, to put it mildly, and there was less interest in the question of provenance than we have today. I was therefore the more surprised and pleased to find that two of the jugs in the Leeds City Museum collection came complete with tiny scrolls of paper inside, giving vital clues to their provenance – in the best tradition of the children’s adventure novel.

Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries


Label accompanying Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The jugs in question, of White Painted ware, are very similar to each other. They have a duck-like appearance, created by the ‘eye’ on either side of the rim and the trefoil lip which resembles a beak, and this is enhanced by the tail below the handle at the back. They are humorous and charming, and it’s easy to see their appeal to a collector.

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Cypriot oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The jugs most recently belonged to Mr T.E. Hollings of Calverley, Yorkshire, whose large collection of ceramics came to the Leeds Art Gallery in 1946-7. Mr Hollings managed the family business of woolen manufacture, and was also an important collector of early English ceramics, in particular Leeds ware. Most of his collection is now held by Temple Newsam House. His large collection included only a handful of pieces from antiquity, so it’s interesting that these jugs in particular caught his eye.

The paper slips, while not in the best condition, clearly link the jugs to the collections of the Cesnola brothers. The name of Cesnola is well known, not to say notorious, in connection with Cypriot antiquities, principally due to the activities of Luigi Palma di Cesnola. He was both American and Russian Consul in Cyprus from 1865, and was relentless in his acquisition of antiquities. Scholars describe his activities with a greater or lesser degree of circumspection, but it’s pretty clear that during his eleven years on Cyprus he systematically looted vast numbers of tombs with scant regard for record-keeping, even resorting to falsification to magnify the impact of his finds. He later became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, where a significant portion of his collection still remains.

Alexander Palma di Cesnola, though not approaching the fervour of his brother, was also a keen collector. He undertook excavations mainly at Salamis from 1876 to 1879, sponsored by his father-in-law Edwin Lawrence, and amassed a considerable haul of antiquities. The Lawrence-Cesnola collection was sold at Sotheby’s between 1883 and 1892.

Catalogue of Cesnola sale at Sotheby's, 15 May 1884

Catalogue of Cesnola sale at Sotheby’s, 15 May 1884

The sales catalogues describe the pottery in general terms, too vague to identify which lot these jugs belonged to. However, A.P. di Cesnola also published part of his collection in a lavishly illustrated album.

Cesnola album cover

A.P. di Cesnola album

This shows that jugs of this style were certainly included (see the fifth from the left on the bottom row).

Lawrence-Cesnola album

Indeed, similar jugs are known to have been bought from the Cesnola sales by the eminent Victorian collector Lt.-General Pitt Rivers.

Unfortunately, there is a missing link between Mr Hollings and the Lawrence-Cesnola sales (assuming both jugs came from this collection). The dates show that Mr Hollings could not have purchased them at the sales himself, since he began collecting around 1910; so he must have obtained them at second hand. I had high hopes that he would have recorded details of the purchase, as he kept meticulous records of his English ceramics, which greatly adds to the value of his collection. Sadly, if this information ever existed for his small collection of ancient pottery, it is now lost, as it does not appear in his extensive surviving ledgers. The excellent website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford explores Lt.-General Pitt Rivers’ purchases from the Cesnola sales in detail, even listing every successful bidder at the sales. However, there is no name on the list which can currently be linked to Leeds or Mr Hollings.

Therefore, although these jugs are attested to have passed through A.P. di Cesnola’s hands, we don’t (yet?) know their whole modern history.  The trail which started so promisingly has run cold for now; but there is always the possibility of a further clue down the line.