Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, January 10, 1938

Finance Ministry


10th January 1938.

Dear Robert,

I have just received notice of a remittance from you to Morgan Grenfell,Morgan, Grenfell & Co., an investment bank in London. In 1904, Edward Grenfell was made a partner in the firm, which was formerly known as J. P. Morgan & Co. and which, in 1909, became Morgan, Grenfell and Company. The bank played an important role in the reconstruction of European countries in the 1920s. for my account, of £600. Many thanks.

I forgot to say in my last letter that I have heard from Fiedler, and also in conversation from Volbach, that the Prince L.Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia. Madonna reliefBZ.1938.62. is expected very shortly to be released from the museumThe Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now Bode Museum, Berlin. where it has been lent for some time past.The sculpture apparently had been sold in a forced sale ordered by Emperor Wilhelm II. Friedrich Leopold’s mother, Luise Sofie von Schleswig-Holstein (1866–1952), writes in her autobiography, Behind the Scenes at the Prussian Court (London: John Murray, 1939), 248 and 253: “At a forced sale of a part of my son’s collection—even though it was wartime—higher prices were obtained than those originally paid . . . Later, we traced with the utmost difficulty a priceless carved Madonna; Bode, the curator of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, had his eye upon it; but we finally managed to buy it back.” “Over the law case my poor son had some intensely disagreeable interviews. One was with the curator Bode who joined the fray because, as I have already said, he coveted some of the beautiful things my son possessed—particularly the carved Madonna. I heard later from Lubszynski that my son withstood Bode’s attacks very calmly and with great dignity, so much so that his antagonist finally returned looking very small and defeated.” Fiedler expects to have it before long at his place. Both Fiedler and Volbach say that the family are anxious to sell, but they add that a very high price is expected: more than was paid for the round Emperor.BZ.1937.23. They add that they believe the family has already had an offer, and that it would be necessary to act quickly in order to secure the object.

When Fiedler has got the object at his place, I shall try to find an opportunity to go and see it. Judging by the photographs, it is extremely attractive: lovely in fact. There is a sweetness about it which makes me wonder whether it may not be Venetian rather than Byzantine, but the whole question of the origin of the sculpture of more or less Byzantine character that has been preserved in Venice is still open. It is rendered all the more mysterious by the fact that so very little Byzantine sculpture has been preserved in Constantinople itself. Anyway, subject to such impressions as I might get on seeing the object itself, I regard it as a piece of sculpture of quite outstanding merit and beauty, and one that would represent a great acquisition for the Oaks.

All the same, after much pondering over the question, I don’t feel like advising you to make the kind of offer for it which Fiedler and Volbach seem to have in mind. They of course would like you to make sure of it, and I don’t question their fear lest you may lose it. However, I would not put it past the family to exaggerate the urgency for a decision or the size of any other offers they may have received.

On the whole, I think I would take a chance, and not show any interest as long as so high a price is being talked about. This attitude may help to make Fiedler all the more anxious to get on with the negociations where the ivories are concerned.

Volbach told me the other day that he suspected the Brummer had got wind of the MadonnaBZ.1938.62. and was trying to buy it. This may be true or it may not. Perhaps the family is anxious to give that impression. I rather gather, from the fact that you have not mentioned the Madonna, that you yourself don’t want to attempt to push the matter to a conclusion at present. I am only writing this in order that you may be informed of everything I hear on the subject, and not at all because I think you ought to try to act now.

The other disquieting thing that keeps recurring to my mind is the terrific price which HirschJacob Hirsch (1874–1955), a German-Swiss numismatist, archaeologist, and antiquities dealer. gave for that Byzantine ringBZ.1947.15. in London. If that price is taken as a standard, then the MadonnaBZ.1938.62. might easily be worth, even to a dealer, more than what you paid for the round Emperor.BZ.1937.23. However, risks of losing a fine thing have to be taken now and then, and I think this is an occasion where they ought to be taken.


R. T.

Associated Artworks: BZ.1937.23; BZ.1938.62; BZ.1947.15