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Historical Introductions

James N. Carder

The early letters that Royall Tyler wrote to Mildred Barnes before her marriage to Robert Woods Bliss in 1908 provide a remarkable portrait of a young intellectual struggling to find a meaningful life in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. They also offer testament to his developing, deep friendship—if not love—for Mildred Barnes. Royall Tyler engaged Mildred Barnes’s mind with accounts of his intellectual pursuits—often with the aim of provoking her reaction—and this engagement, perhaps more than any other aspect of their early correspondence, proved to be an enduring quality of their lifelong friendship.

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James N. Carder

The correspondence of the period 1909–1919 coincides with Robert Woods Bliss’s foreign postings in Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Paris. It also covers the entirety of World War I. The correspondence from this period is relatively meager due, in part, to the war and to the close proximity of Royall Tyler and his wife, Elisina, to the Blisses, all of whom lived in Paris. During the decade covered by this correspondence, Royall Tyler grew significantly as an art connoisseur and scholar, and his letters document how thoroughly he imparted to the Blisses his passion for art and how he advised them as collectors.

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Noah J. Delwiche

The Bliss Papers reveal no preserved communications from Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss or Mildred Barnes Bliss between 1917, when Tyler joined the armed forces as an intelligence officer, and 1921. Little has been published about Tyler’s military career. By presenting recently catalogued military documents and correspondence between Royall Tyler and his superiors in light of the context surrounding early American military intelligence, this essay utilizes unpublished primary sources to examine Tyler’s service.

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James N. Carder

The correspondence of 1920–1927 coincides with Robert Woods Bliss and Royall Tyler entering the mature phases of their respective careers. Throughout this period, the Blisses and the Tylers also matured as collectors and connoisseurs. In collaboration with Hayford Peirce, Tyler began to publish studies on Byzantine art, and he continued to educate and advise the Blisses on art from a wide spectrum of cultures—e.g., Egyptian, Chinese, Scythian, Sasanian, and Islamic. The Blisses, for their part, continued to be avid collectors of this art, and for the first time, with Tyler’s expertise and encouragement, they began to acquire significant Byzantine art objects, establishing the foundation of what would become one of their core collections.

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Robert S. Nelson

Many of the letters from 1928 to 1933 are particularly long, detailed, and expressive of their authors’ enthusiasms for their careers, travels, and art collecting activities. During this period, the Blisses remained largely in Argentina and the Tylers in France and Hungary. The letters reveal the Blisses’ burgeoning interests in collecting Byzantine art and Royall Tyler’s involvement in art exhibitions in London and Paris. Outside of the art world, the Great Depression and rise of Nazism in Germany emerge as key moments in the lives of the correspondents.

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James N. Carder

During the period 1934–1940, the Blisses worked persistently to transform Dumbarton Oaks into a center for research in Byzantine studies, thus increasing their art collecting at a staggering pace. In 1935, Robert Woods Bliss realized a long-held desire to visit Pre-Columbian sites and excavations in Central America. The Tylers remained steadfast supporters of the Blisses’ ambitions and advised not only on the acquisition of museum-quality artworks but also on the program and purpose of their embryonic research institute. The prospect of world war, however, became increasingly ominous, and was a major factor in the Blisses’ accelerated pace in building their research center and in its transfer to Harvard University in 1940.

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James N. Carder

The first half of the decade coincides with the Second World War, which understandably altered the lives of the Blisses and the Tylers. Royall and Elisina Tyler spent most of the war in Geneva. After a prolonged stay at Casa Dorinda in Montecito, California, the Blisses returned to a new house in Washington, where they remained for most of the war. All four friends took on war-related causes, with the Blisses also helping to involve Dumbarton Oaks in the war effort. Because the war had greatly diminished the availability of artworks for sale in Europe, Royall Tyler was able to find and recommend only a limited number during and immediately after the war years. The Blisses increasingly turned to dealers in America as they also began to refocus their collecting interests: Robert Woods Bliss in acquiring Pre-Columbian artworks and Mildred Barnes Bliss in building a garden library of rare botanical and garden design books. The increased interest in these two collections would eventually change the scope of Dumbarton Oaks.

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James N. Carder

In the fifty-nine letters from this brief period, Royall Tyler makes no recommendations of artworks to acquire. Indeed, by 1950, the Blisses mostly left the selection and acquisition of Byzantine objects to Dumbarton Oaks Director John S. Thacher and the Trustees for Harvard University, and turned to other interests: Robert Woods Bliss to his Pre-Columbian art collection and Mildred Barnes Bliss to her rare landscape architecture book and print collection. Tyler, for his part, was otherwise occupied with setting up the Free Europe College, in Strasbourg, where he served as president until his death on February 3, 1953. The correspondence of this period, which ends with Elisina Tyler’s letter of May 15, 1953, makes no mention of his terminal illness, which would provoke his suicide. Indeed, neither the Blisses’ knowledge of this illness nor their reaction to his death are to be found in these letters or any other known source.

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