Saturday, January 16, 2016

One Night In Bangkok: Cadwallader Washburn and the King of Siam

This distinguished-looking gentleman is the noted painter-etcher Cadwallader Lincoln Washburn (1866-1965).  Washburn was born into a prominent Republican family in American politics: his father William was a Senator and Congressman for Minnesota; his uncle Elihu was an Illinois Congressman, Secretary of State under President Grant, and the U.S. Minister to France; his uncle Israel was a Maine Congressman and Governor; his uncle Cadwallader was a Wisconsin Congressman and Governor, a Major General during the Civil War, and a founder of what would eventually become General Mills; and his uncle Charles was the U.S. Minister to Paraguay.  Washburn likely would have also pursued a career in public service but for the fact that he became deaf at age five as a result of contracting scarlet fever and spinal meningitis.

 
Cadwallader Washburn (c. October 1910)
(photograph)

Washburn graduated from Gallaudet College in 1890 with a Bachelors of Arts degree, and then obtained a degree in architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He went on to study painting at the Art Students League in New York City with Henry Mowbray and took private lessons with William Merritt Chase.  Washburn subsequently studied in Madrid with Joaquin Sorolla y Bistida and in Paris with Albert Besnard.  He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon from 1896 to 1904, and at the Paris Exhibition in 1915.  In 1904-1905 Washburn and his brother Stanley were war correspondents during the Russo-Japanese War for the Chicago Daily News, and in 1910-1912  he reported on the early years of the Mexican Revolution.  Washburn took up etching in 1903, and exhibited 50 prints at the landmark Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, where he won a gold medal for his work.  However, due to the strain that etching was causing on his eyes, Washburn all but abandoned etching by the 1930s and thereafter concentrated almost exclusively on painting.  Known as “The Silent Artist,” Washburn would later state that his “deafness may sometimes be an inconvenience but never a handicap.”  After his death, Gallaudet University dedicated its industrial arts building as the Washburn Art Center in his honor.

Corridor Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn 
Personal Collection
(etching)

I was aware that Washburn had done a Japanese series of etchings early on in his career (a post for another day) but it was not until I found the above etching did I learn that he had also done a series of etchings based on a subsequent trip to Siam during the winter of 1917-1918.  The subject of this etching, the Wat Phra Kaew, is a sprawling Buddhist temple complex in Bangkok that houses the statute of the Emerald Buddha, a sacred object that provides protection for the kingdom.  Today, the Wat Phra Kaew is Bangkok’s biggest tourist attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists and nationalists.  The former residence of the King, the Grand Palace, adjoins the temple.  Most of the buildings of the Grand Palace, however, are off-limits to the public.  In one of Washburn's letters, he describes his subject thusly: "It is the view of the exterior of the Wat that carries an Emerald Buddha.  It is magnificent beyond words!  The whole exterior in gold leaf, the iridescence changes all the time as the sun scales its way across the meridian chameleon-like.  It reminds me of a butterfly as it shivers in brilliant sunlight.  O! if I can only succeed in interpreting the elusive effect, on copper-plate!"  In a subsequent letter he called it "the finest plate in my life."

Close-up detail of Corridor Wat Pha Kaew, Bangkok (c. 1918)

The Vose Galleries in Boston held an exhibition of Washburn’s Siamese etchings in November 1918, but I haven’t been able to find an exhibition catalog (or to determine if one was even prepared) to provide authoritative information on print titles, medium, and sizes.  (There is not, at present, any catalog raisonné of Washburn’s 975 prints.)  Whether the King of Siam ever received any copies is unknown, but etchings from Washburn’s Siamese series appear to be uncommonly scarce, in part because only a small number appear ever to have been printed.

Bangkok, Siam  (1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
(possibly a study for the "Gilded Door, Bangkok" etching)
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(drawing)

Since I work in Washington, D.C. not far from Gallaudet University, I decided to visit their library archives, which houses several boxes of manuscripts and other papers by and about Cadwallader Washburn, to see if I could learn more about his trip to Siam. That material provided the source of the quoted material found in this post.  It also turns out that Washburn himself published an article on Siamese Architecture in The American Magazine of Art, Volume 10, No. 5 (March 1919), which is the source of some of the black and white illustrations of etchings I couldn't find elsewhere.  

Other papers and letters revealed that his trip to Siam had not been planned.  Washburn had left in October 1917 for Japan, intending to go on to Vladivostock from Hiroshima and continue onto St. Petersburg.  By the time he had arrived in Japan, however, Vladivostock had fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks.  A fellow passenger on his boat who had lived in Siam for twenty-two years suggested that he travel to Siam instead where he would be warmly received.  Washburn proceeded to Siam by way of Hong Kong (where he had two white linen suits made since he had not packed for the tropics), Canton (where he bought brown and old gold buff paper), and Singapore on a rat-infested "filthy steamer swarming with coolies and smelly goods."  He had originally planed to travel by rail and pack-pony from Bangkok to Chieng Mai, but recent flooding caused him to postpone that trip.  (While there are indications that Washburn was planning to go on to Chieng Mai at a later date, I have not found any actual evidence that he did, although the existence of his "Jungle Canal" etching does suggest he may briefly have ventured into the countryside and there is an implication in an unpublished biographical manuscript that he might have witnesses an elephant census at the ancient capital Ayuther.)

 
Bangkok, Siam (1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(drawing)

 Arriving in Bangkok in mid-November, Washburn took quarters at the Imperial Hotel in Bangkok where, in his own words he "[m]ade interesting series of plates of temples and natives" and "[k]ept a pair of parroquets" that he let fly around his room.  After an almost comical series of delays and false starts, with the assistance of the Chargé d'Affairs of the U.S. Legation Washburn was granted permission to sketch and paint on the Royal Palace grounds, although it took several more weeks to obtain the proper permits to enter certain select wats.  Washburn was "crazy over" the wats, which he found to be "extraordinary, unique and subtle."  The decoration of their doors and windows was "magnificent and beyond description."  In various letters he wrote that he "mean[t] to do the best work of my life here!" and subsequently wrote "[m]y new work, I think is going to be the most important in my life, at least I am straining every 'muscle and nerve' towards that realization."  Despite producing two dozen etchings, Washburn recounted that he lost eight plates due to issues with his acid when working in the unseasonably cool Bangkok weather.  Washburn's etchings are not dated; while some were clearly begun in 1917, it is not clear that any were successfully printed before the end of that year.  After nearly four months in Bangkok, he left on March 1, 1918 for New York (although there is also some suggestion that he might have caught an earlier boat in February).

According to one unsubstantiated reference in the Gallaudet Library Archives, Washburn was the first artist permitted by the King of Siam to work in the royal precincts of the sacred Wats, usually accompanied by the Royal Princes who were Oxford graduates and appreciative of Washburn’s skill with the needle.  As it turns out, the sticker that was on the back of the frame for my copy of “Corridor Wat Phra Kaew - Bangkok” says it was “[o]ne of the [first?] impressions” that were “executed by Special Commission for The King of Siam.”

 

However, I am beginning to believe that both claims were somewhat exaggerated.  Given Washburn's difficulty in obtaining the proper entry permits, he may well have been the first artist to gain admittance to certain special wats, but the very fact that a permit procedure existed suggests there were others before him in other areas.  Nor did Washburn ever recount the fact that he was the first to be accorded such an honor in any of his letters back home.  In particular, Washburn never once mentioned having met the King or any member of the Royal Family on his trip (though he was in the habit of mentioning the names of anyone interesting he did meet in his travels), let alone mention that the King had commissioned or received copies of any of his prints.  The closest he gets is a formal invitation by the King to visit the Sacred Temple of Wat Rambosphit, but he was escorted around that wat by the King's Royal Guard.  Either Tolerton confused the King's permission for Washburn to execute etchings with a formal royal commission to make them or else he was engaging in outright puffery to promote the sales of Washburn's work.

Among the Washburn papers at Gallaudet is a typed page listing certain information about 24 Siamese etchings (although the information therein is not entirely consistent with information found on the de Young Museum’s website or inscriptions found on known copies).  There is no indication who authored the list, whether it was by some Washburn print collector who consulted with Washburn or by Washburn himself (in which case it appears that some of the listed titles are Washburn's shorthand titles and not necessarily his official titles.)  The collector could have been Dr. Thomas Sprinkle, an engineering professor at CSUN, whose collection of Washburn material was given to the Gallaudet University Archives via Dr. I. King Jordan in 1996.  I’ve reproduced the substance of that list below, with further annotations of my own.  I have no idea what “Prints Listed” is to intended to represent.  It could mean the number of copies found in museum collections, but that is just a guess.

01 A Canal in Bangkok  [Marketing on Canal], 4-3/16” x 5-3/4” [10.9 cm x 14.3 cm], 3 prints listed; de Young has a copy.

Marketing on Canal (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(etching)

Note: There is a reference to "one proof" for this design in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."

02 Entrance to Wat Rambosphit - 1st State - only impression, 7-7/16” x 5-11/16” [6” x 4 ½”], 1 print listed; de Young has a copy.

03 A Mendicant, 4-5/16” x 4-3/16”, 4 prints listed, 4 prints pulled, printed on brown paper from Canton.

04 A Leper, 5-11/16” x 4½”, 4 prints listed, 5 prints pulled.

Note:  There is an anonymous typewritten summary about Washburn's trip to Siam that says "only on portrait was attempted during this period.  By the roadside Cadwallader passed daily a particular forelorn old man sitting apart and following the passerby with wistful, hungry eyes.  Through a bit of encouragement and kindness on the Artist’s part, a drypoint portrait was begun, but the likeness brought dismay and protest when seen by local friends, for the poor old model was none other than the town leper!”  There are, however, additional etchings of a "mendicant," an "outcast," and a "prachadee," so this clearly was not Washburn's only figure study at this time.

05 Entrance to a Crumbling Temple, 7-7/16” x 5-11/16”, 1 print listed, 5 prints pulled.


Entrance to a Crumbling Temple (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
(etching)

Note:  In Washburn's 1919 article on Siamese Architecture, the caption for this print reads: "Entrance to a crumbling temple in the grounds of Wat Poh."

06 Gilded Door of Wat Rajambosphit, 11-3/8”  x 5-3/4”, 1 print listed.  [But see #10, which suggests this is an inadvertent duplicate entry.] 

07 Prachadee, 7-1/8” x 5-1/16”, 2 prints listed.

08 A View on the Grounds of Wat Phra Keo, 7½” x 5-11/16”, 2 prints listed.

09 Gilded Temple Door, 4-7/16” x 5-11/16”, 4 prints listed.

10 Gilded Door of Wat Rajambosphit (before cutting plate), 11-3/8” x 5-3/4”, 4 prints listed.

11 Gilded Door of Wat Rajambosphit [Gilded Door, Bangkok] (after cutting plate), 9” x 5-3/4”, 4 prints pulled; Gallaudet has a copy.

Gilded Door, Bangkok (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Print
Courtesy of Gallaudet University Archives
(etching)

Note: This image is regrettably partially cropped.   There is a reference to "four proofs" for "Rajamabosphit" (which could be this design or any one of a number of Siamese etchings) in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."

Washburn recounted in a letter that "[t]he entrance doors to the bote, are very ponderous, one foot thick made of solid teak; and difficult to open; naturally as the temple is not open to the public so the hinges are stiff.  These double doors are wonderfully ornate on the side facing the court, carved and heavily gilded.  I should judge that they measure about twenty feet high and ten feet wide.  Ten feet away they appear very impressive and in perfect keeping with the importance of the 'bote.'"

12 An Outcast, 7-3/8” x 5-11/16”, 3 prints listed, 6 prints pulled.

13 Group of Bronzes [Bronze Lion, Bangkok], 7-7/16” x 5-3/4” [18.9 cm x 14.7 cm], 4 prints listed; de Young has a copy.

 Bronze Lion, Bankok (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(etching)
Note: There is a reference to "three proofs" for a "Stone Lion (litho)" in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."  It is possible that the de Young Museum's description is in error, or else the "Stone Lion" is a different piece than the "Bronze Lion."  It is also possible that "Group of Bronzes" relates to an entirely different etching from the "Bronze Lion."

14 Entrance to Wat Rambosphit (finished state), 7-7/16” x 5-11/16”, 4 prints listed.

15 Gilded Buddha, 7-7/16” x 5-11/16”, 4 prints listed, printed on brown paper.

Note: In one of Washburn's letters, he mentions a print of a gold Buddha (which could be #22 below instead) where the two pillars on the left are taller than the pillars on the right so that there are two roofs that are tapered into one.  A "Gold Buddha" was also exhibited at the Print Makers Society of California's First International Print Makers Exhibition, March 1-31, 1920.

16 Demon on Guard of Entrance [aka Demon on Guard, Bangkok; Sculptured Figure on Guard at the rear of the Temple Phra-Keo, Bangkok, Siam], 5-5/16” x 7-3/8” [18.7 cm x 14.5 cm; 18.8 cm x 14.4 cm], 2 prints listed, 12 prints pulled; de Young has 2 copies;also owned by the New York Public Library printed in brown ink; exhibited at the Print Makers Society of California's First International Print Makers Exhibition, March 1-31, 1920.

Demon on Guard, Bankok (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(etching)

Note:  In Washburn's 1919 article on Siamese Architecture, the caption for this print reads: "A sculptured god on guard at the rear of the Wat Phra Keo."  The New York Public Library has an inscription (supposedly not in Washburn's hand) that says "First impression of last state; pulled in Bangkok, Siam using press bought in Paris in 1903 when I took up etching for the first time.  I think the tone of the paper suggests color of old faded ivory."

17 A Fragment of Wat Phrakeo, 7-3/8” x 5-11/16”, 3 prints listed, 3 prints pulled.

 A Fragment of Wat Phrakeo (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
(etching)


18 Carved Teakwood Window Wat Benchamsbophit [A Temple Window], 10-11/16” x 7½” [27.1 cm x 19.1 cm], 4 prints listed, 6 prints pulled; de Young has copy.

A Temple Window (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Musuem
(etching)

Note: There is a reference to "four proofs" for this design in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."

19 Jungle Canal, 7½”  x 5-11/16”, 1 print listed; only proof.

20 Mother Elephant - Wat Phra Keo [Mother Elephant, Bangkok], 7½” x 5-3/4” [18.9 cm x 14.5 cm], 4 prints listed, 11 prints pulled; de Young has a copy.

Mother Elephant, Bangkok (c. 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(etching)

Note: There is a reference to "four proofs" for this design in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."

21 Bronze Elephants [Twin Elephants, Bangkok], 7-3/8” x 5-11/16”, 1 print listed.

Twin Elephants, Bangkok (c1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of Schwenke Auctioneers
(etching)

Note:  In Washburn's 1919 article on Siamese Architecture, the caption for this print reads: "Erected in memory of sacred elephants in the grounds of Wat Phra Keo."

22 Buddha in Niche, 5-11/16” x 4-3/16”, 4 prints listed.

 In one of Washburn's letters, he describes working inside the main temple of the Wat Rayobospit "all alone without a guard about, with all the jewelled objects of great value scattered about; the immense gilded Buddha [which could also be #15 above] seated on his lotus flower of great beauty, carved artistically as it is - Buddha appears quite awe-stirring, and his size exaggerated as he sits in the darkened recess.  The walls on all sides are painted with queer figures and landscape taken from scenes in Buddha's life.  The great pilasters supporting the roof are likewise covered with figures etc."  He enclosed this drawing which likely foreshadows the resulting etching:

Buddha Sketch (c. January 5, 1918) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of Gallaudet University Archives
(ink drawing)

23 Corridor Wat Phra Keo [Corridor Wat Pha Kaew, Bangkok], 14-1/8” x 8-1/8” [image size], 10 prints pulled.

[See image above.]

Note: There is a reference to "seven proofs" for this design in the Gallaudet Library Archives on a "recently discovered" list sent "years ago" to J Nilsen Laurvik, who wrote a monograph on Washburn, that "shows the editions of most plates."  In Washburn's 1919 article on Siamese Architecture, the caption for this print reads: "Wat Phra Keo.  A temple endowed and dedicated by the royalty.  Here gold leaf is lavishly used.  Doors are ornamented with intricate designs worked in gold upon a black background, or with scenes in the life of Buddha worked in mother-of-pearl upon a foundation of shiny black lacquer."  This was the largest plate that Washburn worked on up until this point in time.

24 Altar of Wat Rajamsbosphit 

* * *

If a reader has additional images from this series to share, please let me know.

Self-Portrait No. 2 (c. 1930s) by Cadwallader Washburn
Courtesy of the de Young Museum
(etching)

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