KEVORKIAN, HAGOP

KEVORKIAN, HAGOP (b. Kayseri, central Anatolia, ca. 1872; d. Paris, 10 February 1962); Armenian collector, dealer, and “taste maker” specializing in the arts of the pre-Islamic and Islamic Near East (PLATE I). He was an influential figure during the formative period of connoisseurship in these fields in the first half of the twentieth century. Although he was deeply involved in collecting over a long period of time, the available information about his personal life and professional career is fragmentary and remains dispersed.

Very little is known and published concerning Kevorkian’s life, especially his early years. He was probably born between 1872 and 1880 in Kayseri (Qayṣariya) in central Anatolia, a town with a sizable Armenian community at the time. He may have attended Robert College in Istanbul, which was the first American sponsored college founded outside the United States. Hagop Kevorkian adopted a daughter, Marjorie Kevorkian.

Kevorkian was one of a group of art dealers of Armenian descent who established themselves in Europe around the turn of the century and later in America, introducing objects from Turkey, Iran, and Syria to the art market (Jenkins-Madina, pp.72-76; Vernoit 2000, p. 31), and which included such other noted dealers as Kirkor Minassian (ca.1874-1944) and Dikran Garabed Kelekian (1868-1951), both from the same locality. A brother, Carnig Kevorkian, opened a business selling art in Paris in the 1900s. His Galerie Kevorkian has operated from the same location in Paris since 1923 and is managed by his grand daughter Corinne Kevorkian. For the early years, Hagop and Carnig may have been working together and it is not always clear to which brother early references to “Kevorkian” indicate.

Hagop Kevorkian probably also started a business dealing in art in London around the 1900s. Beginning in 1910, he took a series of trips to New York to exhibit his collection, finally settling there. Over his lifetime he traveled frequently between New York, Europe, and the Middle East and was “…reputed to have had a network of relatives spread over the Near East and Levant, through whose agency many fine objects reached him in New York” (Robinson, 2000, p. 154).

Kevorkian worked with private clients as well as museums in their acquisition of objects while also forming his own substantial collection. Archival material relating to Kevorkian such as business letters, loan agreements, and acquisition papers scattered in museum archives as well as numerous auction catalogues of his collections during his lifetime and after would help to reconstruct Kevorkian’s influence on collecting in the first half of the twentieth century. This preliminary research is particularly necessary in his case as Kevorkian appears to have been intensely private and guarded his personal and business affairs with the result that much that is written about him is anecdotal; for example, he has been described as “powerful and mysterious” (Grabar, p. 194).

Kevorkian’s presentation of his self-image is also important in this context, especially in newspaper articles about his activities published in the early twentieth century. He described himself as an archaeologist as early as 1911 (and later also as explorer and excavator) highlighting his involvement in work at two sites in Iran, Solṭānābād and Ray, both of which produced Islamic period material (Kevorkian, 1911, p. 183; Eberlein, p. 223). Even at this early stage in the field of Islamic archeology, such statements should be questioned and qualified. It would be more accurate to say that he was one of a number of individuals involved in commercial excavations at sites producing large quantities of antiquities, which would then appear on the art market. Some of these sites would later be scientifically excavated (Rante, pp. 1-3); and as Stephen Vernoit points out with reference to Kevorkian and the above-mentioned sites, “a detrimental consequence of commercial digging was that it obscured the origins of items and encouraged the use of vague terminology” (Vernoit, 2017, p. 1185). However this identification persists and even in more recent literature he is described as an archaeologist directing excavations (Olbrantz, p. 43; Riedel, p. 293).

Kevorkian became a member of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (London) in 1902, a member of the American Oriental Society in 1927, and a member of the Explorers Club (New York) around 1935. Although it is unclear to what extent he participated in the activities of these societies, his associations with them undoubtedly was part of the creation of his self-image.

Kevorkian assembled an outstanding collection of art over many decades. According to a report prepared in 1952, he began collecting at the end of the 19th century, “…first at Cesaria in Cappadocia, then in Constantinople” (Baltrušaitis, p. 1). Prominent in material categorized as Islamic and Persian (both pre-Islamic and Islamic), it included objects as diverse as ceramics, miniature paintings, bronzes, carpets, and tile panels as well as Egyptian, Classical, and Indian antiquities (Baltrušaitis; Robinson). Beginning in 1911, he frequently exhibited these works in galleries such as the Persian Art Gallery (London), which he most likely owned, Folsom Galleries (New York), Galleries of Charles of London (New York), Anderson Galleries (New York), and Kevorkian Galleries at 40 West 57th street in New York. He contributed objects to major exhibitions of Islamic and Persian art such as the “The Exhibition of Masterpieces of Muhammedan Art,” Munich, 1910; The International Exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House, London, 1931; The Exhibition of Persian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1931; and The Exhibition of Persian Art at the Iranian Institute in New York, 1940. Kevorkian established particularly close relationships with museums, sometimes displaying objects on loan. He both sold and gifted a great number of objects to many museums, among them the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Detroit Institute of Arts; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Seattle Art Museum. A few of the most notable acquisitions include an important collection of Assyrian reliefs at the Brooklyn Museum; the “Damascus Room” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Varāmin mehrāb at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu. Hagop Kevorkian’s name and legacy have survived through the work of The Hagop Kevorkian Fund, a foundation intended to promote interest in Near and Middle Eastern arts. Created ten years before his death (it was granted charitable status in 1952), Kevorkian transferred ownership of his collection to the foundation during his lifetime. The foundation became an important supporter for Middle Eastern studies especially in New York City, establishing the Kevorkian Chair of Iranian Studies at Columbia University and the Hagop Kevorkian Center of Near Eastern Studies at New York University, among other activities. It has been an important source of support at The Metropolitan Museum where it has funded fellowships, employees, publications, acquisitions, and installations. The Kevorkian Fund has also supported publications, endowed positions, and exhibitions at other universities and museums including the University of Pennsylvania and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After his death the Kevorkian Collection was sold at auctions over the years to raise funds for the foundation.

Bibliography:

Jurgis Baltrušaitis, A Preliminary Report of the Kevorkian Collections, New York, 1952.

M. S. Dimand, The Kevorkian Foundation Collection of Rare and Magnificent Oriental Carpets: Special Loan Exhibition: A Guide and Catalog, New York, 1966.

Harold Donaldson Eberlein, “Persian Art Re-Discovered: Being an Account of the Excavations Conducted at Raghes in Persia,” Arts and Decoration (1910-1918) 4, no. 6, 1914, pp. 223–26.

Oleg Grabar, “The Implications of Collecting Islamic Art,” in Stephen Vernoit, ed., Discovering Islamic Art: Scholars, Collectors and Collections, 1850-1950, London, 2000, pp.194–200.

Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, “Collecting the ‘Orient’ at the Met: Early Tastemakers in America,” Ars Orientalis 30, 2000, pp. 69–89.

Yuka Kadoi, “Introduction,” in Yuka Kadoi, ed., Arthur Upham Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art, Leiden and Boston, 2016, pp. 3–12.

H. Kevorkian, “The Recently Discovered Persian Ceramics,” The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors 30, August 1911, pp. 183–87.

Jens Kröger, “The 1910 Exhibition ‘Meisterwerke Muhammedanischer Kunst’: Its Protagonists and Its Consequences for the Display of Islamic Art in Berlin,” in Andrea Lermer and Avinoam Shalem, eds., After One Hundred Years: The 1910 Exhibition “Meisterwerke Muhammedanischer Kunst” Reconsidered, Leiden, 2010, pp. 65–116.

Judith A. Lerner, “Arthur Upham Pope and the Sasanians,” in Yuka Kadoi, ed., Arthur Upham Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art, Leiden and Boston, 2016, pp 169–232. 

Rudolf Meyer-Riefstahl, “Die Ausstellung Muhammedanischer Kunst in München,” Kunst Und Handwerk 61, 1910/1911, pp. 8–27.

John Olbrantz, “Civilizations in the Sand: Archaeologists, Collectors, and the American Discovery of the Ancient Near East,” in John Olbrantz and Trudy S. Kawami, eds., Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections, Seattle, 2013, pp. 16-57.

Rocco Rante, Rayy: From Its Origins to the Mongol Invasion: An Archaeological and Historiographical Study, Arts and Archaeology of the Islamic World 4, Leiden, 2015.

Dagmar A. Riedel, “Manuscripts, Printed Books, and Near Eastern Studies in North America: The Manuscripts in Arabic Script of the Columbia University Libraries,” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 6, 2015, pp. 280-310.

Kishwar Rizvi, “Art History and the Nation: Arthur Upham Pope and the Discourse on ‘Persian Art’ in the Early Twentieth Century,” Muqarnas 24, 2007, pp. 45–65.

B. W. Robinson, The Kevorkian Collection: Islamic and Indian Illustrated Manuscripts, Miniature Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1953.

Idem, “The Burlington House Exhibition of 1931: A Milestone in Islamic Art History,” in Stephen Vernoit, ed., Discovering Islamic Art: Scholars, Collectors and Collections, 1850-1950, London, 2000, pp. 147–55.

Marianna Shreve Simpson, “‘A Gallant Era’: Henry Walters, Islamic Art, and the Kelekian Connection,” The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 59, 2001, pp. 103–14.

Eva-Maria Troelenberg, Eine Ausstellung Wird Besichtigt: Die Münchner “Ausstellung von Meisterwerken Muhammedanischer Kunst” 1910 in Kultur- Und Wissenschaftsgeschichtlicher Perspektive, Frankfurt am Main, 2011.

Stephen Vernoit, “Islamic Art and Architecture: An Overview of Scholarship and Collecting, c.1850-c.1950,” in idem, ed., Discovering Islamic Art: Scholars, Collectors and Collections, 1850-1950, London, 2000, pp. 1–61.

Idem, “Islamic Art in the West: Categories of Collecting,” in Finbarr Barry Flood and Gülru Necipoǧlu, A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, Hoboken, 2017, pp. 1172-95.

Catalogues of exhibitions (in chronological order).

Persian Art Gallery, Catalogue of Persian and Indian Miniatures, Drawings, and Illuminated Mss. [i.e. Manuscripts] of the 15th, 16th, And 17th Centuries: Exhibited at the Persian Art Gallery, London, February 10th to 25th, 1911, London, 1911.

Persian Art Gallery, Catalogue of the Kevorkian Collection of Persian Ceramics, from the Caliphate Epoch (A.D. 700) to the 17th Century: Exhibited at the Persian Art Gallery, London, 15th June to 28th July, 1911, London, 1911.

Persian Art Galleries and Barbazanges Gallery, eds., Catalogue d’exposition d’art Musulman, de 3 Novembre Au 3 Décembre 1911, Galeries Henry Barbazanges, Paris, Paris, 1911.

Folsom Galleries, Catalogue of Mohammedan Art, Comprising a Collection of Early Objects Excavated under the Supervision of H. Kevorkian: Exhibited from January 17th to February 10th, 1912, Inclusive, at the Folsom Galleries, 396 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, 1912.

Charles of London, Exhibition of the Kevorkian Collection Including Objects Excavated under His Supervision: Exhibited at the Galleries of Charles of London, 715 Fifth Ave, N.Y., New York, 1914.

Kevorkian Galleries, Sculpture, Painting and Drawings of Ancient India, New York, 1918.

Anderson Galleries, Art from the Orient: A Selection from the Collections of H. Kevorkian, New York, 1922.

Anderson Galleries, Greek Vases, Roman Glass, Important Ceramics from Recent Excavations in Persia and Mesopotamia, Oriental Rugs and Fabrics, The Collection of the Well-Known Connoisseur and Traveler, H. Kevorkian of Paris, London and 40 West 57th Street New York, New York, 1925.

Anderson Galleries, Special Exhibition: The Arts of Persia and Other Countries of Islam: H. Kevorkian Collection: April Twenty Second to May Fifteenth: the Anderson Galleries, New York, 1926.

Anderson Galleries, The H. Kevorkian Collection. Part Two, New York, 1926. Anderson Galleries, The H. Kevorkian Collection of Near and Far Eastern Art, New York, 1927.

Anderson Galleries, The H. Kevorkian Collection of Oriental Art. Part Two, New York, 1927. American Art Association, The Kevorkian Collection, New York, 1928.

(Yelena Rakic)

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