A History of Ottoman Art History through the Private Database of Edwin Binney, 3rd

By Overton, Keelan | Journal of Art Historiography, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A History of Ottoman Art History through the Private Database of Edwin Binney, 3rd


Overton, Keelan, Journal of Art Historiography


'The possibility of Turkish miniatures was too much'.1

'It appeared in Paris that no one was very interested in the most rare Turkish things. I was! And, having paid less than I expected for the major things I wanted, I "settled in" to buy most of the Turkish lots'.2

'After the Vente Pozzi, I was breathless over Turkish stuff... and was already beginning to consider the possibility of writing a Turkish catalog of my own things'.3

These passionate, humorous, and transparently honest statements were drawn from the personal cataloguing system of one of the United States' greatest art collectors of the mid-twentieth century, Edwin Binney, 3rd (1925-86) (figure 1). Within art- historical circles, Binney is best known for amassing 'one of the largest and most important concentrations of South Asian painting outside of India'.4 Exhibition catalogues published by the San Diego Museum of Art - to which Binney bequeathed over 1,450 examples of South Asian painting in 1986 - have solidified his reputation as America's leading and most influential collector of Indian painting.

Less well known than this publicly lauded collection of Indian painting is Binney's collection of Ottoman art and his participation in the burgeoning field of Ottoman art history, particularly on American soil. Before his death in 1986, Binney divided his 'Turkish' collection - including painting, decorative arts, and textiles dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries - between Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).6 Binney had been loyal to both institutions and coasts throughout his life. His interest in Islamic art blossomed at Harvard in the late 1950s; in the early 1970s, after settling part-time in San Diego, he played an instrumental role in securing the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck collection of Islamic art for LACMA.7

The most accessible and readily available windows into Binney's world of Turkish art history and collecting are his four self-authored exhibition catalogues on the subject (1973, 1974, 1979 and 1981), which accompanied exhibitions held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1973), LACMA (1974-75), the Honolulu Academy of Arts (1975), and the Portland Art Museum (1979).8 This significant public legacy devoted to 'Turkish treasures' is further complemented and clarified by Binney's private thoughts on Turkish art, which are recorded on the pages of three densely-packed, three-ring binders now preserved in the Art of the Middle East Department at LACMA.9 Each of the LACMA notebooks has a specific focus: 'Turkish objects and pre-classic miniatures', 'Turkish calligraphy and classic painting', and 'Turkish painting from the 17-20th centuries'.

Binney's notebooks, which I like to term his personal 'TMS' (The Museum System) database, thus framing them in comparison to the electronic systems used in museums today, are an invaluable resource for the field of Islamic art historiography, for they introduce the reader to the international world of Indo-Islamic art collecting c. 1958-84. Thanks to Binney's meticulous documentation, one meets all of the major players in the game: dealers Hassan Khan Monif (d. 1968), Adrienne Minassian (d. 1997), Joseph Soustiel (d. 1990) and his son Jean Soustiel (d. 1999); academics and curators Richard Ettinghausen (Freer Gallery of Art and later Metropolitan Museum of Art/Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; d. 1979), Glyn M. Meredith-Owens (British Museum and later University of Toronto), Ernst J. Grube (Metropolitan Museum of Art and later University of Venice; d. 2011), W.G. (Bill) Archer (Victoria and Albert Museum; d. 1979), and Walter Denny (University of Massachusetts); collectors Edmund de Unger (d. 2011), Alfred Chester Beatty (d. 1968), and Mark Zebrowski (d. 1999); and members of Harvard's Islamic art circle, including Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (d. 2003), Stuart Cary Welch (d. 2008), John Goelet, and Eric Schroeder (d. …

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