Sunday, January 19, 2014

Birth of Dikran Khan Kelekian - January 19, 1868

The Assyrian reliefs of Genii and King Assurnasirpal, as well as the winged bull and lion from the ninth-century B.C. Palace of Assurnasirpal, which are today at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, were originally acquired in 1932 by John D. Rockefeller. The seller was a notable collector and dealer of Islamic art, Dikran Kelekian, who by that time was working together with his son, Charles (1900-1982). The representation of the head of Tutankhamun, seen in the museum's collection and on the cover of the catalogue of the Egyptian Wing, was acquired from the Kelekians in the late 1940s.

Dikran Kelekian was born in Caesarea (Kayseri) to a family originally from Persia. He was the son of an Armenian banker. He studied ancient Near Eastern history at Robert College (now Bogazici University) in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and continued his education in Paris. He set himself up, with his brother Kevork, in the antiquities business in Constantinople at the age of 24 and soon acquired a reputation as a knowledgeable collector and dealer specializing in Islamic art, particularly pottery. He came to the United States in 1893 as a commissioner for the Persian Pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair. He soon established shops in New York (Le Musée de Bosphore), Paris, London, and Cairo, where he and his brother flourished as vendors, selling works of art and antiquities.

In 1902 the Shah of Persia elevated Kelekian to the title of khan and appointed him to serve as the Persian consul in New York. His gallery became the headquarters of the consulate. He served as a member of the jury for the Paris World’s Fair of 1900, and was the general commissar of the Persian Empire at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition de Saint Louis, also known as St. Louis World’s Fair (1904), mounting a large display of his wares, accompanied with an illustrated catalogue. He eventually became an American citizen. His collections were featured in a number of international exhibitions in Paris, Munich, London, and New York over the decades. He is the author of Potteries of Persia, Being a Brief History of the Arts of Ceramics in the Near East (1909).

Kelekian was a member of the Central Board of Directors of the Armenian General Benevolent Union and in 1909 he funded an AGBU orphanage bearing his name in Deort Yol (Cilicia) for Armenian refugees fleeing the Adana massacres.

Regarded as the “dean of antiquities” in the United States, he acted as an adviser to great American collectors, including Henry Walters, George Blumenthal, and Louisine and Henry Havemeyer. Art critic Roger Fry described him as having an "omnivorous acquisitiveness." In his book The Kelekian Collection of Persian and Analogous Potteries, 1885-1910 (1910), he stated his aesthetic views. For him, Persian art was a precursor of avant-garde art, which he defended with passion. Along with Coptic, Paleo-Christian, or Persian art, his gallery promoted the works of Matisse, Rouault, Derain, and Picasso in the United States.

Kelekian’s Cairo gallery served as a base for purchasing Egyptian antiquities, including Late Antique, commonly referred to as Coptic, textiles. In 1943 Milton Avery painted Kelekian in his gallery, posed before a Coptic textile. The “School of Paris” rendered homage to him with an exhibition of twenty-one portraits at the Gallery Durand Ruel (1944).

At age 83, Kelekian died in January 1951, when he fell from the twenty-first floor of the St. Moritz hotel in New York. His son first took the succession, and then the business was maintained by his granddaughter Nanette until 1990. Sometime in the early twentieth century, Kelekian had assembled an album of approximately one thousand textile fragments, which she donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2002.