A reference book says that there is a Thomas Derrick in Brooklyn.
In 2003 I rang up the Brooklyn Museum of Art to find out what. It seemed an unlikely place for his work.
It did acquire one of his paintings, in 1923. The work was The Judgment of Paris, an oil, though one might have guessed tempera, and I suppose on canvas; and with this information they sent an image and a letter dated 31 March which TD had sent to the gallery.
Replying to your letter dated Feb. 20th bearing on the presentation to your Gallery by Mr Lewisohn, of my picture – the “Judgment of Paris”. […] The “Judgment of Paris” was painted in the final competition for the Prix de Rome, 1914.
The Prix de Rome?
This had to mean Louis XIV’s prize allowing French students to study at the French Academy in Rome. Really? Weren’t the Prix de Rome competitions held under strict conditions at the Academy in Paris? Wouldn’t we have heard an anecdote or two about this visit, which would have been early in 1914? And wasn’t the prize exclusively for French students? A French government website says:
To compete in the annual Prix de Rome Contests in Painting, artists had to present a letter of support from a well-known art teacher, be of French nationality, male, single, under 30, and pass the admission exams for the school. This greatly narrowed the field of eligible contestants.
TD was under 30, but married and not French. But Wikipedia says:
For 300 years, the French Grand Prix de Rome in History Painting was the highest honour that an artist from anywhere in the world could achieve.
… Though The Judgment of Paris will have been classed as mythology, not history. The American Academy in Rome had its own prizes, but TD says Prix de Rome, not Rome Prize. The British School?
TD’s picture is decorative, but doesn’t look to me like prize material. But had TD won the Prix de Rome, he would have gone, presumably with Meg, to study in Rome, and JMD might have been born there. We might have had a very different Thomas Derrick.
In the spring of the same year GC exhibited his first real nude, Primavera, at the Royal Academy. Did father-in-law and son-in-law talk to each other about the two works?
What happened to TD’s picture between 1914 and 1923 isn’t clear, but in the latter year it was presented to Brooklyn by the businessman-philanthropist Adolph Lewisohn.
In the letter TD gives a few facts about himself.
I was born in Bristol (England) in 1885: & received my first artistic training at the Municipal School of Art in that City. Passing to the above College [he is writing from the Royal College of Art] by means of a “Royal Exhibition” scholarship; I studied there for 5 years: returning to it in 1923 as instructor in Decorative Painting. I have been – Mulready Gold Medallist, & National Silver Medallist.
“Canadians Crossing the Rhine” was painted in 1920 for the Canadian War Records (Ottawa.) (The work is still in England)
We’ll look later at what those statements mean.
After the second world war The Judgment of Paris must have seemed pretty dated, part of a phase of twentieth-century art that needed sifting. The Brooklyn Museum, unsurprisingly, de-accessioned it in 1947, selling it to “Tobias, Fischer & Co.”.
Sequel. Earlier this year, I did a search for TD on eBay. I found a small colour print of The Judgment of Paris in a blue art deco frame and bought it. The seller was in Liverpool. Who would have made this print? I haven’t taken it out of its frame. Pictures for Prix de Rome finals were large: I am checking the size of the original.
Here is TD’s letter. And here are the black and white photograph of the picture in the Brooklyn archives and the colour image of it from eBay.