I received an interesting email from a reader of the Artsology Blog named Steve who sent this picture below and wrote: “I have this old (1918?) political picture of Woodrow Wilson and other international leaders. Looking to get more information on it.” While I have a background in art history, I have not seen anything like this before, but I was happy to do a little research and see what I could find out. Scroll down for more …
I first reached out to a friend from college who is a historian, who replied: “It’s a depiction of the formation of Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of World War I. You can see the map as well as a portrait of United States President Woodrow Wilson, who championed self-determination in Europe.” A close look shows the other portraits to include “M.R. Stefanik, Pres. T.G. Masaryk, and K. Kramar.”
A little research on them reveals that M.R. Stefanik is Milan Rastislav Stefanik, a Slovak politician, diplomat, aviator, Freemason, and astronomer. During World War I, he was a general in the French Army and took the role of 1st Minister of War for Czechoslovakia.
I learned that “K. Kramer” is Karel Kramar, who led the Czechoslovak National Committee in Prague, which declared independence on October 28, 1918, and later became the 1st Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia.
And the last portrait of “Pres. T.G. Masaryk” is that of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a Czechoslovak politician, statesman, sociologist and philosopher. He was instrumental in gaining independence for a Czechoslovak Republic as World War I ended in 1918 and became the 1st President of Czechoslovakia.
Okay, so now that we know who the subjects of the art work are, let’s get back to Steve, who sent this to me. He included the pictures below, and wrote:
“Here’s a picture of the backing. Pretty fancy, and the frame is very ornate with American flags on either side, and a crest at the top. As for the backstory, my grandparents on my father’s side are from Czechoslovakia. They were born in the 1800s, and came over to the United States on a boat (White Star Line). I need to dig a little deeper to recall exactly what year they came over. I’m thinking this piece may have come over with them in a trunk. They had it in their house in upstate New York.“
Here’s another detailed photo showing Woodrow Wilson and the carved detail from the top of the frame:
But there’s one more interesting twist … in my research, I found a dealer of Presidential Collectibles – Lori and Steve Ferber in Scottsdale, Arizona, who had a nearly identical piece on their website which was sold. At first I thought it had to be the exact same piece as Steve’s, but that didn’t make sense, based on what Steve told me. A closer inspection of the Ferber piece shows that the frame on the piece they had was more-worn, and slightly damaged, compared to what Steve has. This is the part that stumps me: that an editioned (?) or mass-produced print would have identical elaborate carved wooden frames? It leads me to think that Steve’s grandparents – or the collector whose piece was on the Ferber site – didn’t go out and get it framed like this, but rather that the production of the art work included the frame. So, it makes one wonder, how many other prints like this are out there, and – how many of them have the exact same frame?
If any readers out there recognize this, have one of your own, or simply have information to share, please do so in the comments section below.