the scrapbook that never was. A priceless glimpse

Of course my interest was initially in the Victorian Americans who seemed to keep popping up on this one Internet site, just as the blog reveals, but the "scrapbook," whose ever it was, was much more International in scope; American artists, writers, women suffragists, Confederate spies... The collection was a direct reflection of the interests and values of the scrapbooker.  I believe the photos were the results of perhaps two significant projects, later amalgamated, by Olivia Clemens and Mary Cassatt
 
 This photo suggests that Mary Cassatt and Olivia Clemens at least knew one another. I think they collaborated to create an illustrated publication about the American-French art scene. The photos in this blog are the remnants of that vision.

Perhaps Olivia's idea was to document the roles of prominent American women on the world scene. I think Cassatt had access to Degas's personal photographic works, and saw potential in them to tell the human story behind the French art scene, which was dominated by important women.

By the time the tintypes hit the Internet, they had been removed from their original scrapbook, or books, if there ever were any, and that would be expected for several reasons. Mark Twain was at one time involved in a publishing scheme to produce his idea of an improved scrapbook.  It might be this collection had been assembled by him or family members to be the ultimate marketing sample... but ultimately fell flat as the publishing scheme capitulated.

Time would have deteriorated most Victorian scrapbooks unless extreme care was taken. The scrapbooker who assembled these photos would have been a world traveler, and keeping the photos in a compact space would have been essential... the folks in this social circle would have been fairly nomadic, and right-brained, and well, may never have gotten around to actually making a scrapbook.

As Cassatt used her access in France to gather all the necessary subjects, Olivia Clemens, wife of one of the most famous and idolized men in the world,  did likewise in the U. S..  Degas, a close personal friend of Cassatt's, was a photographer, and could easily have taken many of the photos of the artists, art patrons and models in France. Whoever it was followed the various art families way beyond the period of a casual journalist, documenting a decade or more of their lives. Sadly, Olivia died before her part could be completed, and the project fell on fallow ground. 

Still, the tintypes speak for themselves... 












Thayer was a personal friend of the Clemens, and may well have been the liaison between Olivia and the American artists.  



Teacher and student- there are few other professions where the roles are so mutually life-changing.


What a precious young couple! If she only knew what she was in for!


Of Quaker stock, Joseph Pennell might easily figured in as the one who could transform these tintypes into etchings that could be feasibly reproduced. I don't think it ever happened.

Whistler, Thayer and Weir were all mutual acquaintances of Cassatt and the Clemens, almost creating an artisitic network of possible participants in this collection...  


The thoroughness and magnitude of this collection tells me it was a serious project, and the acquisition of illustrations was almost completed. The problem was, with the death of Olivia Clemens, who would finish it? None in her family had the inclination or the time... or probably the discipline.  Twain's secretary/girl Friday Isabel Lyon might have picked up the torch... taken the contents home to work on in her spare time... which she had a lot of once she was fired. 

Her dismissal might have been the killing blow... as communication and good-will dissolved. Right before she was sued, Clara Clemens accused her of taking liberties with stored personal items in her mother's trunks... But jewelry was the main concern. Out of disgust and resentment, might they all have forgotten about this forsaken art project?

Mrs Lyon was a beautiful, ambitious, presumptuous manipulator. And a heavy drinker. I am being kind, as Mark Twain called her much worse. She swallowed up Olivia's world wholesale, and did everything she could to isolate Sam Clemens from his family. She eventually proved to be borderline delusional and absolutely ruthless. To be sure this whole scenario has happened only in my head, but when this tintype popped up for sale... I immediately  recognized Olivia Clemens... and imagined how such a lovely thing might have been so  maliciously defaced.


Surely the Clemens daughters would never have done such a thing... although Lyon perceived Jean, the youngest as hateful and dangerous. The animosity between Lyon and Jean was jealousy and distrust... over Mark Twain and his legacy. And somebody, at least in a moment of anger,  once wanted to erase Olivia's. Hopefully this blog will perpetuate it instead.

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