Published: October 30, 2006
Nearly 39 years ago, William I. Koch, an avid collector of everything from Renoir to Remington, walked into the Cape Cod antiques shop of Janice Hyland and Alan Granby and settled his large frame into an antique rocking chair.
“We had a particularly good painting by Antonio Jacobsen. Bill sat and studied the canvas for about 15 minutes. Then, to my surprise, he said he’d like to buy the chair,” Granby recalls with a smile. Not for sale, the chair stayed in the shop, but weeks later Koch bought a circa 1860 ship’s figurehead of Jenny Lind from Hyland-Granby Antiques.
It was the beginning a long partnership between the client and the dealers and the first of many indications that Koch, named to Art & Antiques’ 2006 list of America’s top 100 collectors, had a mind of his own. Early on advised by John Walsh and later by Ted Stebbins of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Koch more often followed his instincts as his tastes matured.
The Jenny Lind figurehead is one of dozens of objects illustrated in Maritime Maverick: The Collection of William I. Koch, a book edited and produced by Alan Granby and Janice Hyland with contributions from Bob Fisher, Patrick Robinson, R.L. Wilson and Ben Simons.
David Godine’s publication of Maritime Maverick earlier this year coincided with “Upon The Sea,” an exhibition of Koch’s maritime collection at the Society for The Four Arts in Palm Beach, Fla., where Koch lives much of the year and near where The Oxbow Group, the energy company he founded in 1983, is headquartered.
Hyland grew up sailing; her husband, collecting. When they met and married, the two former teachers merged their passions, first collecting, then dealing in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century nautical art and artifacts. Exhibitors at the Winter Antiques Show in New York City and the Philadelphia Antiques Show, among other fairs, Hyland and Granby today do business by appointment from their home in Hyannis Port.
Koch, who summers in nearby Osterville, Mass., is a dedicated sailor who won the America’s Cup yacht race in 1992. He grew up in Wichita, Kan., the son of the founder of Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, and earned his doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As Maritime Maverick relates, Koch’s first exposure to marine art was a family portrait of Captain James Lawrence (1781–1813), a War of 1812 naval hero related to his mother, Mary Robinson Koch. A portrait of Captain Lawrence hung in the front hall of the family’s Kansas home. It later became the cornerstone of Bill Koch’s diverse collection of Lawrence material, which ranges from paintings and swords to medals and documents. Lured into battle by the British ship Shannon, Lawrence died in 1813 at the helm of the American ship Chesapeake. His dying words, “Don’t Give Up The Ship!,” became a US Navy motto and made their way onto all kinds of objects, including John Bellamy’s carved and painted eagle plaques.
Hyland and Granby devote an entire chapter to the Lawrence material, calling it “one of the most remarkable collections of its type in the world.” Following a foreword by Patrick Robinson, a novelist and friend of the collector, and a profile of the collector by the dealers, the book moves onto chapters on fine art, maritime art, America’s Cup models and artifacts, nautical artifacts and furniture.
The fine art chapter features works by major artists not typically identified with marine themes, from Claude Monet to Raoul Dufy. Granby’s own favorite is “The Golden Rule” by Fitz Henry Lane. The luminous view of ships on a tranquil sea fetched a record $3,966,000 when Christie’s auctioned it in 2000.
Also remarkable, particularly when paired with “Three Boys in a Dory” by Winslow Homer, is the watercolor “Sailing The Catboat” by the same artist. Frederic Remington’s “Evening on A Canadian Lake” resembles one of Thomas Eakins’ iconic paintings of sculling on the Schuykill River. When Koch, who dedicates the book to his children, won the America’s Cup, Latin American artist Fernando Botero presented the collector with a portrait of young Wyatt Koch, holding a model of the winning boat. The painting is the best trophy a father could wish for.
“Nineteenth Century American marine painting drew on the great living traditions of American fine art that developed from European models, but quickly grew into recognizably indigenous American styles,” Granby and Simons write in a chapter devoted to maritime art.
James E. Buttersworth’s “Finishing The Ocean Race” epitomizes the artist’s yachting scenes, says Granby, who admires the picture for the atmospheric quality of its water and sky, its accuracy of detail in rendering the vessel and the significance of the transatlantic race depicted, instigated by a dinner bet at the New York Yacht Club in 1866. Another favorite is “Shipboard Celebration Before Departure,” John Alexander Gilfillan’s captivating depiction of dissolute revelry aboard a West Indianman.
Koch’s collection of America’s Cup models and artifacts is unsurpassed. As the last American to win the America’s Cup, Koch owns a complete model record of the 103 vessels that have raced in the event, originally the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Hundred Guinea Cup, initiated in Cowes England in 1851. The models are displayed in a purpose-built room in Koch’s Palm Beach home.
Nautical artifacts in the collection include navigational instruments, ship carvings, sailors’ valentines and woolies. One of the most striking artifacts is a circa 1790 boxwood and bone prisoner-of-war model fashioned as four miniature bone ships under a bone and boxwood canopy. Granby’s favorite ship’s figurehead is one that he sold Koch. The elegantly refined figure depicts a freestanding woman in flowing dress and dates to circa 1900.
A chapter on furniture features brass-bound chests and boxes along with unique ship’s furniture. One streamlined example is a teak daybed with a caned seat and storage drawers beneath. Made for Nicholas Brown of Providence, R.I., the daybed used on the ship Ann & Hope was deaccessioned by Winterthur.
Liberally interspersed throughout the book are color plates showing the collection as it is imaginatively installed in Koch’s residences in Massachusetts and Florida.
Hyland and Granby’s long acquaintance with their subject and Koch’s exacting standards have resulted in a book that is sumptuous, entertaining and knowledgeable. The volume benefits from the editorial contributions of Simons, curator of the Nantucket Historical Association.
The book’s glossy, full-color illustrations are top quality. As Granby explains, “Bill thinks of his paintings as windows to another world. He has a special technique for lighting works of art that seems to make picture frames disappear at night. We wanted to replicate the effect on the page.”
Maritime Maverick: The Collection of William I. Koch was edited and produced by Alan Granby and Janice Hyland, with text by Ben Simons, Bob Fisher, Patrick Robinson and R.L. Wilson. It was published by David R. Godine, Boston, in association with the Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Fla., 2006, and is priced at $150, hardcover. It is available from Hyland Granby Antiques, POB 457, Hyannis Port, MA 02647, 508-771-3070, or online at www.hylandgranby.com/publications.asp.
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