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Harold James Baily (1887–1964)

Harold James Baily was an American lawyer who collected the work of Edmund Blampied. He owned at least 40 watercolours, 20 oil paintings, many drawings in pastel, ink or pencil, some of which given to him by Blampied, and all of Blampied’s published prints, plus many rare, unpublished items.

Harold Baily first wrote to Edmund Blampied in April 1927, having seen some prints, and Blampied replied soon after he returned from almost 6 months spent sketching in France and Tunisia. This was the start of regular correspondence until Baily’s death in 1964. Baily kept Blampied's letters, including about 150 written between 1927 and 1940, which are now in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection of Hofstra University on Long Island in New York state. I transcribed the letters which have provided a little information about Blampied's life during this highly productive period, when he was at the peak of his skills as an artist.

Harold James Baily was born at St James Place, Brooklyn on September 23rd 1887. His father, George Washington Baily, had emigrated from the UK to the USA in 1871. Baily graduated from Brooklyn Public School No 44 in 1901. He completed his studies at the Boys’ High School and then entered Amherst College in Massachusetts. There he was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and was given the nickname ‘Bing’. He graduated in 1908.

Baily spent the academic year 1908-9 in the Department of Civil Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana but gave that up and transferred to Harvard University where he studied the law for three years, graduating in June 1912 aged 25 y.

Photograph of Blampied and Harold Baily in 1937

Harold Baily, left, with Edmund Blampied in 1937. (Click to enlarge)

Baily practiced law in New York City throughout his career, working from offices at 32 Liberty Street and then at 165 Broadway. During World War I he worked in Washington, D.C. for the Justice Department and during World War 2 as a government appeal agent.

On 6th January 1923, aged 35 years, he married Marguerite Halsted (1888-1985), daughter of William Moore Halsted and Mary Louisa Halsted of Hancock Street, Brooklyn. Marguerite was a graduate of Adelphi College and became a Deputy Principal in a secondary school in Brooklyn. They lived at 530 East Twenty-second Street in Brooklyn. Their only child, a son named Harold James Baily Junior, was born in December 1923 but died aged 6 years, on 24th February 1930.

Harold Baily knew the poets Robert Frost and Archibald MacLeish, and collected their poetry. In 1930 Baily sent Edmund Blampied a volume of Frost’s poems as a Christmas present. Baily collected the work of other artists, such as Jay Darling and Daniel B. Dowling, as well as American and British etchers, and collected signed photographs of Supreme Court Judges. Baily was a member of many organisations related to art, books and college fraternities, including the American College Society of Print Collectors, Print Collectors Club (London), Board of Trustees of Brooklyn Public Library, Executive Board of the American Library Association, General Secretary and Trustee of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and Onetime Chairman of the National Interfraternity Conference. He was a member of the clubs in New York of his three universities: Amherst, Purdue and Harvard.

Baily’s nephew, Frederick George Baily, told me a little about his Uncle Harold in email correspondence in 2009.

My family would visit Uncle Bing and Aunt Marguerite in Brooklyn once or twice or a year. Their house was stuffed with Blampied pictures and an incredible number of books, of which Uncle Bing was an inveterate collector - and Aunt Marguerite a long-suffering wife. My father, Uncle Bing's older brother, always felt that he was collecting to excess, as if to corner the Blampied market. Our impression was that the artist was so prolific with new works that the old ones did not appreciate enough for Uncle Bing to make much of a profit on his investment.

I too was a member of Beta Theta Pi [a fraternity] at Amherst, and was immediately given the assignment of shielding the membership from Uncle Bing. His reputation was not related to any meanness on his part, but to an overwhelming intellectualism and excessive interest in a person's activities. He undoubtedly would have been easier for the young if his only child, Harold Jr, had not died of an ear infection in 1930.

Harold Baily started to buy Blampied’s prints in around 1927 from dealers in New York, including two from the Schwartz Gallery for $48 each, equivalent to $700 each in terms of today's retail price index (RPI). This was at the end of the 'print boom' when editions of prints were sold to subscribers before they were published and prices on the secondary market were very high. Harold Baily tried to join the list of subscribers but was told by D.M. MacDonald of Alex. Reid & LeFèvre, Blampied's publishers, that Blampied's list was more than full up and (I) have various names on the list for a longer period than your own, so that I have no hope to hold out that you may get some odd ones in the future. MacDonald suggested that Baily should try the galleries of Keppel, Kennedy, Kraushaar, Harlow MacDonald and Ackermann, all major print dealers at that time in New York.

The direct contact with Blampied seems to have spurred Baily's appetite for his prints. The print dealer Keppel sent him a list of 18 prints by Blampied in March 1929, a few months before the Wall Street Crash, with prices ranging from $55 for 'Lunch hour' and $185 for 'Aperitif', so for between $800 and $2,750 in today's prices. On 5th March Baily bought two prints from Kennedy & Co. for $138; on 1st April four more prints for $204; and then on 3rd April he bought from Kraushaar Gallery three prints, including 'Aperitif' for $175. He was sent a letter the following day to say that the price for 'Aperitif' was 'special' because Keppel had sold a proof a few days earlier for $225. 'Aperitif' had been issued in London in 1927 at a price of 8 guineas (or about $53), which is equivalent to about £500 in today prices. Blampied would have retained about 50% of the price after paying for his printer and his publisher's commission, so made about £420 from each edition, which is about £24,000 in today's prices. It was a lucrative business.

The secondary market for prints, which were sold by dealers or at auction, was greatly inflated and the Wall Street Crash, which started in September 1929, brought it quite abruptly to an end. In 1930 Baily tried to sell back to the Schwartz Galleries at the same price some prints that he had bought from them, but they refused. I suspect that Baily was not very hard hit by the Crash as he was a lawyer, so there was a demand for his services. He was able to buy prints again in the early 1930s when he was offered Blampied's work by a dealer in Cleveland with a 33% discount. Baily sought Blampied's prints from dealers in Philadelphia and Atlantic City as well as buying from Alex. Reid & LeFèvre in London, who now had prints available. A lot of collectors on both sides of the Altalntic had to sell their art collections, often at a loss, and there were bargains to be had.

Baily wrote to people in search of pictures by Blampied. He was offered 'Stable Language', perhaps an oil painting, for $750, which is about $12,500 today. Lord Portsea told Baily that only three proofs of his portrait had been taken, then the plate was destroyed, so none were available to buy. Baily also wrote to the art critic Herbert Furst and to the etcher Malcolm Osborne, who had taught Blampied. Osborne replied: You speak of Edmund Blampied and I join with you in liking his plates – He has a warm impulsive style and a freshness of subject matter also. Was Baily perhaps seeking affirmation that he had chosen a good artist to collect, as well as trying to buy more prints?

Baily also started to buy watercolours, chosen for him by Blampied. Among the first was 'Dumping' (see left), which cost £75 ($475) or about £4,400 in today's prices. Then, every year until 1940 when the Germans occupied Jersey, and from liberation in 1945 until the end of the 1950s, Baily bought at least one watercolour a year directly from Blampied, which the artist chose specifically and often inscribed. Blampied chose paintings that he himself liked and which he thought would complement Baily's collection. Baily also bought other watercolors by Blampied which were shown in New York at the Schwartz Gallery, Kraushaar Gallery and later from Guy Mayer, who became Blampied’s agent in the USA. In the 1930s Blampied also sent Baily a signed proof of his new drypoints and lithographs and, when Baily asked to have a cancelled etching plate, Blampied sent him the copper for the print 'The vraic season' [AA;182; AH:E36.1]. Baily also bought several rare prints from Salomon van Abbé, Blampied's brother-in-law, who had preserved trial proofs which had been printed at Bolt Court when they were both learning the art of etching before 1914.

Image of painting

The watercolour 'Dumping' (1930), once owned by Harold Baily.

Harold and Marguerite Baily visited London in 1937 and spent time in Blampied's studio at Roland House in South Kensington. Baily bought 11 oil panels for £60 and five watercolours for between £18 and £30 each, probably with a discount. He spent £200, which is equivalent to about £13,000 in 2020 prices. His meeting with Blampied in 1937 allowed Baily to complete an article which was published in The Print Collector’s Quarterly in December 1937 with the title Blampied: artist and philosopher. Blampied wrote to Harold Baily after the article was published:

Well Harold, I'm enchanted with your article and very sincerely thank you. You have written with your usual big mind and have given more than does as a rule the critic. It breathes of your appreciation, friendliness to art and your infectious enthusiasm, and also you have given me as good a window as I could possibly wish. You run my flag right up to the mast most definitely and you expose whatever mind that is behind the work I do very charmingly. I treasure the article Harold, as much as any I have ever had. Thank you again and again thank you for sending these copies and a very kindly year's subscription for the rest.

Baily started lending his pictures by Blampied in 1931, to an exhibition of American and European watercolours held annually at the Brooklyn Museum, which showed ‘Dumping’, ‘Vriacking’ and ‘The Jersey shore’, and he loaned pictures again in 1935. The Brooklyn Museum asked Baily to donate a watercolour by Blampied, but they don't have one in their collection, so apparently he didn't. Baily was quite happy to lend pictures and was responsible for three exhibitions of Blampied's work held at the Brooklyn Public Library, where he was a Trustee: an exhibition in February 1944, during the German Occupation of Jersey; a show of 20 pictures in 1947, and then another exhibition, of 69 pictures, in 1956. Baily was a major lender to the exhibition of Blampied’s work held at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1941 to which he sent 46 etchings, drypoints and lithographs and more than 20 oils and watercolours. Baily loaned 40% of the 187 items by Blampied, which is still probably the largest exhibition of his work ever held. Blampied was then incarcerated in Jersey during the German Occupation, so may not have been aware that an exhibition of his work was to be held in the USA.

In October 1939 Blampied offered to design a bookplate for Harold Baily after Baily had proposed one. Blampied wrote:

I'd be delighted to do one for you though you must give me an indication of what lettering is to be introduced into the design. Also, if possible, what you would like the design to suggest, whether some line of poetry, your family tree, college background, garden, books or some personal thought ... I would suggest a pen drawing that reproduced on good paper can look quite as precious as etching or very nearly so. For etching would be fearfully expensive. The pen drawing I would ask £6 pounds.

In February 1940, after apparently struggling with a design, Blampied wrote to Baily:

I have done the bookplate which I am sending to the Chelsea Art Stores to send on to you.... I'm sending you three bookplate drawings for which if you like them choose one. I have written in pencil on the drawing itself which I liked best. The other two please keep - maybe you might possibly use the for a Xmas card if you take your own name away.

Harold Baily's bookplate has not been found and Blampied's designs have not been seen. If you have seen either, please contact me. Blampied's few bookplates and designs can be seen here.

Blampied was very grateful to Harold Baily for promoting his work in New York, which he did by giving talks and by inviting friends to his house to see his pictures. Blampied wrote:

Your very generous friendly interest in my work is a great encouragement to me. I really am at a loss how to thank you. (25/2/1931)

That was famous of you to show your collection of my etchings to the Brooklyn Museum's round table. You are very real friends and I can never thank you enough.(31/1/1933)

As for "Hot Dogs' you are a "veritable gentleman" to help as you are apparently doing in getting the show noticed by your friends -- and also to suggest to Miller to prolong it. Thank you again and again. (11/1/1935)

Thank you so much for so very very kindly interesting your friends and in fact everyone it seems to me you can think of, in my work. (23/6/1939)

There is also much, much kindness, friendship and thought in all your very welcome letters to thank you for. Believe me they are a great joy and a support to us in receiving. (26/5/1940)

I hear from Elfrida [Tharle-Hughes] that you have been keeping my work before the "public eye" in USA [during World War II]. Marianne and I looked at each other on reading this. We thought it wonderful of you and I cannot thank you enough. It was brotherly. (21/5/1945)

After the war Harold Baily resumed his correspondence with Edmund Blampied and continued to buy a watercolour each year. Then in 1957 he travelled again to England with Marguerite and made the crossing to Jersey, to visit Blampied in his studio at Netherby Court, where he bought more drawings and watercolours. Baily had tried since 1934 to persuade Blampied to visit the USA, but Blampied prevaricated and put him off, perhaps because he was scared of public speaking. Blampied wrote to Baily in 1935: The idea of having to make a speech would drive me into a jelly. I have never made one. So Blampied collected the stamps from Baily's letters but never visited the USA, the place where many of his best paintings of rural Jersey found their market and never saw the Bailys' house at 3437 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, which was crammed with his work.

Harold Baily died on November 16th 1964, aged 77 years, and was survived for another 22 years by his wife, Marguerite. In the early 1980s she moved into a retirement home in New Jersey and gave some items from her husband’s collection of Blampied's pictures to the Mead Art Museum at Amherst University. She sold the rest, probably at auction, so now other people are enjoying them.

Harold Baily's collection

Below is a list of the titles of paintings once owned by Harold Baily. The titles are taken from catalogues of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Public Library in 1947 and 1956, and at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1941. These titles may not be consistent or were not the same as recorded in catalogues of exhibitions. For example the painting that Baily called 'The slipway' was named 'Sea-weed harvest, Jersey' when reproduced in a book in 1937 and is the same design as a 1932 drypoint called 'Vraic season' [AA:162; AH:E32.9]. This is common among Blampied’s work when he repeated a similar composition, especially of collecting sea weed, a scene he called his ‘signature tune’ (letter to HJB, 24/8/1947)

The links are to images of pictures, if I have one.


Oil on panels

Oil paintings