Crowns & Confidences,
Walter Cohen is sitting in
his office in Center City Philadelphia, wearing one of those
baby-blue smocks that dentists use to shield their shirts from spray and
spittle. On a wall facing his desk hangs a framed copy of "Flowers
in a Crystal Vase," its colors slightly brighter than the originals.
Cohen, the chancellor emeritus of Medical College of Pennsylvania-Hahnemann
University, still keeps up his periodontal practice, and is kind enough
to squeeze in an interview about Evans between patients.
Back in the late 1940s, when
he was a student at Penns dental school, the Evans Museum was open
once a year, on Alumni Day. He still remembers visiting it as a junior
and seeing "this beautiful writing table" that the czar of Russia
had given to Evans, inlaid with photographs of Nicholas, Alexandra and
their children. The whole museum, for that matter, was filled with the
extravagant mementos of Evans life: paintings and jewelry and medals
and tea services and snuffboxeseven Evans carriage.
"Still Life with Brioche," purchased by Evans in 1880, turned
up in a North Philadelphia warehouse in the 1970s. The artist had
originally painted a plum or apricot in the lower left-hand corner.
But in the late 1950s, under the
late Dean Lester W. Burket C29, the school needed space for classrooms,
and the museum was turned into the admissions emergency clinic. Its contents
were cleared out. Some things went to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington;
some were put in storage warehouses. Others ended up in dumpsters.
"When they cleared out the museum, things were
thrown in the trash that people picked up," says Cohen. "Faculty
members told me that sketches, the death mask of Verdi, I thinkthings
that were significant were just tossed out. That was traumatic. Im
glad I wasnt part of that."
But Cohen could not forget that table. When he became
dean in 1972, he and a curator from the Philadelphia Museum of Art drove
up to a warehouse in North Philadelphia, where the remains of the Evans
collection were stored. They finally found the czars gift, which
was badly warped.
Then, says Cohen: "I saw this lovely painting
of a flower in a brioche, and it was signed Manet. And I said,
Look at this!"
The curator reminded him that some of the paintings
in the Evans collection were not considered authentic, and Cohen acknowledged
the possibility that the "Manet" was among them. But he liked
it, so he took it back and hung it in his office, where it remained for
several years, along with another "fake" Manet they had found,
a lithograph titled "Polichinelle."
The school, he decided, should take a detailed inventory
of what remained of the Evans collection, with the idea of selling off
its contents to form an endowment. (At that time, such decisions were
in the hands of individual deans; now there is a centralized University
policy for dealing with art.) They called in Christies, the auction
house, whose consultants went through the collection.
"When they came to my office, they said, Whats
this?" he recalls. "I said, Its signed "Manet,"
but Ive been told its a fake." Christies
agreed, and valued it at $400.
In 1979, Dr. Paul Todd Makler M43 GM53,
now curator of the Universitys art collection, became a special
assistant to President Martin Meyerson Hon70 and recommended that
an inventory of Penns entire art collection be taken. One of his
first stops was the dental school, where he saw the painting of the brioche
hanging behind a secretarys desk. "I didnt think it should
sit there," he says, "so I took it off the wall and brought
it back on the trolley car to my home and said to my wife, Look!
We have a Manet! And then we started to look into the matter."
Makler took it first to the Philadelphia Museum of
Art, whose curator of French Impressionism did not think it authentic.
Makler, unconvinced, then called an old friend: Anne Coffin Hanson, professor
of art history at Yale University and author of Manet and the Modern
Tradition. The painting "looked good" to her, recalls Makler,
whereupon she went back and read the 1897 notaires list of
Evans possessions when he died, and discovered that the dentist
had indeed owned a number of paintings by Manet. One was an oil of a brioche,
which Manet had mentioned in his expense book ("Evans, 1880, brioche
500 [francs]"). Another was the lithograph of Polichinelle,
"with the autograph signature of the artist." Another was a
"marine view." Then there was one of flowers in a crystal vasewhich,
after another search of that North Philadelphia warehouse, was found,
unframed, in a box of miscellaneous items. It was inscribed, "a
mon ami le Dr Evans, Manet." Hanson would later write up the
story in an article for Art in America titled "A Tale of Two
By then, a sympathetic judge had agreed to let the
school "de-accession" its collection, and in 1983 the "Still
Life with Brioche" and "Flowers in a Crystal Vase" were
auctioned off for $2.1 million. "Brioche" now hangs in the Carnegie
Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; "Flowers" is at the Museum of Fine
Arts in Boston. The "Polichinelle" lithograph went to the Philadelphia
Museum of Art.
But the third oil painting by Manet, the "marine
view" ("Beach, Low Tide") that had hung in Evans
operating office in Paris, was unaccounted foruntil Cohen mentioned
it to one of his dental patients: the late Violette DeMazia, curator of
the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pa. She knew exactly where it was: in
the Rockefeller collection in New York. The lawyer who settled Evans
estate, she said, took it in lieu of a fee.
When Charles C. Harrison
C1862, provost of the University, sailed to France in June 1897, he intended
to talk to Evans about a possible legacy. That impending visit, notes
Milton Asbell in his history of the dental school, was a "stimulus"
to Evans, who reacted by "setting down in black and white very definite
plans concerning the distribution of his wealth."
But Harrison and Evans never got to have that talk.
Agnes Evans died shortly before Harrison arrived, whereupon he learned
that Evans had just sailed for America, intending to bury her in Woodlands
Cemetery in West Philadelphia. Harrison promptly headed back to the United
States, but he missed him on this side of the Atlantic, too. (According
to Carson, Evans did have a "congenial meeting" with Harrisons
predecessor, Dr. William Pepper C1862 M1864, since Evans was then trying
to convince French universities to recognize American college degrees.)
And in Novemberalmost exactly half a century after arriving in FranceEvans
died suddenly of angina pectoris at Bella Rosa.
He was buried in the mausoleum he had built for his
family in Woodlands Cemetery, which is marked by a 150-foot, Washington
Monument-like monolith that cost upwards of $100,000 in 1897 dollars.
It still casts the longest shadow in the neighborhood.
Tom and Agnes
Evans had no children. The closest he came to a dental heir was a former
playmate of Lou-Lous at the Tuileries named Arthur C. Hugenschmidt
D1885who, at Evans urging, attended Penns new School
of Dentistry, then gradually took over Evans practice, which he
carried on, with considerable flair, for half a century. Evans had less
luck with his nephew John Henry Evans, whom he had brought from Philadelphia
to work as an apprentice in his office. The younger Evans so infuriated
his Uncle Tom with his pretensions to nobility (and for swiping some of
his patients and using the famous name Evans on a line of dental
products) that the elder Evans triedunsuccessfullyto have
him deported. He also pointedly cut him out of his will, "for reasons
as well known to the said John Henry Evans as to me."
Many thought that Evans would leave his fortunesome
$5 million in 1897 dollarsto the city of Paris, or for a museum
there that would display his art collection and royal gifts. But when
the will was opened, it provided for a museum and a dental school"not
inferior to any already established"on his familys property
at 40th and Spruce streets in Philadelphia.
in 1888, posing with Mery Laurent's dog while on holiday at Royat.
Laurent and Mallarme were there, too.
relatives16 of them, led by the said John Henry Evanstried
to overturn the will, on the grounds that he had left the money to the
Thomas W. Evans Museum and Dental Institute, which did not actually exist
at the time of his death. Years of legal wrangling followed. So did millions
of dollarsnot to mention a Manetin lawyers fees. By
the time the dust settled, the Philadelphia-based Thomas W. Evans Museum
and Dental Institute Society was left with about $1.75 milliona
goodly sum in those days, but not enough to build and staff the
kind of facility Evans had envisioned. The University had a keen interest
in the outcome, but since it could not afford to look too interested,
Harrison advised Dr. Edward C. Kirk, dean of the dental school, to "leave
it severely alone."
Finally, in 1912, a compromise was announced:
the new institution would be called the "Thomas W. Evans Museum and
Dental Institute School of Dentistry University of Pennsylvania,"
and its board would be made up of trustees of both organizations. In May,
1913, the cornerstone for the handsome collegiate Gothic building was
laid, amid much hoopla and praise for Evans. Among the well-wishers was
the former Empress Eugénie, then 87 years old, who sent a letter
congratulating Kirk on the "realization of the generous idea"
of her late friend and protector.
"I am reminded of his sincerity,"
she wrote, "the proof of which he gave me in the darkest hours of
inspired several books, many magazine and newspaper articles, and a number
of doctoral theses, including Anthony Branchs unpublished "Dr.
Thomas W. Evans: American Dentist in Paris 1847-1897," a copy of
which is in the dental schools library. But his story is one for
the movies, really, and when Walter Cohen was dean of the dental school,
he went so far as to pitch the film rights to "Masterpiece Theatre"
and a few Hollywood producers. There was some interest, he recalls, but
there was also one small catch.
The character of Evans, he was told, could not
be a dentist.