John Quinn (collector)

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John Quinn
John Quinn circa 1913
John Quinn circa 1913
Born (1870-04-14)April 14, 1870
Tiffin, Ohio
Died July 28, 1924(1924-07-28) (aged 54)
Fostoria, Ohio
Occupation American lawyer and art collector

John Quinn (April 14, 1870 in Tiffin, Ohio – July 28, 1924 in Fostoria, Ohio)[1] was a wealthy second generation Irish-American corporate lawyer in New York City, who for a time was an important patron of major figures of Post-impressionism and literary Modernism, and collector of modern art and original manuscripts. In the 1920s he owned the largest single collection of modern European paintings in the world.


Quinn was born in Tiffin, Ohio, to an Irish baker and grocer, James W. Quinn, and Mary Quinlaw Quinn, and grew up in nearby Fostoria, Ohio, where his parents relocated in 1871. His paternal grandparents James and Mary (Madigan) Quinn, natives of County Limerick, Ireland settled in Tiffin in 1851, where the grandfather was a blacksmith by trade.

After graduating from the University of Michigan and Georgetown University Law School, followed by a degree in international relations from Harvard University, Quinn became a successful New York lawyer, getting involved in New York’s Tammany Hall politics, but when his candidate didn’t get the nomination at the 1912 Democratic National Convention he became disgusted with the whole system and became an art patron, art collector, and collector of manuscripts. His French adviser for Post-Impressionist art was Henri-Pierre Roche, who later wrote the novel Jules et Jim. Quinn and Roche worked together to develop the famous 1913 Armory Show.

Quinn was the principal supporter and purchaser of manuscripts of novelist Joseph Conrad during his lifetime. He met Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1902, and became a major supporter, helping him found the Abbey Theatre.

In the 1920s Quinn was a legal defender of the novel Ulysses by James Joyce, and also defended The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. He was also a friend of American poet Ezra Pound.

Quinn was a supporter of the Irish nationalist cause and associated with figures such as John Devoy and Roger Casement, though he worked for British Intelligence services before, during, and after World War I. In this role he acted as case officer for, among others, Aleister Crowley, who was an agent provocateur posing as an Irish nationalist in order to infiltrate anti-British groups of Irish and Germans in the United States.[2]

Art promotion[edit]

In 1913 he convinced the United States Congress to overturn the 1909 Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act, which retained the duty on foreign works of art less than 20 years old, discouraging Americans from collecting modern European art.

A huge and controversial event, the 1913 Armory Show (officially The International Exhibition of Modern Art) in New York City included examples of Symbolism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Cubism. John Quinn opened the exhibition with the words:

In 1913 Quinn represented Margaret Kieley in a $2,000,000 legal contest over the Last Will and Testament of her husband Timothy J. Kieley's estate. He won because his opponents, the nephews and nieces, could not produce vital witnesses and defaulted.[3]

In the early 1920s Quinn represented Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap for their publication in The Little Review of serial portions of James Joyce's Ulysses, which the U.S. Post Office had found "obscene".[4]

Estate sale[edit]

Photograph of works in a Quinn estate auction, New York, 1927

Quinn died at age 54 of intestinal cancer, and was buried by his family in Fostoria, Ohio. Leaving no heirs, he willed that his art collection be auctioned off and dispersed among museums and collectors around the world.[1]

In 1927, an exhibition and sale of Quinn's art collection took place in New York City. The event included works by Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Robert Delaunay, Jacques Villon, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Gino Severini, Marie Laurencin, Constantin Brâncuși, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, in addition to American artists Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn, Marsden Hartley, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and Max Weber. The sale was conducted by Otto Bernet and Hiram H. Parke at the American Art Galleries. A catalog was published for the occasion by the American Art Association.[5]

Selected works from the collection[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Spence, Richard B. (2008). Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult. Port Townsend: Feral House. pp. 54–57, 60–61. ISBN 978-1-932595-33-8. 
  3. ^ $2,000,000 Fortune won by Mrs. Kieley, New York Times, Oct. 22, 1915
  4. ^ Henry Louis Gates, "Book Review: To 'Deprave and Corrupt': Girls Lean Back Everywhere", 38 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 401 (1993); The Nation, v.254, 898 (1992)
  5. ^ Paintings and sculptures, The renowned collection of modern and ultra-modern art formed by the late John Quinn, Exhibition and sale at the American Art Galleries, Sale conducted by Bernet and Parke, Published by American Art Association, New York, 1927

Additional reading[edit]

External links[edit]