John Quinn (collector)

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John Quinn
John Quinn circa 1913
John Quinn circa 1913
Born 1870 (1870)
Tiffin, Ohio
Died 1924 (1925) (aged 54)
Occupation American lawyer and art collector

John Quinn (1870–1924) was a second generation Irish-American corporate lawyer in New York, who for a time was an important patron of major figures of post-impressionism and literary modernism, and collector in particular of original manuscripts.


John Quinn became a successful New York lawyer, art patron and collector, and collector of manuscripts. His French advisor 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. He was the principal supporter and purchaser of manuscripts of Joseph Conrad during his lifetime. He met W. B. Yeats in 1902, and was a major supporter.

Quinn was later (1920s) a legal defender of Ulysses by James Joyce and he also defended The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. He was a friend of Ezra Pound.

He 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.[1]

Art promotion[edit]

In 1913, he convinced the United States Congress to overturn the 1909 Tariff Law, which retained the duty on foreign works of art less than twenty years old and which discouraged 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 he represented Margaret Kieley in a $2,000,000.00 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.[2]

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".[3]

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, 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 catalogue was published for the occasion by the American Art Association.[4]


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.

Quinn died at age 54 and was buried by his family in Fostoria, Ohio.


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ $2,000,000 Fortune won by Mrs. Kieley, New York Times, Oct. 22, 1915.
  3. ^ 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).
  4. ^ 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]

  • William M. Murphy. Prodigal Father: the Life of John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978; paperback 1979; revised paperback, Syracuse University Press, 2001)
  • Richard and Janis Londraville. Dear Yeats, Dear Pound, Dear Ford: Jeanne Robert Foster and Her Circle of Friends (Syracuse University Press, 2001)
  • Janis and Richard Londraville, eds. John Quinn: Selected Irish Writers from his Library (Syracuse University Press, 2001)
  • Benjamin Lawrence Reid (1968) The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends (1969 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography)

External links[edit]