Around the World on the Yacht Eleanor: The Slaters' Grand Tour

The phenomenon of the Grand Tour originated in the sixteenth century and reached deeper into the broadest cross-section of society in the nineteenth century.  Originally a tradition done by aristocratic young men, the Grand Tour’s most often visited locations were Paris and Rome.  It was believed to be a crucial step in being able to fully appreciate great works of classical art, architecture, and culture.

It was expected that the traveler would bring back souvenirs as well as knowledge.  Grand Tourists also provided commerce to artists in France and Italy through purchase of existing works as well as through commissioning portraits.  The traveler might also have brought home rare and ancient books, textiles, clothing and furnishings as well as plaster castings of sculpture, coinage and jewelry.

Grand Tours were embraced passionately by well-heeled English and American families in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries and could last several months or years at a time. The wealthiest of families would make the trips together, sometimes separating in one city and re-uniting weeks later in another city or port.  It was seen as necessary as a coming out or “finishing” for young ladies to travel to Europe and the Far East. The manner in which the Slater family traveled was relatively rare and remained in the realm of the incredibly affluent, like the Carnegies, Morgans and Vanderbilts, whose yachts were comparable to the Slater’s yacht, Eleanor.

By the nineteenth century, travel in general had become more affordable and available.  With it becoming more acceptable, young women began to pursue the Grand Tour, often accompanied by an older female relative acting as a chaperone.  The fashion was further cultivated as a result of the growing middle class, transformed by the Industrial Revolution. By 1870, the Englishman Thomas Cook’s tours were becoming a household word and even today the phrase “Cook’s Tour” has come to suggest a comprehensive trip hitting all of the highlights.

Reporting for Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, in 1867 Mark Twain took a Grand Tour and later turned his dispatches into the book The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress.  Selling over 70,000 copies in its first year, it remained the best-selling of Twain's books throughout his lifetime.  The book surely inspired both middle class and wealthy people of all ages to travel abroad and to return with treasures and souvenirs. Perhaps not coincidentally, William Randolph Hearst began his collecting career at 10 years old on his own Grand Tour in 1873.  The newly wealthy Americans, still healing from the effects of the Civil War, may have been seeking their roots in much the same way that second and third-generation Americans do today.

Gallery Highlights

Model of the Yacht Harvard, Formerly Eleanor
Model ship. Hull painted with a red bottom, copper waterline, white topsides with inset brass port holes.

 Lanan Model Studio, Boston, Massachusetts, American
 Mixed Media, n.d.
 Katherine Forest Crafts Foundation Purchase

The Slater’s yacht, the Eleanor, was the second custom-built yacht William Slater had constructed during his life. Built at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, It cost a total of $300,000 in 1894 which was nearly double the cost to construct the entire Slater Memorial Museum and the Plaster Cast Collection. Model ships such as these were built as not only decorative displays but also as a functional 3D reference to the vessel. The hull features a red bottom with copper sheathing at the waterline, brass portholes, and a mahogany deck. One feature missing from the model that would have been seen on the Eleanor are the three Gatling guns installed as the ship’s defense system. William Slater sold the Eleanor and it was renamed the Harvard.

Chrysanthemum Scroll
painting dominated by greens, blues, and reds. Lush plants feature heavily as well as two quails

 Chinese Aquamedia Ink & Color Painted on Silk and Mounted on Silk
 Chiang T’ing-hsi (1669-1732)
 Originally a Hanging Scroll
 Friends of Slater Museum Purchase

Chiang T’ing-his (Jiang Tingxi), was a notable artist during the early years of China’s Qing Dynasty. He is perhaps most famously known for having edited the Gujin Tushu Jicheng, an early encyclopedia. He mastered painting, calligraphy, and was an official representative to the Emperor. His depiction of the Chrysanthemums and quail represent important symbols in Chinese culture. The Chrysanthemums represent the season of autumn and are known for their health-giving properties. The quails, often seen in pairs, are symbols of courage and were subjects of “quail fights,” a pastime seen throughout China. They also represent peace and harmony between generations living together.
Troupe de Mlle. Eglantine
Four women in a row dancing the can-can

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (1864 - 1901)
Lithograph, 19th century
Gift of Mary Meigs

Born into an aristocratic family in France, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from a genetic disorder that eventually caused him to stop growing as an adolescent. Due to his appearance, he often felt isolated and ostracized from the elite society in which he was born. Perhaps due to this, he became drawn to the bohemian life in Montmartre. Full of artists, entertainers, cafés, and cabarets, Montmartre was an endless source of inspiration to Toulouse-Lautrec who quickly became associated with depictions of the neighborhood's lively nightlife. While Toulouse-Lautrec created paintings in oil on cardboard, he also created several posters between 1891 and 1901. The posters, a medium which Toulouse-Lautrec helped to popularize, were intended to advertise the cabarets and famous dancers which inspired the artist.

This poster was commissioned by Jane Avril, a well-known cabaret dancer, to advertise the performance of her troupe at the Palace Theatre in London in 1896. Jane is depicted at the far left, along with Cléopatre, Églantine, and Gazelle. Although academically trained, Toulouse-Lautrec simplified the human form and has compressed the stage on which the dancers perform. In doing so, the focus remains on the movement in their raised legs as they perform the infamous can-can.

White vase with blue and red designs

 Imari Porcelain, 19th century
 Gift of Emily Noyes Vanderpoel

The production of translucent porcelain allowed the colors of underglazes, glazes and enamels to appear more vivid and luminous. Chinese cobalt blue underglazes and colored glazes were soon challenged in popularity by the Imari ware which used a cobalt underglaze with black for outlines, as well as red, gold and other colors used in an overglaze. In western commerce, Japanese multi-colored or enameled porcelain was called “Imari ware,” while cobalt blue and white designs were called “Arita ware.” Both of these types of porcelain would have been made in the same factories and fired in the same kilns.
floral design overlaid in blue and violet feathers from the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

 Kingfisher Feathers /Gold, 19th century
 Gift of Gertrude Gale

Astonishingly expensive and rare, Tian-tsui jewelry was a traditional Chinese art form featuring kingfisher feathers. Beautiful small kingfisher birds were netted or trapped for centuries for their exquisite gem-like feathers. Only about the size of a sparrow, each bird carries 28 iridescent flight feathers. Tiny finer down feathers could also be used, though they were very difficult to manipulate. The feathers were trimmed and glued to silver gilt or metal backings as an inlay on small objects, like hairpins, headdresses, and fans, or occasionally on larger areas on panels and screens. As in many bird feathers, the color does not come from pigments in the feather, but happens when tiny feather barbules refract and reflect light, much like a prism breaks light into a spectrum of colors. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) introduced new laws that restricted certain fabrics to the upper-classes and this type of jewelry also became reserved to women including empresses, concubines, and wives of high-ranking officials. Throughout history, Chinese culture paid attention to the symbolism of color in jewelry, with blue kingfisher feathers, blue gems, and blue enameling representing nobility. The extensive use of kingfisher feathers resulted in the endangerment of certain species, and the use was banned in 1940.
Benjamin Franklin
White bust portrait of Benjamin Franklin

 French (1741-1828)
 Jean-Antoine Houdon
 Sèvres Bisque / Porcelain Base, 
 19th century  Estate of Baron Thomas 
 Shannon Foran

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, served many roles as a statesman, diplomat, inventor, and innovator. He was an early proponent of colonial unity and the idea of an American nation. As a diplomat during the American Revolution, he secured the French Alliance that helped to make independence of the United States possible. He lived in France as the country’s American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. As a result, he was widely admired among Americans and French alike. His likeness was a common subject for French manufacturers like Sevres. At the time of the centennials of both the American and French Revolutions (1876 and 1889 respectively), images of Franklin were again in vogue, and an American traveler in France would have been eager to bring one home.

Putto with Dolphin after Andrea del Verrocchio
Bronze putto stands on one leg and grasps a dolphin that wraps itself around his body.

Bronze Cast from the Original 
Mold of a Sculpture by Andrea del Verrocchio, c. 1478
Friends of Slater Museum  Purchase in Recognition of 
Former Slater Museum Director,  Joseph P. Gualtieri.

Andrea del Verrocchio was a successful artist during the Italian Renaissance. Trained as a goldsmith, Verrocchio leaves a legacy of celebrated works of sculpture and painting.

Verrocchio is perhaps best known today as the artist who trained a young Leonardo da Vinci. The Baptism of Christ, painted about 1475, is Verrocchio’s best known painting because the left-most angel figure was painted by Leonardo da Vinci as he trained in Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence.

Although overshadowed in history by his gifted students, Verrocchio was a talented and celebrated artist who found patronage in the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici. The original sculpture of this work, Putto with a Dolphin, was made for a fountain at the Medici Villa at Coreggi. The theme of the work was well known in Roman art, which demonstrates Verrocchio’s interest in working with classical themes.

Landscape with Sheep
sheep graze in a field under an overcast sky. A farmer and sheep dog follow them.

 Charles E. Jacque, (1813 - 1894)
 Oil on Canvas, n.d.
 Estate of Florence MacDougald

Originally an engraver, Charles Jacque relocated to Barbizon in 1849 and focused more on painting; this particular work was purchased by William Slater. The Barbizon School was an informal movement that emerged in mid-19th century France. Prominent painters within the movement included Jacque’s friend Jean-Francois Millet, and Theodore Rousseau. While each Barbizon artist had their own distinctive style, as a whole, they rejected classical conventions and sought to depict the natural landscape as a worthy subject in and of itself.

The Slaters were found of the artists of the Barbizon school, perhaps seeing a similarity to the rural landscapes of eastern Connecticut. The Slaters collected their work, and initially loaned this painting to the museum for exhibition after they had returned from their Grand Tour. A newspaper column in the Norwich Bulletin from February 7, 1907, described it as “the best painted group of sheep in the world…The farmers should see this picture.”