18.Meeting Karlgren, Introduced By Siren

18. Meeting Karlgren, introduced by Siren. From letter to Bob Bagley.

Did I ever tell you about my meeting with Karlgren? in Stockholm in 1956 working for Siren, who, typically malicious, introduced me to him as a Loehr student, so that I spent the next 15 minutes listening to a bitter denunciation of Max's politics and scholarship, as if they were inseparable, one leading inevitably to the other. Your study of bronze studies in the 20th cent. should be pretty interesting, although I can't imagine that objectivity will be its main virtue. (Joke, don't be offended.) Otto Maenchen-Helfen, from whom I took my first Chinese art course in Berkeley in the late 40s, had us all learning K's A&B styles etc. I went over it all again while working on the Freer catalog, found them as useless as ever. Max always said "He has no eye." Vadime Ellisséeff was working on something of the kind but computerized--great for plotting correlations--when we had our Brundage opening symposium in S.F. in 1968 was it? we brought Vadime all the way from Mongolia, where he was for some reason, at some expense to give a paper, and he gave one that nobody could understand, about the computer technology he was using to study—classify, whatever—ancient Chinese bronzes. So far as I know, nothing ever came of it. No substitute for a good, trained eye, is the moral I guess.

Later: Somebody--Bo Gyllensvârd?--told me a story that humanizes Karlgren a bit. During the war, some (a few? several?) funny novels were published anonymously, of the kind that cheered people up; the publisher finally included a photo of the author with one of them, and Karlgren's students recognized him behind a false beard. At least, that's how I remember the story--you may have a better version.

Maenchen taught art history as a philologist--he admitted that he didn't like art much, never had anything to do with the History of Art faculty, only the "Orientalists" (they were then called), Boodberg and Eberhard and that group. So using Karlgren was in keeping with his approach. Yes, I remember his savaging of Bachhofer.

Later note: Christer van der Burg writes me: (7/17/07)

"Bernhard Kalgren wrote under the pseudonym of Clas Gullman and the titles of the novels were Tva herrar fran Uppsala (Two gentlemen from Uppsala), 1942; Dansa, min docka (Danse, my doll), 1943; and Brollopet i Kanarp (The wedding in Kanarp), 1945. It is rumoured that because of these 'trash' novels BK was not elected into the Swedish Academy."

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