Frederick Keppel, 1845-1912
Date of Birth: 22 March 1845
Place of Birth: Tullow, Ireland
Frederick Keppel was a New York publisher and print dealer.
Keppel came to America in 1864 and became a print dealer in 1868. He was a patron and promoter of etchings and etchers including Whistler, Zorn, Buhot and Pennell. He gave Félix-Hilaire Buhot his first one-man show in 1888, and about the same time started to buy and sell a large number of Whistler's prints.
Keppel was also the author of several works on etching. In 1886 he published American etchers. Reprinted from the Century magazine for February, 1883, with a brief additional chapter reprinted in part from the New York Star, by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. To which is added an account of Méryon and his work, by Frederick Keppel, New York 1886. In the following year he translated Alfred Lebrun's catalogue of the etchings, heliographs, lithographs, and woodcuts done by Jean François Millet, New York 1887. He wrote Modern Disciples of Rembrandt, A Sketch of Contemporary Etching, New York, 1890. Exhibitions of Whistler's work included Catalogue of an exhibition of etchings and drypoints by Whistler, New York 1907.
On 2 July 1888 he bought 11 recent etchings and a watercolour from Whistler for £93.9.0 less 20 per cent discount. The individual etchings ranged in price from 5 gns for Tilbury (K.317) and Gypsy Baby (Greedy Baby) (K.339) to 12 gns for The Cock and the Pump (K.304). (#13063) In 9 April 1890 he bought a complete set of the 'Amsterdam' etchings for £143.17.0 less the same discount (#13064). In March 1892 he was buying even more enthusiastically.
In 1892 Beatrix Whistler described Keppel to E. G. Kennedy as an 'old friend' who had been 'buying largely' at the J. H. Hutchinson sale: 'We hear the sale was a great success - all the papers sent to us say the prices were quite exceptional - ' she wrote (#09676). Keppel bought forty-six etchings at the sale on 3 March 1892 at prices ranging from three shillings for The Kitchen (K.24) and ten shillings for a second state of Annie Seated (K.30), to £7.5.0 for Putney Bridge (K.178). His purchases included several first states and trial proofs, such as The Little Wapping (K.73) described as 'trial proof, very rare', which fetched 18/-, and the 'first trial proof' of The Smithy (K.240), bought for £2.18.0. Several prints that are now considered very important fetched surprisingly low prices, such as an impression of Weary (K.92) 'second state, printed by the artist', which sold for £1.0.0 and Nocturne Palaces (K.202) at £4.5.0.
However, in 1895 Kennedy, perhaps maliciously, informed Whistler that Keppel had visited Whistler's brother-in-law, Seymour Haden, with whom he knew Whistler had quarrelled years earlier. (#07255). This in may have led to a coolness between them.
Furthermore, Keppel himself appears to have offended Whistler in 1896 over a 'libellous little book' (Forsyth, Walter Greenwood, and Joseph LeRoy Harrison, 'Guide to the Study of James Abbott McNeill Whistler,' State Library Bulletin, Bibliography No. 1, May 1895) that Keppel had forwarded to Whistler, Ernest G. Brown and Joseph Pennell (#09177). Kennedy described it as 'a so-called biography, written by some foolish person for the State Board of Regents of N. Y'; and, again according to Kennedy, Whistler called Keppel 'the busy one'. (#11506) This happened at the time of Whistler's wife's death, when Whistler was over-reacting to all imagined injuries. Keppel was unable to effect any reconciliation, and after Whistler's death, published The Gentle Art of Resenting Injuries, a tiny pamphlet containing copies of their correspondence.
Keppel did however continue to buy and sell Whistler etchings, though not on the scale of 1892. He might also be considered a collector in his own right, selecting rare works including two that were reproduced by his mercantile rival E. G. Kennedy in 1910 as prime examples of rare early states of Venetian etchings ( K1870101 and K1880201). Keppel also donated works to public collections; for instance, he gave La Vieille aux Locques [K0210302] to the Art Institute of Chicago. He bequeathed eleven etchings to Boston Museum of Fine Arts (K0010119, K0210308, K0230528, K0300226, K0350217, K0490135, K0500206, K0550209, K0750110 and K1750206).
Keppel paid public tribute to Whistler at his four-storey shop on 4 East 39th Street in New York, built in 1905. It is decorated with busts of Rembrandt and Whistler. It was designed by George B. Post & Sons and Keppel probably commissioned the busts.
After Keppel's death, his son David continued the firm. He paid quite high prices: on 13 April 1913, for instance, he bought an impression of Becquet (K.52) at the American Art Association for $240. He built a new store at 16 East 57th Street in the 1920's.
Keppel, Frederick, 'One Day with Whistler,' The Reader, vol. 3, no. 2, January 1904, pp. 145-151; Keppel, Frederick, The Gentle Art of Resenting Injuries; being some Unpublished Correspondence Addressed to the Author of 'The Gentle Art of Making Enemies', New York, 1904; Rona Scheider, 'The American Etching revival: Its French Sources and Early Years', American Art Journal, Vol. 14, No. 4. (Autumn, 1982), pp. 40-65 (http://www.jstor.org accessed 2007); Christopher Gray, 'Streetscapes: Readers' Questions; Where Grandfather Lived, and Busts of Artists', New York Times, 2 December 1990, at http://query.nytimes.com (accessed 2007); New York Public Library on-line catalogue at http://catnyp.nypl.org (accessed 2007).