Flower Frog Gazette
The September Morn Story
By Bonnie Bull
On a September morning in 1912, French painter Paul Chabas finished the painting he had been working on for three consecutive summers. Thus completed, it was aptly titled "Matinee de Septembre" (September Morn). As was typical of his style, the painting was of young maiden posed nude in a natural setting. This time the icy morning waters of Lake Annecy in Upper Savoy formed the natural setting and the maiden was a local peasant girl. The head, however, had been painted from the sketch of a young American girl, Julie Phillips (later Mrs. Thompson), which he had made while she and her mother were sitting in a Paris cafe. Apparently, he had found her profile to be exactly what he was looking for. The completed painting was then sent off to the Paris Salon of 1912 to be exhibited. Although the painting won Mr. Chabas the Medal of Honor, it caused no flurry of attention. Hoping to find a buyer, the artist shipped the painting overseas to an American gallery.
It was here in America that the painting was destined to receive undreamed of publicity and popularity. One day in May of 1913, displayed in the window of a Manhattan art gallery, it caught the eye of Anthony Comstock, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Horrified by what he saw, he stormed into the store, flashed his badge, and roared: "There's too little morn and too much maid. Take her out!" The gallery manager, however, refused to do so. The ensuing controversy was given wide publicity by the press and the painting was simultaneously denounced and defended across the entire country. Meanwhile, curious crowds filled the street outside the shop straining to see the painting that caused such a stir.
Soon enterprising entrepreneurs were reproducing September Morn on everything conceivable: calendars, postcards, candy boxes, cigar bands, cigarette flannels, pennents, suspenders, bottle openers, and more. Purity leagues tried to suppress it. Postcard reproductions were forbidden in the mails. The painting became the object of stock show gags and even inspired an anonymous couplet that swept the country, "Please don't think I'm bad or bold, but where its deep it's awwful cold."
The painting went back to Paul Chabas who sold it to a Russian collector for the ruble equivalent of $10,000. After the Russian Revolution it turned up in Paris in the Gulbenkian Collection. Ultimately the painting was purchased by Philadelphia Main Liner Willaim Coxe Wright and donated to Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum in 1957 after being refused by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it had no significance in the twentieth century stream of art. It's estimated market value in 1957 was $30,000. The painting still hangs in the Metropolitan Museum as an example of 20th century French works and reproductions can be purchased in the museum's gift shop.
Of special interest to flower frogs collectors: the image of September Morn was also reproduced in the form of a figural flower holder. Three American companies are known to have produced and marketed her in the late 1920's. They are the Cambridge Glass Co. of Cambridge, Ohio; Fenton Art Glass Co. of Williamstown, West Virginia; and the Owen Glass Co. of Minerva, Ohio. An article appearing in the April 30, 1928 issue of China, Glass & Lamps mentions seven different types of girl-figure flower holders made by Owen China Co., one of which is a September Morn figure. Cambridge made the figure in two sizes, 6.5" and 11.5", on smoothe base in a dozen colors. There is also a 6.5" Cambridge nymph on a ribbed 3 base seen in crystal only. The Fenton nymph is pictured and described in the article A Visit to the Fenton Glass Factory and Museum. Also see September Morn Flower Frogs.
Sources for September Morn Story: French Paintings II, 57.89; Time, Sept. 2, 1957; New York Times Magazine, Sept. 15, 1957
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