John Lockwood Kipling cast relief sculpture
"The Kipling Kalendar" Recognized at Auction
Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories are a fond memory of my bookish childhood. My parents would read to us in the evening, not just Kipling but Milne, Carroll, and many others. Avid readers, we had no television and one way, looking back, that I got into the field of American art with a subspecialty of illustration, was through viewing illustrated children's books. A couple of years ago I attended an estate auction at Rago Auctions in Lambertville, NJ. Roaming around, I saw this plaster relief hanging high on a wall, in an obscure spot. I consulted the listing and saw that the myriad of exotic animals accompanied by a tondo profile portrait, referred to Rudyard Kipling's writings and was related to another plaster relief from around the same time period that I had owned for many years (see John Mowbray-Clarke elsewhere on this website). Enjoying artistic representations of animals and sculpture, I bid on the piece and won it. I quickly looked up the attributed artist, John Lockwood Kipling, and saw that he was the father of Rudyard Kipling. I had no awareness of Rudyard's family much less that his father was an artist, but I let the matter rest. Fast forward to late 2017 when I was reading the art section of the Sunday New York Times. Imagine my surprise to find out that there was an enormous retrospective on John Lockwood Kipling arranged by the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of my favorite museums in the entire world, that had come and gone but was going to open at the Bard College Graduate Center for Decorative Arts in New York City. I had long wanted to visit the Bard Graduate Center Museum and was aware of the series of magnificent shows they had hosted over the past decade or so, but--my bad--had never visited. Imagine my pleasure to see such a magnificent building and gallery space, located just off 86th Street and Central Park West. The Kipling show, which ran through the first week of January 2018, was extraordinary! There is no other way to put it. I found out that Kipling was a polyart (rather than a polymath!) comfortable with a variety of mediums as well as being a tremendously influential teacher, interior designer, museum curator, and arts administrator. He illustrated a number of books and developed a unique way of doing this (in some cases) creating a plaster relief of his subject that he would have photographed; the photo being published in the book. My relief was the basis for a (presumably) mass-produced calendar matrix in sheet brass with a block of paper calendar pages being affixed. You can see the blank spot when you inspect the photograph. The show included the brass calendar but no example of the plaster that was the inspiration. I do not know if my plaster is the one and only or if others exist. The co-curator of the exhibition told me that only one version of the reliefs is known for Kipling's other published projects. I had literally tumbled into this discovery with a combination of a curiosity, a good eye, and luck. An article is forthcoming in Maine Antique Digest, describing this "fabulous find." Stay tuned!