While awaiting Miami Beach’s annual Art Basel crush and PB’s New Wave Art Weekend bash, attracting bold-faced gallerists, at-the-moment curators, what’s-next collectors, museum highbrows, savvy aesthetes, and maybe, artists themselves, here is a flashback to Palm Beach’s art colony when influencers Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Velma Glenn Hodges broadened the resort’s artistic horizons.
Palm Beach’s social calendar had stepped-up since the Everglades Club’s grand opening in February 1919 turned Worth Avenue into an international destination. A month later, many of the club’s founding members were devouring caviar sandwiches and orange cake at the Vernissage benefit for the Pine Ridge hospital held aboard the La Singerie houseboat. Whether grousing about the Everglades Club being too small or praising Mrs. Harry Payne (Harriette) Bingham sculptures, some guests were not prepared for the heart-stopping moment when they gazed upon provocateur Robert Winthrop Chanler’s painting. Mindful of Palm Beach’s inexact standards, the show’s curator had removed Chanler’s likely affront to an isolated anteroom. Even so, when several Palm Beach art lovers uncovered it, they did not whisper. Their screams of delight and cries of horror attracted a swarm who insisted on a look-see, making for yet another only-on-Palm Beach moment.
Four years after Palm Beach’s first Vernissage, and its apparent Mapplethorpe-moment, Mississippi-born Velma Glenn Hodges opened an art gallery on South County Road with work from the New York-Paris vanguard, introducing artful alternatives to the resort’s fancy for portraits, decorative arts, and lust for Louis-Louis furniture.
Even as Hodges played a significant role in Worth Avenue’s early development as an art and architectural showplace, she was also curating the town’s earliest exhibitions in concert with various cultural cliques headed by Philadelphia’s Eva Stotesbury and East Hampton’s Mrs. Lorenzo (Mary) Woodhouse. The Society of Arts and the Friends of Arts & Crafts, where she was Art Director, were forerunners of the Civic Art Association. These cultural camps would evolve into a more far-reaching unified group, christened The Society of the Four Arts, opening with its first exhibition in January 1936.
Palm Beach 1919
“Art as Palm Beach has never been privileged to see.”
“Before dinner last evening, the news of a Salon des Grecques spread like wildfire, and all because some women disappeared aboard the Singerie to smoke their cigarettes and stumbled upon Robert Chanler’s Les Joies des Victoires, which had been withdrawn from public view in deference to the expected avalanche of criticism that could not help but fall upon it.” [Palm Beach Post, March 4, 1919]
“Because Mr. Kingore had not expected this room to be invaded, he had not drawn a curtain in front of Chanler’s painting, and it stood revealed in all its honesty … a true picture of the Bacchanalian revels of the victorious Greeks and the emotions at vanquishing the enemy. However, it was too late as the mischief was done.” [Palm Beach Post]
By the next morning, a constant procession of wheelchairs rolled up North Lake Trail to La Singerie bringing connoisseurs ready to be educated by what they should have never seen.
Velma Glenn Hodges at Palm Beach
Born in 1875 to an old Mississippi family, Glenn, aka Glen, Hodges’ path took her from the post-Civil War Deep South to Gilded Age New York to Palm Beach to Europe’s art capitals. Following her 1902 marriage to Peter Maus Lanehart, the couple moved to New York. Lanehart, a lumber broker in New York and Mississippi, was the son of Palm Beach pioneer William Lanehart and his first wife Mary Lanehart. Glenn’s father-in-law once owned considerable Palm Beach real estate, including 90 acres in Midtown Palm Beach. One of the island’s two original “Cocoanuts,” Lanehart along with Hiram Hammond, acquired the Providencia shipwreck in 1878 and proceeded to plant thousands of coconuts along the lakefront. Thus, according to legend, the town’s name, Palm Beach.
In September 1915, the Laneharts bought Elm’s Point, a Great Neck waterfront estate, formerly owned by William Astor Chanler, the brother of artist Robert Winthrop Chanler. Reginald Vanderbilt leased Elm’s Point from the Laneharts during the summer of 1916. A few years later, Glenn, or Glen, and her husband divorced, and the Great Neck property was sold. Peter Lanehart resettled in West Palm Beach, living there until his death in 1951.
In December 1923, Glenn Hodges leased the former Mizner studio and building on South County Road, announcing plans to open an art gallery. By then, Glenn had become an art writer of note with articles in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, traveling to London and Paris after the Great War ended. Hodges transformed the building into Palm Beach’s own Quartier Latin. First owned by society photographer E. W. Histed, Mizner called it The Shack and lived there until he moved to one of the villas at the Everglades Club. To enhance the former Mizner digs, she added a Robert Winthrop Chanler peacock panel and a deep-sea garden mural, Arthur Crisp’s batik hangings, and Max Kuehne’s Spanish landscapes.
At Palm Beach, her opening of “American Sculptor’s Show” exhibition included the works of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Jo Davidson, Harriette Gowen Bingham, Mario Korbel, Paul Manship, Malvina Hoffman, Janet Scudder, Chester Beach, John Gregory, Edit Barrett Parsons, Renee Prahar, and Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Here are a few of the artists whose work was included at the much too-brief run of the Hodges Galleries, 1923-1925.
On Worth Avenue
Glenn Hodges became “one of the first to lead the way in developing Worth Avenue into the “Fifth Avenue of Palm Beach,” along with Paris Singer and Addison Mizner. Her ensemble of buildings was located in the 300 block adjacent to the east end of the Everglades Arcade. In 2016, I wrote a NYSD feature on the architectural history of Glenn Hodges Building that extends today from 300-312 Worth Avenue, the Ralph Lauren shop to Maus & Hoffman.
In January 1935, Mary Wodehouse and her committee launched the Civic Art Association, housed at E. R. Bradey’s Urban-designed Oasis Club building on Main Street. With Hodges as a consultant, an exhibition opened of notable American artists in the building’s large second-floor salon, including the work of Sargeant Kendall, Leo Lentelli, Baroness Hilda Rebay, Harmon MacNeill, Grace Turnbull, and Alfred Hutter.
The following winter, The Society of the Four Arts was preparing to open on the first floor of the Singer Building on Royal Palm Way, formerly the Spanish Provincial Apartments and now called the Rovensky Building. Maud Howe Elliott was named honorary president; Hugh Dillman, a former stage actor and secretary to Joseph Riter who became president of the Everglades Club, was the first president of The Four Arts. Patrons loaned their artworks for a show of Old Masters. More than 500 patrons and supporters gathered on January 25, 1936, to celebrate the new Society of The Four Arts, reflecting “the high standard of intellectual interests found in Palm Beach.” SOFA’s exhibition did not include Robert Winthrop Chanler’s work.
For Glenn Hodges, the 1930s and 1940s were a tumultuous time, ensnarled in lawsuits over artworks, town ordinances, and health concerns. Because her Worth Avenue courtyard patio tenant, Bijou Jardin entertained diners with an orchestra playing until the early morning hours, her Golfview Road neighbor, Clarence Geist, wanted to shut it down. Grumbling about sleepless nights. Geist was soon joined by a chorus of protestors, leading to a more restrictive nightclub ordinance.
When Hodges was unable to find a buyer for a client’s tapestries, she negotiated with Michaelyan Galleries to sell them for her. Michaelyan indicated they had a buyer. Then, the client died, and the estate’s executors indicated they did not want to sell the tapestries. Unfortunately, Michaelyan had already sold the tapestries, resulting in more than a decade of litigation and appeals.
December 1938. If upset tenants and legal fees were not enough, Hodges landed in a Tallahassee hospital with serious head injuries from a car accident in route to visit her family in Meridian, Mississippi. Traveling at a high rate of speed, she fell out of her chauffeur-driven car while trying to reset the car’s rear door, tumbling onto the pavement. The following summer, she traveled to Vichy hoping to aid her recovery. She suffered a stroke and returned to Mississippi. Her condition deteriorated; she went blind.
Glenn Hodges never returned to Palm Beach, a place where she felt as at home as she did in her hometown of Meridian. In May 1945, the family sold the Glenn Hodges Building for $250,000 that included the Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller & Co. leases and several apartments. She died on December 16, 1947.
“Mrs. Glenn Hodges will be remembered as the inaugurator of art exhibitions in Palm Beach.” [Palm Beach Post, 1927]