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Hammer Icons

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Two of the most startling characters in the U. S. art world are the Brothers Armand and Victor Hammer, one with a medical degree, both friends of Soviet Russia. Visiting Moscow in 1921 to do a few months' medical relief work in the Ural farming area, Armand Hammer ended up by staying nine years and with Brother Victor became one of the first foreigners to obtain commercial concessions in Russia, sold Ford tractors, Moline plows, later bought Russian beer barrel staves for his U. S. factories. Realizing that the Soviet bureaucracy was becoming swamped in a morass of official papers, they obtained a pencil-making concession.

The Soviet Government negotiated a deal with the versatile Hammers. They were forbidden to export their rubles, but they might buy with their profits antique furniture, jewels, paintings, etc. There soon appeared in Manhattan a swank emporium known as the Hammer Galleries, its showcases filled with Sevres vases, jeweled Easter eggs, enameled cups and other bourgeois impedimenta of Tsarist nobility. Knowing the political sympathies of its likeliest customer, the Hammer Galleries plasters its walls with double eagles and other imperial symbols.

Last week, however, the Hammer Galleries was able to stage an exhibition to attract the attention of serious art critics. From its own large stocks, eked out by a few loans of friends, they presented a collection of 194 Russian icons covering seven centuries of Russian painting, the largest collection of Russian icons ever shown in the U. S.

Russian icon painting, which remained in the stiff Byzantine tradition right to the outbreak of the World War, never reached the heights of similarly Byzantine painting in Siena, Italy, but did produce a few recognized masters in the 15th Century and during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Of these greatest icon painters the Hammer Galleries showed a full two dozen. All were emphatically for sale.

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