The Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection was assembled by Evelyn Way Kendall (Mrs. Henry P. Kendall). This rich international collection contains well over a thousand artworks, artifacts, books and documents related to human ventures in flight. While encompassing early mechanized aviation, the heart of the collection captures the history and artistic depiction of lighter-than-air craft, from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. Her collection held a wide range of art prints, including ballooning scenes, portraits of aeronauts, and designs for lighter-than-air craft; original paintings and drawings; historic photographs of significant events in ballooning and aviation history, including the Wright brothers and other aviation pioneers; a library of over three hundred volumes; and an array of objects with ballooning or aviation motifs, such as china, decorative boxes, fans, jewelry, commemorative medallions, furnishings and textiles. It was gifted to the Smithsonian Institution in 2014.
Original Paintings and Drawings
The two-dimensional original artworks (paintings and drawings) in the Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection are primarily from Great Britain, France, and Japan, with additional works from other European countries, the United States and Canada. The majority of the original works are 19th century, with the earliest from the 1780s and the latest from 1965. Most portray ballooning scenes, with a few paintings or sketches of airplanes.
The category of original works includes a variety of media: 32 water color paintings, 11 oil paintings, 15 Japanese water colored woodblock prints, 5 reverse paintings on glass, and 15 pen or pencil drawings, some with color wash. Significant paintings include an unsigned American Civil War oil of Lowe’s Gas Balloon, an unsigned British oil circa 1811 of Sadler’s ascent from Hackney, and an oil landscape view of London from Greenwich circa 1840, attributed to Thomas Shotter Boys. One anomaly is a large, three-paneled standing screen portraying a ballooning scene, which Mrs. Kendall chose to classify among the original artworks rather than the miscellaneous domestic objects. A few of the drawings are technical diagrams of various actual or proposed aircraft.
Prints and Engravings
The extensive Kendall collection of ballooning and aviation engravings, lithographs, and other art prints encompasses a wide range of periods, styles, and subjects. The earliest work is a 17th century German woodcut of the Flight of Daedalus. A significant number portray late 18th century scenes from the first years of ballooning. Most of these are probably roughly contemporaneous with the events they depict. However, we have avoided assigning dates unless there was specific documentation for the date of the particular version of the print, as opposed to the event portrayed. The primary focus of the print collection is on ballooning from the late 18th to early 20th centuries, although there are over thirty prints of airplanes and a set of photographic posters of the 1969 moon landing. Approximately 60% of the prints are colored; about a dozen are duplicates of others in the collection. Approximately 85% are matted but unframed; only 15 lack any mounting. The majority of the prints are from Great Britain and France, with a substantial number from the United States and from other European countries.
Some of the prints are distinctive and valuable works of fine art, while others were mass-produced for popular consumption, including broadsides, posters, magazine and sheet music covers, satirical cartoons, and trade, souvenir and postal cards and stamps. The prints portraying ballooning scenes are often both painstakingly detailed and accompanied by substantial descriptive text, providing a vivid picture of the feats of early aeronauts like Montgolfier, Robert, Blanchard, Lunardi, and Sadler, and illustrating the keen public interest aroused by ballooning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Sometimes the balloon is tangential to the subject of the print; for instance, a balloon is depicted hovering overhead in the background of a scene such as the coronation of Louis XVIII in 1814 or the opening of the new London Bridge in 1831.
Portraits of Aeronauts
The 47 prints classified by Mrs. Kendall as Portraits in the Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection are essentially a subset of the Prints collection. All of them are formal portraits of prominent aeronauts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Except for two lithographs, all are engravings, and almost all of them are uncolored. They were produced primarily in France, Great Britain, and Germany. Those portrayed include such renowned figures in ballooning as Joseph Montgolfier, Pilatre de Rozier, Jean Pierre Blanchard, Mrs. Sage, Robertson, Charles, Robert, Mme. Blanchard, Green, Sadler, and Garneray, among others. There are multiple portraits of some of the more popular aeronauts, in particular Vincent Lunardi, who seems to have taken Great Britain by storm. A lithograph of Robert Cocking, who fell to his death during a public demonstration of his experimental parachute, was published for the benefit of his widow.
The category of miscellaneous objects (three-dimensional objects, documents, scrapbooks and newspapers) is the most diverse in the Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection. They date from the earliest years of ballooning in the 18th century through the mid-20th century. Many of the objects are works of fine art, usually adapted to a useful purpose, while others are more ordinary domestic objects. All portray or incorporate a ballooning or early aviation motif. The collection includes a variety of enamel and metal patch and snuff boxes, elaborately painted and carved fans, china, jewelry, commemorative medallions, textiles, and toys, among other objects. Ballooning scenes adorn a needle case, a calling card case, a coin purse, drawer pulls, dishes, metal trays, upholstery fabrics, and small tables. A number of miniature paintings on wood or ivory, some of which were probably originally mounted on box lids, were identified as miscellaneous objects in Mrs. Kendall’s original cataloging of the collection, and we have maintained her system of classification. Notable items include a late 18th-century gold and enamel French pocket watch with a ballooning scene; an American hat box, circa 1790, painted with a scene of ‘Clayton’s Ascent’; a French diamond and enamel chatelaine brooch; a modern shadow box ballooning scene by Ruggini Valerio; and a French message balloon from the Franco-Prussian War. In addition to the art and domestic objects, the Miscellaneous category also includes manuscripts, documents, scrapbooks, newspapers, magazine articles, and clippings related to significant events in ballooning and aviation. The substantial collection of newspapers, articles and clippings was sorted and summarized by date, type and subject by the catalogers, but items were not individually described.
The collection incorporates approximately 100 original photographic prints dating from 1866 to 1937, illustrating notable events and personalities in both ballooning and early aviation. Many of the photographs were used as illustrations in contemporary publications, and when possible have been so identified. Most noteworthy are a series of photographs of Henry Giffard’s large captive balloon set up in Paris in 1878, detailing the craft itself, its support elements, and its large handling crew; and incidentally depicting the damage sustained by surrounding buildings during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the Commune uprising of 1871. A collection of photographs dating from 1908 documents some of the demonstration flights sponsored by French investors and undertaken at a French military base by Wilbur Wright. These images, which appear in many publications of the period, reinforce the historical view that initially the Wrights and their invention were received with greater enthusiasm and financial support in Europe than in their homeland. A significant image in that series depicts Wright and Bleriot—aviation pioneers and competitors—in deep conversation.
Other historically valuable photographs include two U.S. Navy images depicting early experiments in aerial bombardment, and a 1901 print of a forlorn-looking Santos-Dumont precariously perched on a Paris hotel window ledge awaiting rescue after a crash landing. The ill-fated Hindenburg cruising over Boston on its way to its fiery end in New Jersey was photographed, ironically enough, from the office of the Kendall Company.
The Library of the Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection consists of an array of books and other print materials representing many sources and periods. Of the 328 numbered items, over half are hardcover books and about 20% are soft-cover books and booklets, with the remainder consisting of various magazines, unbound book and magazine articles, museum exhibit catalogs, and a range of auction and dealer catalogs (for both books and prints). Topical coverage is split, with over half of the collection devoted to early ballooning, a third to aviation matters only, and the rest encompassing both. Some 21 titles are children’s books. A few titles are of uncertain relationship to ballooning or aviation but were placed in the collection by Mrs. Kendall and thus have been retained there.
The earliest title in the collection, Mathematicall Magick. or, The Wonders That may be performed by Mechanicall Geometry, by John Wilkins, was published in 1648 in London. Mrs. Kendall continued to add works from various periods, including contemporary, to the library into the 1970s. The bulk of the material, almost ¾, consists of 20th century publications; 20% are from the 19th century, and 5% date from the 18th century. Over half of the works were published in the United States, almost a quarter are from the United Kingdom, and roughly one-fifth are from France, with other titles from Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.