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Remembering Milton Gendel Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 November 2018

Milton Gendel, who passed away at the age of 99 in Rome last month, was known for the company he kept. That included the British royal family and a selection of tycoons that included the Agnelli, Getty and Onassis clans. Fortunately for us, though, it also included his camera.

The first company he kept, of course, was that of his parents in New York City. His father Meyer owned a garment business and his mother Anna had been a seamstress who was arrested for hitting a nonunion worker with an umbrella during a strike at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory before it burned in the famous 1911 fire that killed 146 workers.

He earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in art history at Columbia University where he kept company with the esteemed art historian Meyer Schapiro, serving as his assistant after studying with him. It was an apprenticeship he would profit from in his parallel career as an art critic, writing for ARTnews introducing post-war Italian artists like Alberto Burri and Toti Scialoja to English audiences.

Between 1942 and 1944, Gendel hosted writers like Anaïs Nin and artists like André Breton and Max Ernst who had fled Europe early in World War II and settled in Greenwich Village. That company informed "his way of seeing the world and representing it through his photographs," as his biography puts it.

After his marriage to Evelyn Wechsler in 1944, he was stationed with the U.S. Army in Shanghai, involved in the the repatriation of the defeated Japanese. It was then that he borrowed a Leica and took up photography seriously.

He never returned to live in the U.S. after moving to Italy in December 1949.

He'd hoped to live in China on a Fulbright scholarship in 1949, but the Communist takeover there persuaded him to choose Italy instead.

He never returned to live in the U.S. after moving to Italy in December 1949. Rome became his home although he would tell people, "I am a New Yorker and a Jeffersonian democrat, just passing through."

The move to Rome also engendered another significant change in the company he kept. A few months after his arrival in Rome he separated from his wife Evelyn, divorcing only in 1962.

In 1951, after his scholarship ended, his friend Bruno Zevi introduced him to Adriano Olivetti who offered him a job as a cultural consultant handling international public relations for Olivetti.

That included an affair with Olivetti's daughter-in-law, separated from his son, that resulted in twins Sebastiano and Natalia in 1958. That common law arrangement ended, however, and Gendel married Judy Montagu, who was a friend of Princess Margaret and introduced him to the royal family. In 1963 his daughter Anna was born.

As a member of the Foreign Press Association since 1954, he became a correspondent for ARTnews and other publications. His apartment on the Tiber where he moved in 1958 was "one of the most interesting places in Rome, frequented by Peggy Guggenheim, her daughter Pegeen, the Italian and international aristocrats like Princess Margaret of England, dear friend of his wife Judy or Prince Carlo Caracciolo of Castagneto."

Judy died suddenly in 1972 at the age of 49 after suffering a stroke while visiting England.

He had his first photo exhibition in 1977 at the Galleria Marlborough in Rome. Another photo exhibition was held later that year at the Galleria Barozzi in Venice.

In 1981 he married the artist and illustrator Monica Incisa della Rocchetta and exhibited at the American Academy in Rome. During the 1980s he had two photo exhibitions in Rome at the Galleria Il Ponte in 1983 and at the Galleria Il Segno in 1986. In 1988 his friend Giovanni Carandente invited him to join the advisory committee of the Venice Biennale with Lorenza Trucchi and Marisa Volpi.

In 2011 he donated his library, the photographic archive and a part of his collection to the Fondazione Primoli in exchange for the loan of use of an apartment on the first floor, with a loggia on the Tiber.

He leaves behind some of that company he kept, survived by his third wife Monica Incisa della Rocchetta; his son, the physician Sebastiano Grendel Berla; his daughter Anna, an art historian herself; and five grandchildren. His daughter Natalia died in 1989 after battle drug addiction.

In A Six-Decade Roman Holiday, James Reginato paints a lively portrait of the man who kept some of the best company in the world. And took their photos, too.

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