The Brevoort Kane Family

Bear with me here, because pretty much every single person in this family is named Henry or Florence.

hbkane-jrHenry Brevoort, Jr. (1782-1848) was from one of the richest families in Manhattan. Huge areas of downtown Manhattan were owned by his family, including a large farm that stretched along an unpaved road that is now 5th Avenue.

He was referred to as a “gentleman of great wealth and unlimited leisure” by The Evening World. He was a writer and patron of the arts, and hung around with the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (surely he was in the St. Nicholas Club with John William Chase Leveridge).

There’s even a book of his correspondence with Washington Irving, and from what I’ve skimmed it looks pretty entertaining.

In the 1830s, Henry Brevoort, Jr. famously built a huge mansion at 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Manhattan (it was torn down in 1925).
brevoort mansion 1900

According to Daytonian in Manhattan:
The house was designed as much for entertaining as for living. There was a billiard room, a library and two large parlors separated by the entrance hall. William Cullen Bryant would call it “a kind of palace in a Garden.” Upstairs were seven large bedrooms on the second floor and nine servants’ rooms on the third.

His grandson, the Senator Henry Brevoort Kane (1866-1930) married Florence Hartshorne in 1888. They had 2 kids: John Grenville Kane and Florence Brevoort Kane. John Grenville Kane died at age 14 from appendicitis. It was his stone that caught my eye in the first place–it’s a lovely example of the classic tree trunk symbol for a young person struck down in his prime.

kane

kane-obituary

Florence Brevoort Kane (1895-1956), his sister, had quite an interesting life. Afflicted with spinal meningitis at age 3, she was deaf and mute. She couldn’t speak or communicate well her entire life, and turned to sculpture at an early age in order to express herself.

She studied sculpture in both New York and Paris. She eventually settled in to a studio in Paris where she lived and worked for a good 20 years, often traveling to Cannes and the Riviera to visit an aunt.

Imagine being an artist in Paris in the 1920s. Now imagine that you are an extremely wealthy artist who doesn’t have to worry about paying for that baguette. Now imagine you are also a woman, and deaf and mute to boot. I can’t even begin.

Florence Brevoort Kane won several prestigious awards for her work while she was in France, most notably a bronze medal in 1932. She returned to the U.S. after World War II broke out, and was described as “oft-lonely” by this 2012 article in East Side Monthly.

From what I can gather from a lengthy (and quite boring) transcript of a legal squabble she had with a “companion”, I’m thinking that Florence was likely gay. This is pure conjecture of course, but the lawyer in the case repeatedly asks about her being “interested in” the other woman, with whom she lived and traveled. She never married.

The Providence Art Club had a retrospective of her work in 2012. Damn, I would have liked to have seen that. Here’s a picture of her at work:

florence-kane-work

7 thoughts on “The Brevoort Kane Family”

  1. Again, LJ, you’ve learnt me something. Thank you. I’ve got to tour G-W again. Last time, Easter a few years ago, we arrived late, wandered deep, and were locked in (along with a dozen other luckless bastards). Sign on the gate said WILL BE BACK. Cryptic. Waited for 40 minutes for our release. Oh, I’LL BE BACK, all right. I’ll be back.

  2. Thank you for this. Walk About New York conducts the Gay Graves Tour at Green-Wood Cemetery. We did not know about Florence Brevoort Kane’s lesbian and artistic life. We will research her further and include her on our Tour. The unique headstone will help me locate the graves. Many thanks.

    It seems as if Senator Henry Brevoort Kane was the grandson, not the son, of Henry Brevoort, Jr. He must have been the son of a daughter of Henry Brevoort, Jr. The senator was born 18 years after Henry Brevoort, Jr.

  3. St Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Narragansett RI and the Providence Art Club were the 2 major beneficiaries of Florence Breevort Kane. St Peter’s is hosting internationally recognized sculptor Mimi Sammis at 2pm on November 4, 2017 to speak about Florence “Peggy” Kane and her work. The church contains a full size bronze statue of Jesus and 3 bas reliefs created by Florence. It also has 4 beautiful stained glass windows memorializing her grandmother, mother, brother and cousin. Within a short walk from the church is a large war memorial created for the town by Florence. Just another note about her, her bust of Pres. Dwight Eisenhower is in the Smithsonian Museum.

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