Antiques & Design – Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Tue, 09 Jul 2019 01:51:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Antiques & Design – Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 Gorham Silver: The Shining Thu, 02 May 2019 00:20:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Hundreds of pieces of Gorham silver go on view at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, providing a brilliant view into the “golden age” of American silver.

Waste Bowl, 1886

Waste Bowl, 1886, silver with gilding, 8.2 x 13.5 x 13.5 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Waste Bowl, 1886 Erik Magnussen, Cubic Coffee Service, 1927 Thomas Pairpoint, Epergne, 1872 Gorham Manufacturing Company, American, Nutcrackers (set of 6), 1879 Donald H. Colflesh, Circa ‘70,

When the World’s Fair in St. Louis closed its doors on December 1, 1904, after a seven-month run, an estimated 20 million people had visited the expansive presentation in the newly designed Forest Park. Dubbed the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the fair commemorated the land deal the United States had made with France 100 years earlier, giving the burgeoning country 827,000 square miles west of the Mississippi. The event was a picture of “Manifest Destiny,” with 1,500 newly erected buildings dotting a 1,200-acre area, and the spirit of patriotism wafted through the air like the scent of roasting hot dogs—which were widely popularized at the event. (Contrary to popular belief, they did not debut there, though both French’s mustard and the ice cream cone did.)

Amid the fair’s various amusements and dazzling displays was the lavish Martelé Writing Table (1903) by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, R.I. Gorham made the show-stopping ebony desk, which took some 10,000 hours of labor and five pounds of silver to produce, expressly for the fair. The company utilized its complicated Art Nouveau-influenced martelé style to create its intricate decorations. Debuted by Gorham only about seven years prior, martelé characteristically featured curvaceous, rolling forms with a hand-hammered finish and was on full display with this piece. With a global flair, the writing table also blended references to French 18th-century design with Hispano-Moresque inlay of silver, mother-of-pearl, exotic woods and ivory. Its legs rest on small pads of ivory with Renaissance Revival female masks representing the four seasons, while winding poppies form the silver gallery at its top and morning glories decorate its mirror—representing night and day. The writing table, with its abundant mixture of technical and decorative elements, won Gorham the fair’s Grand Prize in silver.

The Martelé Writing Table is one of the 600 silver and mixed-metal pieces going on view on May 3 in “Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance, 1850–1970,” a new exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Providence-based museum’s Gorham collection, consisting of 2,500 metalworks and some 2,300 design drawings, is the largest in the world. The show draws primarily from the museum’s extensive cache but also features several important loans from public and private collections, like a martelé dressing table from the Dallas Museum of Art that will be displayed alongside the writing table described above for only the second time in history.

“The exhibition has been in the making for a long time,” says Elizabeth A. Williams, the RISD Museum’s David and Peggy Rockefeller curator of decorative art and design. “Gorham is not only an important part of the museum’s collection but also the history of Providence.” The exhibition travels to the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Mint Museum in 2020, Williams notes. “This is particularly exciting because there really hasn’t been a multi-venue Gorham silver exhibition ever before,” says the curator.

The history of RISD’s holdings is directly influenced by the company’s recent history. After Textron, a Providence-based conglomerate that bought Gorham in 1967, sold the silver manufacturer to Dansk in the late-1980s, it gave RISD the bulk of its collection in 1991. In 2005, the Lenox Group, which owned Gorham at the time, gifted the museum 2,300 design drawings. (Clarion Capital Partners, operating under the name Lenox Corporation, now owns Gorham.)

Gorham’s beginnings, however, were anything but corporate. When Jabez Gorham founded it in 1831 in partnership with Henry L. Webster, it was just a small shop in the heart of Providence, selling handmade spoons, thimbles, and other small items of coin silver. Under the direction of Jabez’s son, John, who succeed his father as head of the company in 1847, the business grew to become one of the largest American manufactures of sterling and silverplate. At its zenith, the vertically-integrated company employed over 3,000 men and women, working in design, production, and marketing. In keeping with growth and demand, Gorham opened a state-of-the-art plant in 1890, occupying over 35 acres of land in south Providence.

The manufacturer’s success owed just as much to the innovative and prescient business practices of John Gorham as it did to the beauty and quality of its products. With mechanization in mind, Gorham embarked for England, soon after he took over the company, to meet with the inventor of the steam-powered draw press. “Though it was typically used for making larger items, he asked for a steam-powered draw press specifically for making silver,” says Williams. “Gorham was the first silver manufacturer to have this kind of machinery, and it increased production exponentially.” However, Williams notes, Gorham still finished and polished pieces by hand. “They always kept that balance between making production efficient and keeping the stylistic aspects and quality up to par.”

John Gorham was ahead of the curve when it came to marketing his company’s products, as well. Utilizing the nascent photographic medium, Gorham had pictures taken of available pieces. These images were bound in books for the company’s salesmen to use when traveling. “At that time in New England,” says Williams, “you basically had peddlers taking things from city to city, but when Gorham expanded its manufacturing in 1855–56, it started photographing works so salesmen could take pictures with them and fewer actual objects.” The company’s reputation quickly expanded to other American cities, notably New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, where they became a strong force in the 1860s. Gorham opened a retail store in the “Ladies’ Mile” shopping district in Manhattan in 1884. It moved to a Fifth Avenue building, which was commissioned from Stanford White, in 1905.

The decades between Gorham’s founding and its sale to Textron coincided with the “golden age” of American silver. A boom in American silver began in 1842 after Congress enacted a tariff on imported silverware. Lulls during World War I and the Depression aside, the industry only began to die down in the middle of the 20th century. Gorham’s place as a top American silver manufacturer has been underscored over the years by several particularly patriotic commissions: Mary Todd Lincoln acquired a tea and flatware service for the White House in 1859 and, much more recently, George W. Bush chose the company’s Chantilly pattern for his flatware on Air Force One. For a commission from Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, Gorham used 2,000 ounces of sterling silver to create a Century Vase for the country’s 100th anniversary and for the battleship USS Rhode Island Gorham created an extensive silver service in 1907. (After World War I the U.S. Navy returned the service to the state; it is now on view in the Rhode Island State House.)

On view in “Designing Brilliance” is another patriotic object, the Admiral Dewey Cup (1899). It was designed for Admiral George Dewey, who became a national hero in 1898 after his victory in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. The 8-foot-6-inch-high cup, which comes to the show from the collection of the Chicago History Museum, has a rich oak base and intricate silverwork made of, curiously, dimes. “A Chicago newspaper held a competition, asking each American to send in one dime for the purposes of this cup,” says Williams. Seventy thousand Americans sent in dimes, and Gorham quickly put them to use, making the cup in four weeks. Many of the dimes were melted down, but some were ingeniously overlapped, serving as scales for the sea creatures that encircle the cup’s three-cornered base. The design drawing for the cup, a large-scale work in its own right, is six feet tall. Williams says, “We have the design drawing, and we’re showing the cup and the drawing together.”

The first piece of Gorham silver to come into the RISD Museum’s collection was the New Bedford, Whaling City, Souvenir Teaspoon. Made in 1891, the silver spoon commemorates New Bedford, Mass., which was nicknamed “The Whaling City” as it was one of the most significant whaling ports in the world throughout the 19th century. A highly-detailed, many-sailed ship punctuates the spoon’s handle. A delicate silver rope wraps around the spoon’s stem, which terminates with a harpoon-like tip that stabs into its bowl where a whale is seen swimming. “We might think of a souvenir spoon as touristy,” says Williams, “but this Gorham example was very well made.”

The Bonbon Spoon, another notable utensil in the exhibition, showcases Gorham’s experiments with enamel in the 1890s. Made around 1893, the silver spoon features gilding and plique-à-jour enamel, which gets its name from the French meaning “open or against the light”—its enameled cells are see-through and give off a brilliant stained-glass effect when held up to the light. This type of enamel was developed in the 12th century but saw a resurgence of popularity in the 1890s when Gorham and just one other American maker began producing it again. To create plique-à-jour, each color of enamel is placed individually into a framework of twisted wires that creates the design. The pieces are only held in place by surface tension. This particular spoon has a lusciously colored peacock design, which becomes even more brilliant and jewel-like when held up to the light.

No one style epitomizes Gorham. “They were very fluid,” says Williams. “They would look at something and try to figure out how to make it their own, or they would debut something entirely new to see if it would be successful.” With this philosophy in mind, Gorham produced an enormous range of products. “Gorham would have hundreds of different flatware patterns available at once,” says Williams. “They influenced and were influenced by their customers, so sometimes one form could have up to 50 different variations ranging in ornamentation, and even from there it could be customized.”

Gorham’s hard-to-pin-down style was also due to company’s willingness to hire and highlight new designers. In the 1920s, Eric Magnussen, a Danish designer, was brought in to develop pieces in keeping with the trend at the time—a more Modern aesthetic. In the 1960s, the American designer Donald H. Colflesh helped usher in a mid-century sensibility. Magnussen’s Cubic Coffee Service (1927, silver with gilding, ivory, and oxidized decoration) is a highlight of the show and a work that put Gorham at the vanguard of Modern design within the silver industry. Gold and dark-patinated triangular facets punctuate the highly geometric sterling silver objects of the service, creating a Cubist effect. The service is as if the two-dimensional objects of Cubist paintings truly popped out into three-dimensional space. Gorham described the set as “…based on tall buildings seen from various perspectives and from shadows on the backs of skyscrapers.” In 1960, it was Colflesh’s turn to reinvent the coffee service. The Circa ’70 Coffee and Tea Service utilized space-age forms, giving the appearance, says Williams, “that it could elevate and take off at any moment.” The service is made in silver with ebony, and its tray, which was not designed by Colflesh but approved by him, features Formica, a material that was new at the time. “The RISD Museum’s set still has a little tag on the bottom of the tray that says ‘this is Formica,’” says Williams. “It’s hard for us now to imagine Formica making its debut in serving ware!”

A major highlight of the RISD Museum’s exhibition is the Furber Collection, an 816-piece service made between 1866 and 1880 to serve 24 diners. Made for Henry Jewett Furber, president of the Universal Life Insurance Company of New York, the commission was the largest Gorham ever received. Much of the service was bought back by Gorham in the 1940s and entered RISD’s collection with the gift from Textron. The epitome of Victorian dining, the Furber set includes an exceedingly grand and complicated epergne (silver with gilding and glass) made in 1872. The sumptuous piece depicts a silver-gowned Columbia standing on a globe and holding a heavy gilded garland with the assistance of two putti. It features shell-shaped bowls—for flowers—decorated with golden hummingbirds and oblong bowls—meant for fruit—adorned with allegorical representations of Love and Contentment.

The Furber Collection will be displayed in near-entirety in a pavilion-like structure that mimics Gorham’s display at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. About the display structure, Williams says that viewers can see through it and walk into it, and it will allow the individual pieces of the collection to be displayed in a dense manner. “It’s like a retail display of that era,” says the curator. “It’s meant to be a spectacle.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Finely Woven Tue, 30 Apr 2019 04:55:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art reveals the richness of tapestry as modern art form.

Fernand Léger, Country Outing (second state), circa 1980

Fernand Léger, Country Outing (second state), circa 1980, wool and cotton, 263.53 x 328.3 cm. Credit: © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Pablo Picasso, Painter and his Model, 1970 Roy Lichtenstein, Modern Tapestry, 1968 Joan Miró, Spanish Dancer, circa 1962 Fernand Léger, Country Outing (second state), circa 1980 Romare Bearden, Recollection Pond, 1976

When Andreas Bechtler established the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art to share his family’s collection of mid-century modern art with his Charlotte, N.C., community, he created an institution that boasts an impressive, highly varied, and personal selection of works by some of the 20th century’s greatest creators. Among these are a collection of rather unusual artworks: tapestries by highly significant artists who are generally not associated with textiles, including Alexander Calder, Diego Giacometti, Fernand Léger, Roy Lichtenstein, Le Corbusier, and Pablo Picasso.

This fascinating collection of pieces is what inspired the Bechtler Museum to mount the exhibition “Nomadic Murals: Tapestries of the Modern Era.” John Boyer, the president and CEO of the Bechtler Museum, says, “We have eight spectacular pieces in our collection, and we thought it would be helpful to put our pieces in a larger context, not only of other tapestries by the same artists but exploring even farther. Who among their peers might also have been exploring the potential of tapestries?”

This question led the museum’s curators to many other significant painters, sculptors, and designers who also ventured into the world of tapestry—among them Joan Miró, Victor Vasarely, and Charlotte-born African-American artist Romare Bearden. All together, the show includes more than 30 works spanning 1930 to today. “We tend to think of so many modern figures as working only in the medium for which they’re most broadly known,” says Boyer, “Giacometti as a sculptor, Picasso as a painter. But it’s important to see their expressions in as many media as we can.”

One interesting element of the show is that many of the works on display were not expressly designed to be tapestries, but rather began as paintings or drawings. A tapestry of Picasso’s famous L’Acrobate is a perfect example. In this case, the tapestry was one of several commissioned by art patron Nelson Rockefeller, according to Boyer. Working closely with Picasso, Rockefeller commissioned a long-established weaving studio in the South of France to create tapestry versions of a few of Picasso’s paintings and drawings. The studio would weave three of each design: one for Rockefeller, one for Picasso, and the last to be kept by the studio.

“So here you have two of the most important figures in the trajectory of Modernism—one on the artistic side, and one on the side of patronage—committing themselves to the importance of this medium,” Boyer says. “For Picasso, we come to understand his interest in another material and how that helped give expression to his vision, as was the case with his printmaking and ceramic work. So the Picasso pieces in particular are illuminating when it comes to the breadth of appetite that so many Modernists had in their willingness to explore a wider variety of media.”

Other artists, particularly Le Corbusier, made designs specifically for tapestries. Le Corbusier was emblematic of the artists who were born as the Arts and Crafts movement was in full swing, near the end of the 19th century. Part of that movement’s influence was a kind of agnosticism toward different types of art—artists could be painters, furniture designers, and draughtsmen, because all of those disciplines were, simply, art. “This generation didn’t really see the same kind of separation between media that the rest of us do,” Boyer says. “They didn’t see those boundaries. This show is an expression of that.”

One of the more exquisite pieces in the show is Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Tapestry (1968). This was a piece the artist designed specifically as a tapestry; however, at the same time, Lichtenstein was working on a series of paintings called Modern Paintings. Many of the motifs from that series are seen in Modern Tapestry. Another work from that same year is Frank Stella’s Sinjerli Variations. Featuring two joined half-circles in green, blue, black, and yellow, the piece is lush and vibrant, and it was designed to be a tapestry. “Stella was very moved by the tactile qualities of tapestry,” says Boyer. “When he would move from one color to another in his paintings, there’s no opportunity to feel that transition or to feel the role of line in the composition. He loved that tactile quality—he felt it more clearly conveyed what he was trying to do with color than a painting could.”

Moving into the contemporary period, “Nomadic Murals” features pieces by Kiki Smith, Robert Motherwell, and April Gornik. These tapestries represent yet another dimension of the art form: the collaboration between artist and weaving studio, in these cases, Magnolia Editions. While earlier artists—and many contemporary artists, too—had their tapestries created on traditional looms, artists who work with Magnolia choose to have their pieces woven on cutting-edge, computerized looms that capture the most minute details of the artist’s work. This creates pieces with incredible clarity and almost photographic detail.

“Nomadic Murals” includes a remarkable piece by Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson, …..they wondered what to do…for those who bear/bare witness. Patterson’s work is not a typical woven tapestry but instead a highly handcrafted mixed media piece that includes glitter, pins, fabric, wallpaper, and other materials. “She produces pieces that are breathtaking in scale and color—more like installations than tapestries,” Boyer says. “We’re so very happy to have one of her pieces in the exhibition. It takes you rather full circle—we have the works that Picasso would do in the South of France, which tied all the way back to the Renaissance, right up to Ebony’s work, which is very much about life today in the islands.”

Boyer’s hope for the exhibition is that it allows visitors to gain a more complete and complex understanding not only of tapestry as an art form but of the artists whose work is included. “Take Picasso,” he says. “We understand him as a painter the more we understand his drawings. We understand his drawing the more we understand his printmaking.” Who can say what new aspects of these artists’ work visitors will discover by examining their tapestries?

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Bauhaus Centennial: Two Schools of Thought Mon, 28 Jan 2019 17:07:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In honor of the Bauhaus’ centennial, Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum showcases its expansive collection of Bauhaus-related works.

Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Coffee and Tea Service: 5-Piece Set, 1924–25

Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Coffee and Tea Service: 5-Piece Set, 1924–25, brass with mercury silvered interiors and ebony fixtures.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Herbert Bayer, Design for a Multimedia Trade Fair Booth, 1924 Lucia Moholy, Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany, 1926 Lucia Moholy, Bauhaus Masters Housing, Dessau, 1925–26 László Moholy-Nagy, A 18, 1927 Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Coffee and Tea Service: 5-Piece Set, 1924–25 Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Table Lamp, 1924

Harvard University’s relationship to the Bauhaus can be traced back to three grad students. This triumvirate—Lincoln Kirstein, Edward Warburg, and John Walker—started the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art in 1929 and showed forward-thinking work by artists such as Buckminster Fuller. In 1930, the group put together an exhibition of contemporary German art, and later that year, a show of the Bauhaus—the first exhibition in the United States of work from the revolutionary German art school. “It wasn’t huge, but the group got loans from important galleries in New York, and Lincoln Kirstein wrote a small catalogue for it,” says Laura Muir, the research curator for academic and public programs at the Harvard Art Museums. The exhibition traveled to New York and Chicago and caught the attention of Charles Kuhn, the curator of Harvard’s Germanic Museum—now the Busch-Reisinger Museum—and a supporter of the Society. In the wake of the exhibition, Kuhn began collecting contemporary German art, with a focus on Bauhaus works.

The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 with the intention to promote collaboration between fine art, design, architecture, and craft. Though it had an indelible influence on the arts, it was only open for 14 years before its closure in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi regime (it was thought to be a hub for communist intellectualism). Like many of his colleagues, Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus’s founder and first architect-director, fled Nazi Germany. After a brief period in London, Gropius joined Harvard’s department of architecture in 1937, serving as the chair of the Graduate School of Design until 1952. Kuhn developed a relationship with Gropius, which lent direction to the curator’s timely reinvention of the Germanic Museum after World War II. The change was necessary: for one, the museum had been started with a collection of plaster casts and Kuhn wanted to shift its focus to original work, but perhaps more pressingly, German art was understandably out of fashion at the time. “As you can imagine, people weren’t so keen on Germanic culture, but right around this time Kuhn began the Bauhaus collection,” says Muir. “The Bauhaus represented something so expansive and modern—it was the perfect initiative for that moment.” Within a few years a call was put out for donations, and by the mid-1950s, there were 10,000 works in the museum’s Bauhaus collection.

Today, the Busch-Reisinger Museum has an enormous cache of 32,000 Bauhaus-related objects in its holdings. It serves as the museum’s core, and a selection of its pieces is always installed in its galleries. In 2016, Harvard Art Museums created The Bauhaus Special Collection, an online resource that serves as an ever-evolving digital catalogue for a collection too big for a comprehensive physical catalogue.

This year, to mark the centennial of the Bauhaus’ founding, the Busch-Reisinger Museum is harnessing the expansive spirit of its digital archive and adapting it for the gallery setting. “The Bauhaus and Harvard,” which opens at the Busch-Reisinger on February 8 and runs through July 28, features some 200 works by 74 artists. Though still a distillation of the museum’s vast holdings, the show is meant to create a broader view of the Bauhaus’ philosophies and its artists’ output. “When you look at the exhibition history of the collection, it’s been about 50 years since we’ve looked at the collection as a whole,” says Muir. “So the Centennial is a really good moment to focus on this collection in its entirety and look at it with fresh eyes.”

The exhibition opens with a gallery devoted to the Bauhaus’ pedagogical practices. Says Muir, “We were devoted to the idea that first and foremost the Bauhaus was a school—which is of course pertinent to us.” The school’s faculty included such esteemed artists as Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Bartning, and Herbert Bayer, and began with the Vorkurs, an intensive course that introduced fundamental design principles. The gallery features examples of student exercises that showcase the Bauhaus’s revolutionary approach, focusing on color, form, shape, even sound. They are rarely seen because, being on paper, they are extremely photosensitive. One of the last galleries in the show features work that acknowledges the Bauhaus’ influence in the United States, for instance, Untitled (BMC.121, Exercise in Color Vibration and Figure Background), an exercise produced by celebrated sculptor Ruth Asawa in 1948–49 under the tutelage of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Throughout the exhibition, the archive’s depth will be used to expand upon familiar works. Muir cites an installation of Marcel Breuer’s celebrated Club Chair (B3) (designed 1925, manufactured 1929–32, nickel-plated steel tubing and modern canvas) in the show’s second gallery, which is devoted to the domestic interior. Ads by Herbert Bayer, as well as fabric samples from the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop, and photographs by Lucia Moholy, Moholy-Nagy’s wife—materials that are rarely on view because of their light sensitivity—give context to the chair. This gallery also showcases practical decorative art pieces like Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Coffee and Tea Service: 5-Piece Set (1924–25, brass with mercury silvered interiors and ebony fixtures) and Table Lamp (1924, transparent glass, opaline glass, mercury-silvered German silver, and silvered brass), which underscore the Bauhaus’ utopian project of designing a new world with objects that blended design, technology and functionality.

A section of the show devoted to the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop not only emphasizes some of the Busch-Reisinger’s strongest holdings, but also gives recognition to members whose voices might not have been as loud in the past—in short, the school’s women artists. “Throughout its history, we’ve had a lot of exhibitions devoted to this collection, but they’ve surrounded a lot of the same familiar male figures. We want to show the contributions of the women artists,” says Muir. In this section, Gunta Stölzl’s Tapestry (1922–23), an exploration of Modernist form and color in cotton, wool, and linen fibers, sings, as does Design for a Rug (1927, black ink and watercolor over graphite with drawn and cut paper additions on off-white wove paper) by Anni Albers.

The photographs of Moholy, another woman artist who has been predominately overlooked, are a through-line of the show. In the past, many of them were credited to Walter Gropius, because they featured his architecture. Her images, which depict everything from student exercises to artworks, decorative pieces, interiors, and architecture, give perhaps the most visceral sense of the Bauhaus’s culture and output. Muir says, “It was her vision that helped shape the vision of what the Bauhaus was.”

The exhibition’s final gallery is devoted to the Harvard Graduate Center, which Gropius designed with his firm The Architects Collaborative. Opening in 1950, it became the first modernist building complex on the university’s campus. The Center, says Muir, has never been the focus of an exhibition. The section will feature examples of artwork and studies commissioned for the building, such as Herbert Bayer’s Verdure (1950, oil on canvas), which was until recently undergoing conservation, and decorative pieces such as the plaid bedspread Anni Albers designed for the Center’s dorm rooms.

In a sister exhibition at Harvard’s University Research Gallery, “Hans Arp’s Constellations II,” the 13-panel relief of the same name, which was commissioned by Gropius for the Center, will be on view. Constellations II was first installed on the walls of a popular dining hall in Harkness Commons (now the Caspersen Center), but, in perhaps a rare convergence of Bauhaus and Animal House, had to be raised above table height in 1958 due to damage. They have since been moved and, recently, conserved.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Arms and the Man Mon, 28 Jan 2019 17:05:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Met puts a cache of rare decorative English firearms on view for The first time.

Pair of Flintlock Pistols

Gunmaker: Samuel Brunn, silversmith: Michael Barnett, Pair of Flintlock Pistols, British, London, 1800-1801

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Pair of Flintlock Pistols Detail of a pair of Flintlock Pistols Detail of a Pair of Flintlock Pistols Barreled Turnover Percussion Pistols Cased Flintlock Target Pistol

When John Byck first joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Arms and Armor as Assistant Curator three years ago, one of his first tasks was to identify areas of the department’s collection that could benefit from further research. While digging through the collection, he came across a remarkable find: a group of about 30 British firearms from the 18th and early 19th centuries, all in storage, that had not been critically examined since they entered the Met’s collection almost a century before. What’s more, many of them were highly significant—either very rare pieces or of exceptional quality. Byck had found his next project.

“I read every book I could find on the subject,” he says. “And while I was recataloguing the firearms, I found that many had these exciting stories to tell.” To track down these stories, Byck made several trips to the United Kingdom to visit archives and private collections. The result of this research and analysis is the exhibition “The Art of London Firearms,” the first U.S. museum show to examine the topic. It opened on January 29 and will remain on view through January 29, 2020.

The guns in the exhibition were all made by a small group of gunmakers on the outskirts of London, beginning around 1780. These craftsmen were in fierce competition with one another to attract commissions from wealthy customers, and this situation produced a level of artistry and refinement previously unknown in the flintlock firearm. This time period therefore not only resulted in higher-quality decoration but also in the first development of a truly English style of firearm.

With so many impressive examples of British firearms from this time period, one of the first questions Byck approached was how to determine the gun’s quality. “In order to understand where they fall on the spectrum of quality, as is true of any artwork, we have to look at the best examples and determine what those markers of quality are,” Byck says. “What type of embellishments do they have? How beautifully are the barrels made? Are the stocks finely finished? What motifs are commonly featured on royal firearms? Are the pieces still in their original cases, with original finishes?” The pieces in the Met’s collection were made for presentation or sport and were considered functional works of art in their own day, just as they are now.

In addition to the decorative elements, provenance was another highly important factor in Byck’s examination of this collection—and this was something that could really only be thoroughly researched through travel. One of the pieces that was most rewarding for Byck was a cased set of four-barreled percussion pistols made by gunmaker James Purdey in 1831, purchased by the Met in 1935. “When I found these pistols, I knew they were important, but I didn’t know exactly why. So while I was in London, I had the chance to visit Purdey’s archive, and in that archive I found these pistols,” Byck says. He discovered the original owner, the date of purchase, and the price paid for them—which revealed that they were the most expensive pistols Purdey had made up until that point, 30 or 40 years into his business. What’s more, Byck found that the purchaser was the 4th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, an influential politician at the time whose archives still survive. By visiting that archive, Byck was able to reconstruct almost the entire story of the pistols’ commission.

Another significant piece is a pair of flintlock pistols made by Samuel Brunn. Decorated with extremely fine silver mountings, they were most likely made for the Prince Regent. “They’re arguably the finest Neoclassical British firearms in the world,” Byck says. Yet another standout is a target pistol made by Robert Wogdon and John Barton for Prince William Frederick, 2nd Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. The pistol has an elegant curved stock and long barrel, with minimal embellishment.

In addition to displaying these items, many of which have never been on view before, “The Art of London Firearms” includes other pieces to help contextualize the guns. One of those was an extremely exciting find. “I found the tradecard for the artisan who made one of the firearms,” Byck says. “It’s very beautiful, and very rare. The card is one of those ephemeral pieces of art—it’s amazing that it survived. I’m very excited to be able to unite one of our star pieces with this really extraordinary trade card.”

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Whole Cloth Mon, 28 Jan 2019 17:04:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Wolfsonian’s latest exhibition brings the history of Italian textile design from Genoa to Miami.

Design drawing for a rug, 1947

Design drawing for a rug, 1947, for MITA’s Rug Competition for the T8. VIII Triennale, Milan Antonia Campi, designer, tempera and graphite on paperboard.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Panel, Mulinello [Whirl], 1957 Tapestry, Flauto magico [Magic Flute], for the Eugenio C Design drawing for a rug, 1927 MITA Factory, Genoa Nervi, 1940 Design drawing for a rug, 1947

“Made in Italy.” Which other three little words, almost always placed in a hidden, unassuming location on a variety of artistic and agronomic products, have come to hold such strong cachet worldwide?

In fact, none of the artworks on view in the eponymous exhibition at The Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami Beach includes that evocative phrase (and the “Made in Italy” mark was not put into place until 1980). But none of the masterpieces here would even require such a moniker. Their Italianness, both in their quality and in their artistic composition, needs no regulated stamp to be understood. “Made in Italy: MITA Textile Design 1926–1976,” organized with The Wolfsonian’s sister institution, The Wolfsoniana–Palazzo Ducale Fondazione per la Cultura in Genoa, celebrates the artistic output of the Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici (Italian Artistic Carpet Manufactory), an enterprise that, for 50 years, espoused the finest Italian craftsmanship and newest textile technologies in all their modernist furnishing and sartorial glory. Curators Silvia Barisione, Matteo Fochessati, and Gianni Franzone present MITA’s contributions in the history of textile and carpet production, situating the company at the forefront of the Italian avant-garde, from Futurism to Abstract Expressionism and even a bit of Pop.

Established in 1926 by the industrialist and entrepreneur Mario Alberto Ponis in Nervi, a suburb of Genoa, MITA was in many ways ahead of its time. Ponis envisioned a business that functioned as a hands-on factory as well as a place for artistic experimentation and learning. His friendships with many members of Italy’s cultured circles led to the company’s first collaborations with artists, drawing on Italian artisanal traditions while embracing the spirit of mechanized production. This marriage of art and industry would irrevocably change the Italian design landscape until the firm’s closure in 1976.

Ponis collaborated early on with an impressive roster of painters, designers, and architects, including the Rationalist architect Mario Labò, the architect-designer of the Novecento movement and Domus editor Gio Ponti, and the Futurist artist Fortunato Depero, whose textiles and carpets had already earned him accolades at the 1925 Exposition in Paris. Depero’s 1927 drawing for a carpet produced by MITA would have made a particular impact with its fiery colors and explosive forms. Depero pared down the geometry to a deceivingly simple two shapes and four colors, but the dynamism matches and arguably even exceeds that of its cousins being produced in France at the same time, like Sonia Delaunay’s textiles, which Depero no doubt saw when in Paris. Testifying to MITA’s initial artistic success, Depero’s Futurist colleagues Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giacomo Balla even purchased rugs from Ponis. Shown alongside three colorways of this rug design are period ceramics, illustrating the modernist Gesamtkunstwerk in interior decorating during the 1920s, and Depero’s famous bolted book, which, in wonderfully Futurist fashion, was finished with hardware so as to damage the books shelved next to it, and which included a dedication to Ponis.

Seggioline (Chairs), produced in 1935 from a drawing by Gio Ponti, is a playful pattern of tiny, repeating stylized chairs, which refer to his work as an industrial designer. Ponti not only created rugs and textiles for MITA but also frequently visited Ponis’ factory and included their products in Domus’ pages, a practice of familial promotion that he would continue throughout his tenure at the magazine. “You won’t find in Ponis the master artisan,” Ponti later wrote, “but rather a man who, without speculative address and with intelligence, plays an important role … [as] mediator between creators of fabric and architects.”

In the 1930s, Ponis worked with Rationalist architect Luigi Carlo Daneri to design the new and ultra-modern MITA factory, itself an ode to French modernist architecture with its flat roof and ribbon windows in the style of Le Corbusier. Inaugurated in 1941, the factory was quickly closed and refitted to produce helmets, life jackets, and emergency food bags.

In the postwar period, at a moment when Italy sought to find an artistic and industrial identity that could help reinvigorate the economy, MITA reopened and its production expanded to include tapestries, limited-edition and one-off artist panels, yard goods, and even scarves, to compete with the new wave of high-end Italian textile manufacturers like Fede Cheti and the Manifattura JSA, who shared some designers with MITA, including Ettore Sottsass, Jr. Sottsass’ abstracted kaleidoscope of hues, along with sculptor and ceramicist Antonia Campi’s rhythmic inversions of polymorphic shapes and lines, comprised MITA’s winning entries for the rug competition at the VIII Triennale of Milan in 1947.

During the 1950s and 1960s, MITA added to its ranks artists like Eugenio Carmi, Enrico Paulucci, Gio Pomodoro, and Leo Lionni (best known for his children’s book illustrations), to name just a few. Unlike other Italian fabric manufacturers who commissioned artists, though, Ponis smartly branded MITA’s goods as standalone works of art, even signed with the artists’ names, whether in printed ink or color, or woven into the tapestries. These one-of-a-kind works helped MITA to establish itself internationally, in regular showings at the Triennali after 1947, as well as by participating in the landmark 1950 touring exhibition in America, “Italy at Work: Her Renaissance in Design Today.” In 1951 at the IX Triennale, Italian artist textiles were exhibited for the first time. Among the invited companies was MITA, whose works included those by painters Carmi and Paulucci.

On display at The Wolfsonian is Carmi’s Mulinello (Whirl, 1957), exhibited in 1959 at the Fundación Mendoza in Caracas. A rumination on Italian abstract expressionism in neutral tones, Mulinello could rival the works of the Americans at that moment, both in its composition and scale. At the X Triennale in 1954, MITA focused its attention on one artist—and one work, as the title of the exhibition made clear. The Mostra del Pezzo Unico (Exhibition of the Unique Piece), featured Favola (Fable), a monumental tapestry by Emmanuele Luzzati, best known today for his theater designs and book illustrations. Favola depicts a myriad of characters from the uplifting fairy-tale worlds Luzzati created through his illustration and stories, drawing as much from postwar optimism and a need to escape Italy’s recent war-torn past as from its more distant theatrical past in the form of the Commedia dell’Arte.

Perhaps most telling of the company’s mid-century success are MITA’s commissions “at sea” to decorate the luxury ocean liners Andrea Doria (which sank in 1956), Eugenio C., and Leonardo Da Vinci. MITA’s work for the three vessels aptly recalls Gio Ponti’s summation of these cruise ships as “floating art galleries.” Among the stars of the Wolfsonian show is another of Luzzati’s tapestries, Flauto Magico (Magic Flute, 1966); Russian-German artist Michael Rachlis’ tapestry design; and Paulucci’s Gabbiani (Seagulls, 1960). Luzzati chose cool, aqueous tones and forms that suggest not Mozart (although the operatic reference was no coincidence for the seasoned stage designer) but rather the seaweed and coral glimpsed in underwater exploration, an appropriate reference given the tapestry’s original home in the Eugenio C.’s first-class dining room. The circa-1952 tempera sketch by Rachlis for the tapestry in the Andrea Doria first-class reading room is all that survives, but one gets a sense of the artistry in wool paired with a maritime decorative program. MITA produced Paulucci’s design for a silk scarf, fittingly featuring seagulls, as a giveaway for the inaugural voyage of the Leonardo da Vinci, which was built to replace the Andrea Doria. (In the 1960s, silk scarves were a fashionable means of promotion that was particularly favored by corporations, from pasta producer Prince to furniture giant Knoll.) Luzzati also produced a scarf, Cabo San Roque – Cabo San Vicente (circa 1960), an advertising freebie in association with the Spanish shipping company Ybarra Line.

In 1987, designer Andrea Branzi wrote that it was the “incredible fabrics” produced in Italy after the war that had brought Italian design “out of the doldrums of rationalism”—perhaps despite the Rationalist theories on which Ponis founded his business and its aesthetic, and with which Daneri had designed the factory—and “onto the hottest beaches of post-industrial culture,” a harbinger of the soon-to-come postmodernism. Branzi’s words are brought to life at The Wolfsonian thanks to MITA, the innovative vision of Mario Alberto Ponis, and the avant-garde compositions of the artists he employed. “Made in Italy” is a rare chance to see, outside of that country, the important products of a design great.

“Made in Italy” is on view through April 28, 2019 at The Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami Beach.

Have a Seat Fri, 30 Nov 2018 03:12:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new exhibition explores 200 years of American design through the example of the chair.

Large Diamond Lounge Chair, circa 1952

Designed by Harry Bertoia, Manufactured by Knoll Associates, New York City, NY, Large Diamond Lounge Chair, circa 1952.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Current, 2004 Large Diamond Lounge Chair, circa 1952 Centripetal Spring Arm Chair, circa 1850 “McKinley” Arm Chair, circa 1894-96 Sling Seat Lounge Chair, circa 1935 Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 Chair, 2003

In the realm of decorative arts, the humble chair is unique in its capacity for both functional utilitarianism and powerful symbolism. A chair can be meant for something as straightforward as dining or for conveying one’s status to a throng of admirers. It can be a piece of art or a piece of furniture. It can be simple and timeless, like a ladderback rocker, or practically unrecognizable.

It’s this wide range of uses, styles, and materials that is on display in the exhibition “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Fla. Spanning the early 19th century to today, the show includes important pieces by major designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Gehry, Isamu Noguchi, and Frank Lloyd Wright, not to mention historically significant pieces like the 1857 House of Representatives Chamber Arm Chair.

This touring show was originated by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and features pieces from the private American Chair Collection, as well as the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen Ph.D. Foundation. And while the chairs themselves are, of course, the focus of the show, “The Art of Seating” also aims to give viewers a comprehensive look at the design process through patent drawings, artist renderings, and other documentation. “This project presents chairs as not only elegant art forms but also relatable everyday objects that speak to aesthetic trends, the emergence of new technologies, and concepts of ergonomics,” says Rebecca Dunham, curator and Head of Fine Arts at The Society of the Four Arts.

There are several standout pieces among the 43 chairs on display, from a wide range of time periods. The circa 1894–96 “McKinley” Arm Chair, a style named for U.S. President William McKinley, is one of the most historically significant pieces in the exhibition. The chair was designed by David Wolcott Kendall and manufactured by the Phoenix Furniture Company. Crafted of cane and oak, and with minimal decoration—only subtle Moorish arches on the arms—the “McKinley” chair is often cited as an early example of the American Mission style. After one was presented to President McKinley, and shortly thereafter named after him, other designers began copying the design. This led Kendall to patent it in 1897.

Another piece, the Centripetal Spring Arm Chair, is one of Dunham’s favorites. The circa-1850 chair, designed by Thomas E. Warren, is an example of “Patent Furniture,” she says. “It speaks to America’s enchantment with gadgets, especially in the 19th century when technology and innovation were on the rise. Here, you see a relatively young nation embracing new materials and construction techniques in order to address the age-old needs of function. The complicated design allows the chair to move laterally, rotate in various directions, and accommodate the verticality of the sitter. Shifting the sitter’s position and permitting both movement and comfort while seated was a key goal of designers in the Victorian Era.”

Another striking chair on view is a bright, bold blue Texas Longhorn armchair crafted out of Texas Longhorn ivory, brass, glass, and silk, circa 1890. The piece was designed and manufactured in San Antonio, Tex., by designer Wenzel Friedrich. There’s also an unusual 1870 Curule Side Chair, featuring graceful curves in ebonized cherry and a yellow silk show cover. The design was created and patented by George Hunzinger.

Moving into the 20th century, visitors can see the celebrated LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), designed by the famed husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames. “The chair’s biomorphic design and clean lines are underscored by its materiality of lightweight, molded plywood,” Dunham says. “When the LCW debuted in 1954 it was hailed as the ‘Chair of the Century.’ It has striking aesthetics that continue to appeal to contemporary tastes for mid-century modern-style furnishings.”

Those interested in design of the 20th century will also enjoy architect Frank Gehry’s minimalist High Stool. Crafted in 1971, the two-legged stool is made of corrugated cardboard, wood, and Masonite, and reflects the same fascination with curves, functionality, and experimentation that would come to characterize Gehry’s later architectural creations.

There are many other exceptional examples of 20th-century design, specifically mid-century modern, in this exhibition—Isamu Noguchi’s Rocking Stool, from 1958, Harry Bertoia’s Large Diamond Lounge Chair and Bird Lounge Chair, both from 1952, and Erwine and Estelle Laverne’s acrylic Lily Chair, from 1957.

More recent selections include the 2004 wavy, electric-blue metal chair Current, by New Hampshire-based artist Vivian Beer and the almost mechanical-looking Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 Chair by Berkeley, Calif., designer Kenneth Smythe.

“The Art of Seating” does what all the best investigations of decorative arts do: It gives us a new way to look at and understand the objects that surround us every day. “Visitors can witness the history, social implications, and cultural developments of American design through the lens of these chairs,” Dunham says. “Designed for functionality, but preserved and displayed here as pieces of art, each chair also has a story to tell about our national identity.”

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Al Thani Collection: Royal Splendor Wed, 24 Oct 2018 22:53:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition of the Al Thani Collection in San Francisco highlights the currents of mutual admiration and influence that flowed back and forth between Indian and Western jewelry traditions.

Nawanagar ruby necklace, Cartier, London, 1937

Nawanagar ruby necklace, Cartier, London, 1937, platinum, rubies, and diamonds, 20.5 x 19.5 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Pendant, India, circa 1575–1625 Nawanagar ruby necklace, Cartier, London, 1937 Arcot II diamond, India, circa 1760 Turban ornament, India, circa 1900 Taj Mahal emerald, India, 1650–1700 Rosewater sprinkler, North India, 1675–1725 Aigrette Robert Linzeler, Paris, 1910

In India, it was the men of power, rather than the women, who wore the biggest jewels. Not only elaborate rings but brooches, turban ornaments, bracelets, and necklaces adorned kings, princes, and courtiers of the Muslim and Hindu princely states that predated the British Raj, uneasily coexisted with it, and finally came to an end with the creation of the independent nations of India and Pakistan in 1947. In particular, the members of the Mughal dynasty—descendants of Central Asian Turks who invaded India in the early 16th century and ruled the greater part of it until their decline in the 18th century and demise in the 19th—sported the most magnificent jewels, richly colorful creations that captured the imagination of Western travelers, traders, and jewelers alike.

They also captured the imagination of a modern-day Muslim prince, the very deep-pocketed Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani of Qatar, who has managed to acquire an array of Indian royal jewels, as well as jeweled objets d’art and pieces of ceremonial weaponry, that is unparalleled in today’s world. Originally the collection was a personal quest, inspired by his admiration for the work of two contemporary jewelers, one Indian and one American, and his love for Mughal paintings, which frequently portray jewels and their wearers. However, in the past eight years, the Al Thani trove has grown into a truly comprehensive historical jewel archive which is a source of loans for museum exhibitions and book publications. A major show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2009–10 revealed to the world a cross-section of the Al Thani collection, using it as means of chronicling the history of taste in India, Britain, and Europe. In 2014–15, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted around 60 pieces in the exhibition “Treasures from India: Jewels From the Al Thani Collection,” and portions of the collection have also been loaned to exhibitions in Paris, Venice, and Kyoto.

On November 3, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will open “East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection” at the Legion of Honor, showcasing a larger selection of pieces in order to demonstrate how the jewelry arts of the Indian courts both transmitted their influence to Europe and received influences from it, starting at the beginning of the Mughal era and going up through the Art Deco period and right down to the present moment. Organized by Martin Chapman, Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the Al Thani Collection, the exhibition will be on view at the Legion of Honor through February 24, 2019.

“This show is much larger than the Met show and incorporates the collection according to a different agenda,” says Chapman. “It is concerned with the intersection between India and West, as well as with gender roles and their expression though jewelry.” By way of illustration, he points to some of the royal portraits that are included in the exhibition as documentary supplements.” A photograph of Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, taken on the day of her husband’s coronation as King of England and Emperor of India, shows the queen draped in string upon string of large pearls—a look originated by the Mughal Emperors of India. Although there is political truth and a degree of irony in this look, Alexandra’s act of appropriation doesn’t just reflect the British takeover of India; it reflects the Indian conquest of the world of fashion. A style of jewelry created for Eastern men of power became de rigueur for women of taste in the West and eventually all over the world. The reverse of this gender-to-gender movement (and geographic movement) can be observed in another photo in the exhibition, a portrait of Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, from 1911. The multiple loops of pearls with pendant gems adorning the neck and chest of this modern-day Indian prince, so elaborate that they look almost like a breastplate, were originally made for the jewelry trendsetter Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III.

India has long been a source of gemstones—most famously from the mines of Golconda, which supplied most of the diamonds in the world until the modern discovery of diamonds in South America and then in South Africa. Kashmir produced the best sapphires, and Badakhshan the finest spinels. India also occupies a fortunate position at a trade-route crossroads which allowed it to obtain gems from Ceylon and Burma, and pearls from the Persian Gulf. So it is hardly surprising that jewelry has always occupied a special place in the Indian aesthetic cosmos and rose to a level of artistry that is unique. In Hindu culture, each stone had mythic and magical associations with astrological signs and talismanic properties, as well as cultural associations with rank, marital status, and political and military power. Gazing into the depths of a gemstone, one may imagine oneself contemplating a tiny universe; for Indian connoisseurs, this was literally true.

The Mughals, who were Muslim and foreign-descended, assimilated native Indian jewelry and gemological traditions and added touches of their own, deriving not only from the Islamic and Chinese traditions that traveled over the Silk Road. At their court, based in Delhi, the art of jewelry and jewelry appreciation reached a level that is arguably the highest of any culture in the world at any time. In this exhibition, the sense of wonder inspired by Muslin courtly jewelry arts comes through particularly powerfully when viewing the non-wearable objets d’art, such as a rosewater sprinkler from circa 1675–1725 encrusted with rubies, emeralds, and pearls held in a matrix of gold strips, a circa 1740–80 flask from North India or the Deccan made of pure rock crystal with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds set in gold and silver embedded in it, or a magnificent 18th-century figure of a green parrot mounted on a jeweled stand and carrying an emerald in its beak. Another astonishing piece is the Wine Cup of Jahangir, from 1607–08, made of jade on personal commission from the Emperor and covered with ornamental script spelling out Persian poetry and the titles of Jahangir. There is also a profusion of artistry on view in the form of intricately jeweled and enameled sword and knife hilts and scabbards.

The eclectic Mughals also absorbed influences from the West, even at the very beginning of their reign, since Portuguese traders had already set up shop in Goa, on India’s west coast, before the Mughals even established their empire. (In fact, the emeralds so prized by the Mughals were imported to India from Colombia, in South America, by the Portuguese.) Among the European techniques the Mughals made their own was gemstone carving, which, Chapman explains, “is an art that is partly elevated under the influence of the West, as Venetian gem cutters reached India and were working in the trading posts.” The Mughals came to especially favor carved gemstones, particularly emeralds and spinels. These frequently featured Persian and Arabic inscriptions, primarily of a religious nature. Such stones, Chapman says, were worn with the inscription against the skin, since the writing was meant for the wearer, who would thus absorb its beneficent energies. Sometimes they carried inscriptions betokening rank, such as the famous Shah Jahan Emerald, a massive 30.31-carat cabochon-cut stone which is carved with the name and title of the Emperor who built the Taj Mahal (it actually dates from 1621–22, around six years before he became Emperor).

Mughal openness to Western influence extended to gemological technology. The 17th-century French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier did a lot of business in Mughal India, helping to create a taste for diamonds in the French court, “establishing the preeminence of diamonds in the West never dreamt of before,” says Chapman. “In a way, Louis XIV is echoing what the Mughals do. Before him, although diamonds are much admired in the West, they are not worn in the same profusion or acquired with the same passion.” At the same time, in the West there came about a change in the way diamonds were cut, prefiguring the modern brilliant cut. “This runs directly counter to the Indian culture, where they polished the existing facets of the stone to preserve the weight, because the value is in the weight,” explains Chapman. “In the West, they took an approach that is, in a way, braver. Working with the principles of reflection and refraction, which is a different science, they lose weight and gain sparkle, proportion, and symmetry.” This approach to cutting caught on with the Mughal emperors, especially Jahangir and Shah Jahan. “At the height of its confidence, the Mughal Empire is outward-looking—toward other cultures, toward Western technology and innovations,” says Chapman. “Diamond culture is part of this.”

With the decline of Mughal and other native Indian power in the 19th century, Western influence on Indian court jewelry became stronger and stronger. Some maharajas, as we have seen, were quite happy to wear pieces that had been designed for Western women, and many had their own traditional Indian pieces sent to Europe to be reset or recast in Western styles. The French jeweler Cartier became the go-to source for this, and it was Cartier that ushered in the next phase of the often paradoxical and ironic history of cultural interchange between India and Europe in the arena of jewelry. In the 1920s and ’30, during the Art Deco period, Cartier (and other jewelers) created completely new and in many ways modernistic designs that incorporated influences from traditional Indian courtly jewelry. For example, multicolored arrays of carved gemstones became the basis for Cartier’s iconic “tutti-frutti” style, so called because of its perceived resemblance to hard candies.

In the 21st century, contemporary art jewelers are taking inspiration from older Indian styles and even techniques, and the San Francisco exhibition ends with a section on their work. When the Sheikh Al Thani started his collection, he was particularly enthused by the American-born, Paris-based craftsman JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) and the Mumbai-based Indian jeweler Bhagat. Both are interested in Indian approaches to gem cutting that go against the prevailing practice of geometric faceting. In search of this look, JAR has incorporated historic stones into his pieces, some of which also draw on classic Indian motifs. Bhagat uses custom-cut flat diamonds in his work, which is more modernist and even minimalist in style, while adhering to the ancient Indian technique of kundan, or setting gems in almost invisible settings. With these artists, the East-West circle closes—or at least takes one more turn.

By John Dorfman

Thomas Chippendale: Self-Made Man Thu, 24 May 2018 21:48:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thomas Chippendale’s story of entrepreneurship arrives at the Met.

China table, England, circa 1755-60

China table, England, circa 1755-60, mahogany, overall: 28.25 x 37.75 x 26.5 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Workshop of Thomas Chippendale, Side chair (from a set of fourteen), London, England, circa 1772 Tea chest, British, circa 1760 Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown for Knoll International, Incorporated, #662 “Chippendale” Chair with “Tapestry” pattern upholstery China table, England, circa 1755-60 Thomas Chippendale, Ribband Back Chairs, 1754

The world of 18th-century cabinetmaking is perhaps not the first place one would think to look for a story of ambitious self-promotion and successful entrepreneurship. And yet, that’s exactly what is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this season in the exhibition Chippendale’s Director: The Designs and Legacy of a Furniture-Maker. On view through January 27, 2019, the show will feature original Thomas Chippendale drawings alongside furniture, from a range of eras, inspired by Chippendale’s designs.

Chippendale was a London-based cabinetmaker who became one of the most influential furniture designers of his time. In fact, he was so influential that his designs were still being looked to for inspiration as recently as the 1980s. His designs were largely inspired by the ornate French Rococo tradition, which he anglicized—in other words, toned down—to appeal to his fellow countrymen and women. He also created designs inspired by both the Gothic and Chinese traditions, although his English Rococo designs remain the best known.

One major reason for Chippendale’s huge influence on Western furniture design is that he took a bold and unusual step in order to promote his cabinetmaking business. He wrote, published, and disseminated a groundbreaking book of designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. Released in 1754, the book featured 160 designs for chairs, tables, beds, and other furniture, showcasing Chippendale’s skill as a designer as well as establishing him as an authority in the design world. The Director was a first of its kind—a manual for the middle and monied classes that helped define “good taste,” as well as a hugely successful marketing campaign.

The book is the entry point for the current exhibition. Visitors entering the galleries will first view the Met’s first-edition copy of the Director, alongside three Chippendale chairs from different eras: one from Chippendale’s own London workshop, one made for a wealthy Philadelphia merchant by colonial American craftsmen in 1769, and one created by the influential present-day architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. The range, in both geography and time, speaks to a core point of the show.

“We wanted to show how deeply the Director impacted the rest of the Western world,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Alyce Englund, Associate Curator of the Met’s American Wing. “This book truly presented Chippendale as an authority on design, placing him in the sphere of designers operating on the continent.” While the book itself is remarkable, both for the quality of its designs and for being the first of its kind, the circumstances of its production are no less impressive. “What’s amazing about this book is that Chippendale produces it when he’s 36, and he’s already got lots of responsibilities,” Englund says. The cabinetmaker had several children by this time, and he’d taken out debt to finance his new workshop. Chippendale needed to do something that would make people come to his shop instead of to one of the hundreds of other cabinetmakers’ shops in London. Creating the Director was a major endeavor—and one that could easily have failed.

Of course, it didn’t fail. In addition to promoting Chippendale’s designs, the book also helped establish a truly British style of decorative arts that could compete with, but also converse with, styles from continental Europe. While many people may have seen Chippendale furniture—or at least replicas of Chippendale furniture—few will have seen the original drawings that will are part of this show. The Met acquired one of the largest collections of Chippendale drawings in 1920, but these are rarely on view. “They’re kept in albums and are really hard to display,” says co-curator Femke Speelburg, Associate Curator, Drawings and Prints. “This is the first time since the Met has owned them that we’ve decided to take them out of the albums to display on the gallery walls.”

The drawings that will be on view preceded many of the actual furniture pieces we know as Chippendale, as most of them were done in preparation for the book. They’re significant for another reason, as well. “These drawings help tell the story of this man who was an entrepreneur, a cabinetmaker—and he could draw,” Speelburg says. “For a long time, scholars thought Chippendale hired someone to do these; they didn’t think someone who was a furniture maker could also make these beautiful drawings.”

Together, the furniture and works on paper on view at the Met will offer viewers a more comprehensive, more nuanced understanding of the famous cabinetmaker’s legacy than many may have had before. “Chippendale was an extraordinarily talented designer, but he also had this great business sense,” says Englund. “And he was a very talented craftsman.” That’s what it takes, it seems, for a design tradition to endure for 300 years.

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Silver Age Thu, 30 Nov 2017 07:49:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The best pieces of antique English silver are sought after for the inventiveness and exuberance of their designs, as well as for the exquisite craftsmanship they embody.

George III silver epergne

Lewis Herne and Francis Butty, George III silver epergne, 1762;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) sterling silver basket William IV ivory-mounted sterling silver two-handled oval footed tray sterling silver cream boat George IV sterling silver egg frame and six parcel-gilt egg cups George III silver epergne basket-form centerpiece

Oooooh, shiny.

That’s the reaction most people have when they see a large array of splendid antique English silver. That “Oooooh” is rarely said out loud, happening purely at the lizard-brain level of thinking, and it has a different meaning now than it would have when the pieces were newer, but truly great English silver provokes delight just as well as it did centuries ago.

Displayed on the sideboards and the table of the dining room of a great English estate, a fabulous silver display left guests awestruck and told them, in no uncertain terms, how wealthy and powerful the homeowner was. By the 19th century, silver had transcended its function as a tool and a status symbol to became collectible. The “Oooooh” still burbled forth, and the silver still advertised the owner’s wealth and power, but that wealth and power had to do with the owner’s strengths as a collector.

Antique English silver must pass tougher tests in the 21st century. We don’t need egg cruets or muffin cups or toast racks anymore, and we can get by just fine without many of the other silver accoutrements of ages past. But the long-since-antique pieces of English silver that draw forth an exclamation now are the same ones that have always done so. Invariably, they are the pieces that bear the marks of the best English silversmiths, they display the finest, most sophisticated workmanship, and they have survived in good to excellent condition.

“Anything unusual or different tends to be most sought-after, and people will fight over it,” says Todd Sell, vice president of silver, furniture, and decorations at the Doyle New York auction house. Mark Antebi, owner and president of M. Antebi and Son Silver & Antiques in Atlanta, Ga., concurs. “The extraordinary always commands a good valuation and good prices,” he says. “The ordinary is no longer being sought, and that’s true across the board. It takes something special.” Spencer Gordon of Spencer Marks, a 30-year-old dealership in Southampton, Mass., accepts how things have changed. “What’s good is that people are freed up from the rules of what you’re supposed to buy, and they buy what they like.”

Naturally, some of the finest works of English silver belong to institutions. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond has hundreds of objects from masters such as Paul Storr, who was active from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. They include Hebe, a solid silver statue of the cupbearer to the Greek gods. Made in 1829–30, it weighs 303 ounces and depicts its subject bare-breasted and raising a pitcher. While Hebe is a natural choice of theme for a grand 18th-century English table setting, it probably wasn’t a standard Paul Storr offering. “A large, expensive piece like that would not have been made on spec. It’s complicated and sophisticated, and would not have been undertaken without a client in mind,” says Mitchell Merling, Paul Mellon curator and head of the department of European art at the VMFA. “It’s also got clarity of design. It’s really clear, it’s really bold, and it reads from across the room. You see it and you know what it is, and you know it’s perfect.”

Basket-form centerpieces were perennially popular, but few English silversmiths could execute them at the level of virtuosity and finish that Storr did in 1813 for an example that now belongs to the VMFA. “It’s definitely a show-stopper. Usually baskets are a bit more functional. This is a tour-de-force, characteristic of a collection that has powerful pieces in it,” Merling says before launching into a new chorus in singing its praises. “It’s not just a good example of grand Regency silver, it’s the best. It’s designed to impress, and it impresses aristocrats [of the time] as much as a row of John Nash townhouses in Carlton Place,” he says, referring to the architect who served the future King George IV and designed and built Carlton House Terrace in London in the late 1820s and early 1830s. “Everything is thought through, and every detail is perfect, but the whole design is not sacrificed to the parts,” Merling says.

Storr’s work survives in larger quantities than that of other prized England-based masters, such as Paul de Lamerie, the go-to silversmith for the elite of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, simply due to timing. Silver played such a large role in the lives of the well-heeled English that it was vulnerable to changes in style. Sending a service back to the silversmith for periodic “refashioning”—tweaking it so it conformed to prevailing tastes—was a common practice. Tim Martin, president of S.J. Shrubsole, a 105-year-old Manhattan dealer that specializes in English silver from the 14th century to about 1750, recalls seeing a house ledger kept by a butler that tracked decades upon decades of silver maintenance. “You can read back and see it [the silver] being refashioned from generation to generation. I want to weep, because if it was left as it was in 1735, it would be the most precious silver in the world. But they [the family] didn’t. They were too rich. They had everything melted down and refashioned. Their silver is impressive, but not as impressive as if they left it as it was in 1735.”

The losses to fashion make more sense when you consider the extent to which silver dominated the culture before the arrival of the Internet, movies, record players, radio, and electric light. Today, we sometimes call throwing a dinner party “entertaining,” and back before those many other phenomena came on the scene, hosting invitees at home was, quite literally, entertaining (or at least it was meant to be). Silver was a key part of the overall experience, and the best silver was literally entertaining, serving as conversation pieces and holding the gaze of the guests. Speaking of a Paul de Lamerie cream boat from 1742 or 1732 that Spencer Marks sold in the past, Gordon says, “It’s a fabulous thing, expensive when it was made, expensive when it was sold, and part of an extraordinarily beautiful social setting. The cow’s head on the side of the creamer was a visual pun. They [the guests] probably politely commented to the host on how fun it was.”

To hear Merling tell it, great English silver could be livelier and more interesting than some of the human guests who gathered around the table. “Light is very reflective on the silver. It dances. It moves. It’s alive. It participates in life. It takes on the quality of life around it,” he says, adding that the decorative flourishes of top-flight works in silver were often loaded with literary allusions. “Silver summoned up other worlds—the Gothic world, the Greek world, the world of shepherdesses,” he says. “You could amuse yourself endlessly with the conceits embodied in silver.”

The starkest example of silver-as-entertainment comes in the form of novelties. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell served as the Royal Goldsmith from 1797 to 1843, but that didn’t stop the firm from creating charming pieces such as a mustard pot that depicts a monkey laughing at a human hand jutting from a barrel. Dating to 1824, it sold for £26,400 ($34,858) at Bonhams London in July 2008. “They [the British] loved novelty, and they loved exotic forms and shapes,” says Aileen Ward, director of the silver and objects of vertu department at Bonhams U.S. “Even in the 1820s, a monkey was an exotic pet, and it would have made people smile.” The mustard pot still possesses that power, even though we no longer live in an age when a host’s kitchen staff was expected to create a house mustard blend and fill the charming little pot with it. “The immediate reaction is, ‘Wow, what a funny object,’” Ward says. “Then when they learn what a mustard pot is and they identify its use, it takes on a whole other realm of enjoyment and value, and the quality is pretty self-evident.”

Sometimes, the backstory of a silversmith is entertaining enough to stoke the interest of collectors. Hester Bateman made her reputation in the mid- to late 18th century and became a star among American silver collectors who loved the idea of a widow taking over her husband’s workshop and succeeding in a highly competitive field. But the romantic vision of Hester sitting at a bench and working with hot metal isn’t strictly accurate. Any English silversmith who gained prominence didn’t spend his or her days shaping silver. Though they might have started out as apprentices, their sterling reputations were rooted in their talents for business and brand-building. “We like the story of a female silversmith, though she was really an entrepreneur,” Gordon says. “The idea that she was a woman in a man’s world is true. Many did what she did in her situation. She was married to a silversmith and continued to run the business [after he died]. She was possibly the most successful. She is a woman in a man’s world—just not with a hammer in her hand, I can assure you of that.”

Nor was the English silver market cutting her slack for being a widow. Speaking of a 1786 Hester Bateman teapot on stand that Bonhams London sold for £5,000 ($6,546) in June 2015, Ward notes, “It’s really well made, with a beautiful surface and beautiful feel. It’s sculptural. She mastered the neo-classical form that was the fashion of her day. She went all-out for this one. She’s a really competent bright-cut engraver.”

The market for antique English silver is likely to chug along as it has been, with the most desirable pieces pulling farther and farther away from the mundane ones. But silver delivers an immediacy that other antiques cannot, and that might someday rekindle a wider interest in the material. “Silver is a great connection to the past,” Sell says. “It’s a tangible thing that you can handle. Dinner parties have been given with it for hundreds of years. You can participate in that tradition. Using the pieces lets you get involved. There’s nothing like holding a great piece of silver.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Weighty Matters Mon, 28 Aug 2017 19:56:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Decorative paperweights made in the 19th century not only imposed order on unruly documents, they put the world in a tiny “dome of many-coloured glass.”

Clichy piedouche paperweight with amber staves.

Clichy piedouche paperweight with amber staves.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Various paperweights New England Glass Company carpet ground paperweight Mount Washington strawberry magnum paperweight Clichy piedouche paperweight with amber staves. Clichy Pink Swirl paperweight Concentric millefiori mushroom paperweight with facets, New England Glass Company

Let’s be crystal clear up front—you don’t need an antique paperweight, but no one would blame you for falling in love with them. “If someone came in and said, ‘I want to hold down paper,’ I’d say, ‘Go around the corner to Central Park and get a rock. If that’s the sole purpose, you’d do better getting a heavy object,’” says Jack Feingold of Gem Antiques in Manhattan, adding, “I put antique paperweights in the same class as art glass.”

The finest antique paperweights, or “weights” as those in the know call them, continue to bewitch people more than a century after their golden age ended. Though the basic concept behind the paperweight wasn’t new in the 19th century, and the glass-making techniques used to make them weren’t new either, they caught the West’s cultural imagination around 1845 because the right elements happened to line up. Venetian glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia deserves credit for lighting the metaphorical match that started the fire. His display at the 1845 Vienna Industrial Exposition featured several glass paperweights that drew their visual appeal from millefiori, a technique that bunched dozens upon dozens of colorful glass rods inside a dome of clear glass. A member of the Paris Chamber of Commerce swung by his booth and saw a whole lot more than a pleasing setup.

“The French, I think, saw a marketing opportunity,” says Jan Mirenda Smith, executive director of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass in Neenah, Wis. “The French glass industry was at a lull, and they were looking to boost the market. They came out with desk accessories, and paperweights were one of the first things they manufactured, along with letter openers, inkwells, and letter seals.” Smith points out other facts that probably helped paperweights have their big moment: paper was becoming cheaper in the 1840s, and the first postage stamps appeared in 1840, trends that encouraged people to write more letters. Also, Victorian householders had to open windows to regulate the temperature, which let in breezes that could wreak havoc on a paper-laden desk. A handsome weight guarded the carefully organized stacks and maintained order.

But a fine paperweight was much more than a tool to anchor a sheaf of documents—it was a status symbol. “In the 19th century, it was a sign of wealth,” says Ben Clark of L.H. Selman, a gallery in Chicago. “It was like having an iPhone now. If you had a fine paperweight on a fine stack of papers, you were at another level.”

Consider also that the paperweight took off in a pre-Internet age when colorful distractions were far fewer and harder to come by. The lavishly detailed glass objects fit perfectly in the atmosphere of a world’s fair or a grand exposition—the closest thing that the 19th century had to the staggering information overload that we in the 21st deal with every day. Also consider that paperweights were probably the first objects to play an all-important role within the modern office: the role of the time-waster. Victorians didn’t have smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, television, radio, water coolers, March Madness brackets, koosh balls, or fidget spinners to distract them from the dull reality of their work, but they did have these gorgeously complex pieces of glass sitting within easy reach, tempting them like the sirens singing to Odysseus’s sailors. “Part of the charm and the intimacy was to hold them in your hand,” says Paul Dunlop of the Dunlop Collection, a gallery in Statesville, N.C. “You could look at a millefiore for hours. There are incredibly tiny details. You can put a whole world in a three-inch sphere.”

The French jumped to the front of the paperweight-making pack and stayed there until weights fell out of fashion in the 1860s. Almost two centuries onward, collectors prefer those made by the three leading classic-era manufacturers, all of which are French: Baccarat, St. Louis, and Clichy. “Good American weights sell for a lot of money, but the French produced a lot of tremendously good weights. In general, the record prices are still going to be French,” says Alan Kaplan of Leo Kaplan in Manhattan. “The most expensive American weight is five figures, but the record is a Clichy basket that sold for a quarter of a million dollars in 1990. Nothing else approaches it.”

While collectors of antique paperweights love all of the French brands, they love Clichy a little bit more. In its time, the company was an upstart that challenged the longer-established glassmakers Baccarat and St. Louis. It also had the shortest lifespan of the three, winking into being around 1840 and disappearing four decades later. “Clichy made fewer pieces, and their designs are distinctive,” says Smith. “Their colorations are probably a bit more sensitive and delicate.” Dunlop, who was an artist before he fell under the spell of paperweights, agrees. “Clichy is favored by about 90 percent of collectors. By far, they were the best colorists with glass. There’s a better sense of color, and a lot more color, and the range of color is amazing, from really soft pastels to indigos and dark purples.”

Most antique paperweights are meant to be viewed from the top down, and they are generally displayed that way. The Arthur Rubloff Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago is considered one of the best in the world. In 2012 the museum expanded the permanent exhibition by adding eight new wall cases that increased the number of weights on view from 341 to 800. Arranged in formations of diamonds and circles, each paperweight is held in place by a sturdy white bracket. “The mounts are quite strong. We’re very lucky to have a team that’s skilled at installing all different kinds of challenging works of art,” says Leslie Fitzpatrick, assistant curator of European decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, adding, “The paperweights are incredibly popular and a favorite among our longtime visitors.”

Heavy glass paperweights tend to survive the centuries well, though some have suffered more punishment than others. Clark recalls a tale told to him by a collector who went to India and visited a market: “He saw someone using a weight as a hammer. He picked it up, and it was a close pack millefiore Baccarat paperweight. He polished it and sold it. It had an internal crack, but it was pretty sturdy.”

The attitude toward polishing—refurbishing an antique paperweight that has suffered nicks and dings that might cloud the creation within—has shifted over time to favor the practice. “As a general rule, no one wants a weight with a lot of flaws in it. They don’t want a weight that’s chipped or scratched. Restorers can polish a weight and have it look like new,” says Feingold. “I’ve bought weights that are so scratched up I’ve got to polish them because you can’t see what’s in there. If it detracts from the design, you’ve got to pay the price and get it fixed.”

Alan Kaplan, son of the late paperweight dealer Leo Kaplan, has handled several thousand weights in his career and refrained from polishing just two: a unique and famous mid- 19th-century St. Louis example with a difficult-to-achieve overlay that resembles the pattern of gingham cloth, and a Clichy paperweight with a moss ground. Of the latter, he says, “It was the only important Clichy paperweight that was fully signed. The idea of doing anything with it… I just didn’t.” Both now belong to the Corning Museum of Glass.

The market for antique paperweights has been steady and is likely to remain so. The dealers report that it chugged ahead largely unscathed by the 2008 financial downturn, and it has not suffered the falloffs in interest that have afflicted other categories of decorative art. But it is not immune to the stratification that appears across the realms of art, antiques, and collectibles—prices for truly exceptional weights are pulling away from those of the good and the middling. “Valuable pieces are valuable because they are rare,” Dunlop says. “I can sell a valuable piece 10 times as easily as I did 30 years ago.”

And even though they are a specific product of a specific, long-gone moment in time, 19th-century paperweights still speak to us. While our Victorian forbears craved visual excitement when they looked at a well-made weight, we enjoy the chance to sit still and contemplate a magnificent work of artistry. “It goes back to their beauty, and the ability to hold them in the hand and look at them,” says Smith. “Glass still has that magic to it. It’s cool to the touch, the roundness of the form, all the things to look at—it becomes magical to people.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley