Antiques & Design – Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Wed, 24 Oct 2018 23:24:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Antiques & Design – Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 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

Art for Art’s Sake Wed, 28 Jun 2017 22:26:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Art Nouveau ceramics market is ready to welcome a new collecting generation.

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Cosmic Firestorm, circa 1895,

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Cosmic Firestorm, circa 1895, earthenware, 10 x 8 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Zsolnay vase, Tall Flowering Tree with Roots, Pécs Theodor Hermann Schmuz-Baudiss for KPM, Winter Vase, 1914 T.A.C. Colenbrander, Earthly Delights Vase Pair, 1921 Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat, La Vague, 1898–1900 Louis Majorelle, gourd vase, circa 1900 Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Cosmic Firestorm, circa 1895, Clément Massier, round ceramic decorative charger

If there’s one thing that unites Art Nouveau ceramics collectors, it’s this: They are driven by an intense love for the unique, particular beauty of these objects. Certainly, an appreciation for an art form’s beauty forms the basis of any art collection, but so often, there are other motives. There’s the drive to possess. The desire to support a museum or institution by building a collection and then giving it away. A quest for intellectual satisfaction. The hopes that certain pieces will prove to be good investments.

In Art Nouveau ceramics, these other motives generally appear to be muted. Instead, those who find themselves haunting galleries, auction houses, and antiques shows in search of pieces by greats like Louis Majorelle, Clément Massier, and Paul Dachsel are moved by a deep-seated response to the work’s exquisite beauty and the almost primal liberation of form.

Art Nouveau, as a movement, lasted just about 20 years, from 1890 to 1910. Characterized by an emphasis on natural forms, asymmetry, and curvilinearity, Art Nouveau—like the nearly contemporaneous Arts and Crafts movement in the decorative arts—challenged the idea that artwork belonged only in the salons and academies. Artists working in this style sought to bring beauty into everyday objects that people actually lived with. “Art Nouveau was the most democratic of all the previous art forms,” says Jerry Suqi, owner of Galerie Fledermaus in Chicago. “It was a revolt against industrialization, and the ugliness that ensued from it. Really it was the final rebellion against what’s happening now: an essentially disposable culture.”

Tiffany lamps, ceramic vases, and amphora, floral architectural iron and metalwork—these were all examples of Art Nouveau’s insistence that beauty belonged to the public. It was, in many ways, an art movement for the middle class, which itself was just coming into its own as a result of the Machine Age. During this time, middle-class people were earning disposable income and enjoying hours of leisure and recreation. They finally had the time and the resources to purchase art for their homes.

As Ben Macklowe, owner of Macklowe Gallery in New York and a frequent lecturer on Art Nouveau, says in his lecture Art Nouveau: A Jewel in Every Medium, “I really believe that the artists of this period made a definitive choice not to be painters, not to be sculptors of grand marble, but instead to work in the applied arts that people lived with. So that makes it a very definitive break with what came before.” Perhaps it’s this aspect of Art Nouveau ceramics—their purpose as objects for the home, to imbue one’s daily life with meaning and pleasure—that explains collectors’ enduring connection with the medium.

It’s difficult to make broad generalizations about Art Nouveau ceramics collecting, because there are many different styles within the artistic movement. However, gallery owners have their own observations on how Art Nouveau ceramics collectors tend to divide themselves. Macklowe Gallery, for instance, has been dealing in Art Nouveau ceramics and decorative arts for more than 40 years and is one of the world’s foremost dealers of museum-quality decorative artworks from the Art Nouveau period. Once you’re hooked on Art Nouveau ceramics, Macklowe says, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to one of several particular styles. One is the more traditional style of fine porcelain that mainly came out of Sèvres in France, as well as the Rorstrand Company in Sweden. These pieces are largely botanical in nature, depicting delicate flowers, vines, and other vegetation. “They’re exceptionally beautiful, and very expensive,” Macklowe says. “They’ve always attracted collectors.”

Another group of collectors is drawn to the Japonist works by great European Art Nouveau masters. The wave of interest in Asian art forms, or Japonisme, that hit Europe in the late 19th century affected ceramics artists, too, and many studied the building and glazing techniques that Japanese artists had been using for centuries. “They were very influenced by the aesthetics,” Macklowe says. “Asymmetry instead of symmetry, drip glazes, pieces that look like they’re collapsing in on themselves. For a long time these weren’t so popular in our collecting circles, but in the last 15 years they’ve come into their own.” Then there are the collectors who are drawn to amphora and the more flamboyant design elements that many of us think of when we think of Art Nouveau. “The beasts, the dragonflies, the maidens, all that stuff that you see with the amphora—that’s a different collector still.”

However, there’s another side to Art Nouveau ceramics: a more experimental, exotic side epitomized by the Zsolnay company, a Hungarian manufacturer of ceramics and stoneware. Zsolnay ceramics of the Art Nouveau period are innovative, unique, and sometimes even strange. You may find pitchers with undulating necks, amphora that look like a grove of trees, vessels covered in whiplash curves. One of Zsolnay’s most important innovations, however, was the creation of a metallic, shiny glaze called eosin. This glaze gives many Zsolnay pieces a certain otherworldliness. It’s this quality that appeals to New York-based private dealer James Infante, who specializes in French and Eastern European Art Nouveau ceramics, particularly Zsolnay.

“I fell in love with Zsolnay ceramics early on, the first few times I saw them,” Infante says. “That time period, from the 1890s to right before World War I, was so fertile. It is amazing that the factories and the artistic directors around that time gave such latitude to these wonderful ceramics artists to do their own thing. I really think these pieces are timeless.” Indeed, it’s these “timeless,” exceptionally high-quality pieces that are currently still fetching high prices at auctions, antiques shows, and galleries.

“The middle of the market is pretty weak,” says Art Nouveau authority and global dealer Jason Jacques. He’s spent years as a participant in and observer of the market in Art Nouveau ceramics, and holds one of the largest, most expansive collections of European and Japonist Art Nouveau works in the art world. While mid-range Art Nouveau ceramics have gone down in price over the past decade or so—making it ripe and ready for newer collectors to enter the market—Jacques, as well as several other gallery owners, remark that the finest pieces by the great masters are valued extremely highly. They’re also becoming more difficult to find. “There isn’t a whole lot of undiscovered material left,” Jacques says. Infante agrees. “When great pieces come up, they sell quickly for high prices. If at any given time, at any given place in the world, I wanted to buy one, it would be very, very hard to find one.”

And yet it’s these fine pieces that people want. Suqi says that Art Nouveau ceramics collectors today are looking for pieces that are both of their period and transcend the period. “The hyper-Art Nouveau pottery has fallen out of favor. The ones that have more purity are the ones that still have a lot of appeal.” That purity he describes is really a kind of integrity of form, even if that form is unusual or innovative. “You look at the pots that are really pure and the glaze highlights the form, and form highlights the glaze. It’s a real relationship.”

Most often, this relationship is best expressed in works that we don’t immediately think of as Art Nouveau. “A lot of pottery—the amphora, these female forms, the ones that are very much in the Art Nouveau style—although beautiful, they don’t really sustain you. They’re lovely at first. But they’re not challenging,” Suqi says. “There are more of the French studio ceramics, the German studio ceramics that do hold your interest for much longer. Sure, there are some really beautiful pots that unfurl themselves in their totality all at once. But the really sophisticated stuff takes a long-term relationship.”

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get different answers as to which artists are most worthy of that kind of long-term relationship. For Infante, the Austrian Paul Dachsel is a favorite. “He executed such incredible designs, futuristic designs,” Infante says. “His pieces sometimes look like they come from some alien world. I think he’s so underrated.”

Speaking of underrated, there’s another type of Art Nouveau ceramics that is not nearly as celebrated as the French, Hungarian, and other European works: American pottery of the same time period. American ceramics from this era are generally not referred to as Art Nouveau—according to Jacques, American Art Nouveau does not exist—but American artists were responding to many of the same outside forces that European artists were. The Americans were also heavily influenced by many of the great European Art Nouveau masters and incorporated some of that aesthetic, as well as many of the techniques, into their own work.

David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., is one dealer who especially appreciates American ceramics from the early 20th century. Most of his collectors collect American works, and he sees a strong Art Nouveau influence in the American ceramics, as well as interesting adaptations. “To me, in many ways the Americans adapted Art Nouveau, blended it with Arts and Crafts, and came up with a relatively staid, restrained response to the Art Nouveau movement,” he says. “The American works from this time are less curvilinear and, I think, of higher quality at their pinnacle.”

Whether your tastes lean toward American or European, classic Art Nouveau or the more experimental, one thing is for certain. Upon entering into this world, you’ll find a great deal of passion for the art itself. “Art Nouveau is not a trend,” Jacques says. “Nobody’s following anyone else into this rabbit hole because it’s in vogue, or in the magazines. People who love Art Nouveau are obsessed.”

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Jean Schlumberger: Out of the Box Fri, 28 Apr 2017 19:01:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A collection of Jean Schlumberger’s avant-garde jewelry designs goes on view in Virginia.

Jean Schlumberger, Leaves (Necklace)

Jean Schlumberger, Leaves (Necklace), 1956, platinum, 18-karat gold, turquoise and diamond

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Jean Schlumberger, Mermaid Jean Schlumberger, Obelisk Jean Schlumberger, Blue Shell Jean Schlumberger and Tiffany and Company, Pisces Jean Schlumberger, Leaves (Necklace) Jean Schlumberger and Tiffany and Company, Jellyfish

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ current exhibition “The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger” (through June 18) gives viewers a peek inside a fashionable 20th-century jewelry collection. Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon, the second wife of Paul Mellon, collected jewelry and objects by Jean Schlumberger while the French designer had his own salon at Tiffany & Co.’s Fifth Avenue headquarters. Schlumberger, who began his career in France, became a darling of the postwar American fashion and society set, counting Jacqueline Kennedy, Diana Vreeland, and Elizabeth Taylor as friends and patrons. The exhibition at the VMFA, which is located in Richmond, features 142 bracelets, earrings, rings, clips, and accessories designed by Schlumberger during the 1950s and ’60s, the bulk of which are from a 2015 gift of 113 pieces of jewelry from the Mellon collection (the rest is from prior gifts of hers). However, rather than depict Mellon’s trove as a treasure chest lined with glitzy accessories or Schlumberger’s work as the bejeweled, wearable candy of ladies who lunch, the show rightfully positions Mellon’s cache as an ambitious art collection and Schlumberger’s innovative pieces as Modernist design objects.

Mellon, who died in 2014 at the age of 103, was one of the last members of the American aristocracy that Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about. She was an heiress to the Listerine fortune, a philanthropist, and an avid and skillful horticulturalist who often created gardens for high-profile friends and donated commissions to charity. While First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Mellon to redesign the White House Rose Garden (which Mellon crafted in the French style using American botanical varieties), for which she was given the Conservation Service Award in 1966. In 1948, her fortune grew substantially when she married Paul Mellon, her second husband and the only son of Andrew W. Mellon, one of the wealthiest financiers in the world.

Together, the Mellons created a distinctive art collection. Though it was decidedly out of fashion in mid-20th-century American collections, the couple pursued French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. A special wing of the VMFA, for which Mr. Mellon served as a long-time board member, was built in 1985 to house the couple’s gift of important works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard, and nearly every other big name of the era, as well as Mr. Mellon’s collection of British sporting art and American art. Mrs. Mellon was an early champion of Mark Rothko (she first purchased his canvases off his studio floor), and the 2014 sale of her art collection at Sotheby’s included Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) (1955) and Untitled (1970). The sale, which also included several works by Richard Diebenkorn, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, as well as Old Master paintings, realized $158.7 million (against a presale estimate of $121 million), with all 43 works selling. In a New York Times article about Sotheby’s subsequent auction of 2,000 of Mrs. Mellon’s personal and decorative items, her friend the writer Marina Rust is quoted as saying, “[Mellon] could have had anything she wanted, but she surrounded herself with just what she loved.”

Mrs. Mellon gave the VMFA pieces of tableware and decorative art objects from her Schlumberger collection in 1985, 1999, and 2006. The 2015 gift, a bequest of over 100 pieces of jewelry, which made the VMFA the largest and most comprehensive public collection of Schlumberger jewelry and art objects in the world, was a surprise. “We were not advised to expect anything further and we were quite happy with what we had,” says Mitchell Merling, the VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art as well as the curator of the exhibition, “so when we were notified of Mrs. Mellon’s bequest after she died, we were surprised and delighted to receive a collection of her jewelry.”

Mellon and Schlumberger moved in somewhat similar circles. The collector counted many artists and designers as friends, notably Cristóbal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy, who designed Mellon’s wardrobe, including her gardening smocks. “It’s well known that she surrounded herself with creative people,” says Merling. Schlumberger, who was born in Mulhouse, France and came from a long line of prosperous textile manufacturers, was a member of the European avant-garde. His early jewelry pieces, which were made of found porcelain flowers, attracted the attention of Surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and he fell in with the Surrealist crowd in the 1930s, which included Picasso and Stravinsky. He created buttons and jewelry for Schiaparelli, often from found materials like feathers, chains, wood, and plastic. In 1939, Léonor Fini painted his portrait. In New York, his circle expanded. In 1941, he created his Trophée de Vaillaince broach for Diana Vreeland, then a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar. Vreeland, who would become perhaps the most influential fashion editor in history, described the diamond, amethyst, ruby, and enamel brooch, which featured several martial accoutrements, by saying, “It’s exciting. A Schlumberger lights up the whole room!” From there, his clientele and friends grew to include Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (later the Duchess of Kent), Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Babe Paley, and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Mellon and Schlumberger first met in 1954, in the Upper East Side townhouse the designer turned into a shop. Schlumberger and his business partner Nicolas Bongard, a childhood friend and the nephew of pioneering French fashion designer Paul Poiret, had opened a jewelry workshop on Fifth Avenue (near 57th Street) before World War II, and reestablished their New York store on East 63rd Street after the war. Two years after meeting Mellon, Schlumberger was made a signature designer at Tiffany’s & Co., and he and Bongard were appointed vice presidents of an independent department inside the Fifth Avenue flagship store. Schlumberger would work with the company for 30 years.

Schlumberger and Mellon forged an affectionate relationship and partnership. “There was a great deal of collaboration,” says Merling, “but we don’t know exactly how that worked and who suggested what to whom.” It is known that for the most part, the decorative objects in Mellon’s collection were made on her commission, while the jewelry was largely prêt-à-porter, with certain details or stones being customized to her specifications. The VMFA has a collection of sketches of the objects, which were kept by Mellon (the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Oak Spring Garden Library, on Mellon’s former estate in Virginia, have the rest of Schlumberger’s sketches).

The sketches reveal just how intuitive art making was to Schlumberger. One graphite and watercolor sketch—the study for the rock crystal Obelisk (1970–71), a one-of-a-kind object and a standout of the show—manages to blend Chrysler Building-esque Art Deco with the mechanical minimalism of Dan Flavin’s preparatory sketches. Schlumberger, who was an adept draftsman, was never formally trained in art or design. Yet, his designs, though replete with organic forms, bear a technical precision. “He has a sort of inventor’s way of thinking,” says Merling, “and he was experimenting with that in a way other jewelers were not.” This can be seen in Schlumberger’s Sautoir necklace (late 1960s), a coral bead, diamond, and enamel piece that has detachable segments. Another innovation, the Jellyfish (La Méduse) brooch—an 18-karat gold, platinum, moonstone, diamond, and sapphire piece made in 1967—has tentacles that move as if the brooch were floating in the ocean.

It stands to reason that one of the strongest links between the artist and his patron was a shared love of nature. Mellon turned her main residence, Oak Spring Farms in Upperville, Va., into a nearly encyclopedic horticultural and botanical archive and sanctuary. Schlumberger was particularly inspired by a 1954 trip to Bali and spent time in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines sketching his tropical surroundings. Flora, fauna, and sea life around his home in Bisdary, Guadeloupe, a French island territory in the Caribbean, often found their way into designs. Countless pieces in the collection exemplify this shared interest. Butterflies (1956), a bracelet fashioned in amethyst, sapphires, turquoise, peridot, yellow diamonds, diamonds, colored stones, 18-karat gold and platinum, was designed with Mellon’s input. The bracelet employs en tremblant setting, which uses small hidden springs to attach the butterflies (each designed differently and made of different materials) to the openwork band, so that the butterflies appear to be fluttering when the wearer moves. Mellon had two of these specially designed bracelets, which can join by their clasps to form a choker. The Jasmine (Breath of Spring) necklace (1966)—a confection of colored sapphires, diamonds, 18-karat gold, and platinum—was not designed specifically for Mellon, though the example in this collection, which has 211 carats of gemstones, was made for her. The incredibly intricate piece features a gold vine, heavy with bejeweled blossoms, wrapping around ribbons of diamonds. Flower Pot (1960), features an extremely rare 94-karat Kashmir sapphire (from the deposits of northern India and Pakistan) as the center of a gold flower planted in a terracotta seedling pot from Mellon’s Virginia garden. Mellon ordered a detachable diamond clip mounting for the object so it could be worn as a brooch.

“Schlumberger was always thought of as a second Fabergé,” says Merling, “but one of the points of this exhibition is to caution that reading. Fabergé was looking to the past, whereas Schlumberger was not.” The curator considers Schlumberger “high modernist” for his lack of references and his innovative use of materials: “He was making modern jewelry for modern life.” Perhaps Schlumberger described his work best. He said, “For me, the art of the jewel is above all a means of expression with possibilities of pure and durable beauty, which go beyond the usual framework of Fashion.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Georgia O’Keeffe: Well Fashioned Thu, 27 Apr 2017 18:28:48 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s clothing showcases the artist’s unwavering sense of style.

Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox

Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, 1937, Gelatin silver print

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Georgia O’Keeffe, Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock—Hills Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe Wrap dress, circa 1960s-70s Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern,” an exhibition that opened at the Brooklyn Museum in March (it runs through July 23) examines O’Keeffe’s wardrobe, putting her handmade white linen blouses, her custom made black suits and wrap dresses, and well-worn blue jeans on view alongside nearly 40 of her paintings and some 90 photographs of her by other artists. For O’Keeffe, the subject of over 300 photographic portraits by her husband, the photographer, gallerist, and publisher Alfred Stieglitz, and subsequently many pictures by a host of other notable photographers (over 20 in this show), clothing and accessories were more than just personal adornments or the fruits of savvy and tasteful shopping (though she certainly was a savvy and tasteful shopper). They were the elements of a carefully—and powerfully—crafted identity. When posing for the camera, O’Keeffe became a symbol of Modernism, and portraits of her became a Modernist trope. As arguably the first celebrity artist of modern art, she maintained a coherent image in the public eye throughout her lifetime. O’Keeffe, who is the world auction record holder for any female artist (Jimson Weed (1932) sold for $44.4 million in 2014), applied the same sense of austerity, craftsmanship, and grace to her self-presentation as she did her famous paintings of flowers and the American Southwest.

After O’Keeffe died in 1986, her two houses—Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, both in New Mexico—were left to her estate, and her closets were still filled with her things. Wanda M. Corn, the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in Art History at Stanford University and the curator of the present exhibition, first viewed the cache of O’Keeffe’s clothes at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in New Mexico in 2005–06, when conservators were just beginning to catalogue them. Long before this visit, Corn, a scholar of early American modernism, had become interested in the manner of dress of several artists of O’Keeffe’s generation. “I had been thinking,” says Corn, “‘I wonder what I can do with dress in the field of modern art? What can I say about artists whose modernity isn’t just what they do in the studio but how they presented and dressed themselves?’” Corn was interested in Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley, two members of Stieglitz’s circle, who dressed distinctively and were inspired by the sartorial eccentricities of Whistler and Oscar Wilde. However, when she heard about the collection of O’Keeffe’s clothing, she “lost interest in everyone else but O’Keeffe.”

O’Keeffe had a holistic approach to her work, her sense of style, and her way of living. In 1927, Frances O’Brien, a longtime friend of the artist’s, said, “Georgia O’Keeffe has never allowed her life to be one thing and her painting another.” As images and items of ephemera in the exhibition affirm, O’Keeffe’s taste pervaded her whole life and developed early. A class picture from the Chatham Episcopal School in Chatham, Va. (O’Keeffe’s family moved to Virginia from Wisconsin when she was 15 years old) shows O’Keeffe without the bows, puffed sleeves, and demonstrative adornments of her peers. Corn says, “She is someone who embraced the totalizing of the Arts and Crafts movement, which said everything has to change.”

The streamlined collection of stylish pieces viewers see in the exhibition is the stuff of minimalist fantasies, but spoiler alert: the artist wasn’t a California Closets adherent. “We had a lot of clothes to go through,” says Corn, “and you’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s what I believe is the best of the iceberg.” Fortunately, O’Keeffe, who lived to be 98, kept things. Many of the notably minimal, yet delicate white linen and silk blouses and black dresses from the 1930s and earlier were made by her own hand. Corn partnered with Susan Ward, a historian of fashion and textiles, and as the pair went through the stockpile, “we could detect her handiwork, which was exquisite and distinctive,” says the curator. “In her letters there’s a lot of chat about handiwork—she talks about making her favorite smock, about making undergarments, and about mending things. She’s designing these clothes and she has a style she’s using.” O’Keeffe was fond of pin tucks, which can be seen in many of her blouses and dresses. Corn says, “In the ’40s, the pin tucks get deeper.” One revelation of the show is a sewing basket and kit that belonged to the artist.

After moving to New York to live with Stieglitz in 1918, O’Keeffe still wore her handmade clothes, but began to buy designer pieces. A black and white cotton dress by Italian designer Emilio Pucci (circa 1954) takes pride of place in the exhibition (though O’Keeffe seems never to have been photographed in it), as do a collection of dainty suede flats—four from Saks Fifth Avenue, four by Salvatore Ferragamo. In the 1950s, O’Keeffe purchased several wrap dresses from the Texas department store Neiman Marcus. The cotton dresses were fitted at the waist, with a flared skirt that hit mid-calf. They were completely unadorned save for a shawl collar. O’Keeffe, who was in the habit of having multiples of the items she liked, had several more made by a seamstress. The dress, worn with a belt and sometimes a blouse underneath, became a signature look of the artist’s through the ’80s, and she was often seen in it in photographs taken of her at her homes in New Mexico. She had over 25 of these dresses when she died. When traveling for openings and more official business, O’Keeffe had her “town clothes”—tailored black skirt suits. She had many incarnations of these streamlined suits starting in the 1940s, but none of them were bought off the rack. She had five made during a trip to Hong Kong in 1959, a couture suit by Eisa (the label of Cristobal Balenciaga), and several made for her by Knize, a tailor favored by Marlene Dietrich, which viewers can see in the show.

O’Keeffe wore black and white (or cream) almost exclusively, favoring demure tie necks or androgynous v-necks. However, when she began spending the majority of her time working and living in New Mexico in the late ’20s, her wardrobe expanded. In a letter to the art critic Murdock Pemberton she wrote, “Blue jeans—the costume of this country—I rather think they are our only national costumes.” Jeans by Levi Strauss & Co. and blue chambray and denim shirts became her Southwestern costume, while blue and white cotton bandanas with geometric patterns and a soft black felt vaquero hat became her favored accessories. A cluster of O’Keeffe’s Southwestern landscape paintings, such as Hills-Lavender, Ghost Ranch New Mexico, II (1935), Part of the Cliff (1946), and Dark Tree Trunks (1946) hang near these items. Their slivers of sky—dungaree blue—set against the terracotta earth match O’Keefe’s wardrobe impeccably.

Perhaps the greatest revelation of the exhibition—even greater than being so close to pieces actually worn on the body of a larger-than-life American artist—is seeing O’Keeffe’s items both in person and in portraits. A photo by Cecil Beaton for Vogue, titled Artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband photographer Alfred Stieglitz, seated side by side on a radiator, shows O’Keeffe in a particularly smart long-sleeved black wool dress of her own making. Stieglitz, who captured O’Keeffe’s face and hands more than any other artist, often pictured her in the pieces she had made, as well. O’Keeffe began corresponding with Stieglitz in 1916, and the two were married in 1924 (and remained so until his death in 1946, though they were largely separated after 1930). Stieglitz, who became O’Keeffe’s art dealer, staged some 20 solo exhibitions of her work at his gallery, 291, and helped organize her 1927 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.

Though long considered domineering, Stieglitz had relatively little to do with influencing O’Keeffe’s taste in dress. “She had already decided on her minimalist style, but his pictures of her made a lot of what she was already,” says Corn. “She learned the degree to which her wardrobe was being conveyed by him, and that cemented her personal style.” One thing Stieglitz did add to O’Keeffe’s wardrobe was the cape. “He was known for his cape,” says Corn. “That was his artiness in dress.” On display is a black wool cape designed by Zoë de Salle (circa 1940), which seems to appear in several photographs of O’Keeffe by Stieglitz. In one, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Kissing at Lake George (undated), both artists, draped in black and wearing hats, kiss. In another, a gelatin silver print from 1920–22 titled Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist, pictured in front of an expanse of sky, pulls the garment around herself. Also on display are a series of kimonos and Asian-influenced dresses O’Keeffe had in her collection. Georgia O’Keeffe, Texas, a 1918 photograph by Paul Strand, pictures her in a white closed kimono, while a Stieglitz photograph from the same year pictures the artist with hair down and kimono open. A rare nude by Stieglitz is also in the section. Georgia O’Keeffe (1918) pictures the artist standing in front of a window, with light shining through the thin kimono, which is draped over her shoulders.

One of the most memorable pieces in the show is a brass brooch made for O’Keeffe by Alexander Calder. According to Corn, the brooch, which had a spiral in the shape of an “O” which then terminated into a “K,” could often be seen at O’Keeffe’s neck or on her lapel. “The first time she wears it is far earlier than the Calder Foundation knew,” says Corn. “There’s a photograph from 1938 with her wearing it that was taken by Ansel Adams’ wife, Virginia Adams.” After 1938, the brooch (or the silver copy she had made of it in India), showed up in many portraits—by John Candelario (1942), Carl Van Vechten (1950), Dan Budnik (1975), Bruce Weber (1980), and Ansel Adams (1981). In a way, the pin ties together a phenomenon that took place during the last three decades of her life, in which photographers—some well known, some regional—would come and take portraits of O’Keeffe. Some got a more playful, liberated O’Keeffe—smiling in a wrap dress—while others got a more serious, almost totemic O’Keeffe, in a suit, looking into the distance. No matter which, they all got an artist at work.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Tiffany Studios: Painting with Glass Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:52:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition organized by The Neustadt, the largest collection of Tiffany glass, comes to Cincinnati.

Begonia Reading Lamp, circa 1905

Begonia Reading Lamp, circa 1905, Tiffany Studios, leaded glass and bronze.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Apple Blossom Library Lamp, circa 1905 Begonia Reading Lamp, circa 1905 Dragonfly Reading Lamp, circa 1899 Landscape Hanging Shade, circa 1905 Hollyhock Hanging Shade, circa 1905 Selections of opalescent glass

Dr. Egon Neustadt and his wife Hildegard bought their first Tiffany lamp in 1935. Neustadt, an orthodontist, had recently moved with Hildegard to the United States from Austria. During the process of setting up their new home in Flushing, Queens, the couple found a daffodil-patterned Tiffany lamp in an antique store in Greenwich Village. Limited by budget, the Neustadts initially left the object behind. However, Egon returned to the shop shortly after their initial visit and purchased the lamp for $12.50.

Though the surging wave of American Modernism had swept Tiffany glass aside by the mid-1930s, the Neustadts saw the piece with new eyes. Fascinated by the shade’s floral motif, the couple learned from the dealer that the glass confection was in fact by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist. Within decades of the fortuitous find, the Neustadts would become not only collectors of Tiffany glass but also historians of Tiffany Studios.

The Neustadts went on to amass a nearly exhaustive collection of Tiffany lamp designs. Their collection—which totals over 200 objects—is considered the largest and most comprehensive cache of Tiffany lamps ever accumulated. In 1967, the Neustadts purchased the inventory of opalescent sheet glass and pressed-glass “jewels” left behind by Tiffany Studios after its closure in the late 1930s. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Neustadt published the first major book dedicated to the range of Tiffany Studios’ glass designs, The Lamps of Tiffany (Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Art, 1970). The Neustadt became incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1969 and has since preserved and studied the glass works of Tiffany studios, often helping other institutions conserve their own Tiffany pieces. In 1995 the organization partnered with the Queens Museum, where The Neustadt Collection Gallery exhibits works from the collection.

Aside from its own gallery at the Queens Museum, The Neustadt develops traveling exhibitions as a way of sharing its collection with museums throughout the country. “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” an exhibition organized by The Neustadt, opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum on April 1 and runs through August 30. The show boasts five windows, 20 lamps, and 100 pieces of opalescent flat glass and glass “jewels,” giving museum-goers the opportunity to see the full breadth of Tiffany Studio’s innovations in glass.

As it happens, the Cincinnati Art Museum was one of the first institutions to collect Tiffany works. Albert Traber Goshorn, the museum’s first director, acquired 37 Tiffany Favrile glass vases in 1897 and 1898. Over a century later, the museum purchased four ecclesiastical windows by the studio from a nearby Cincinnati church, St. Michaels & All Angels. The windows, which were commissioned from Tiffany around 1900, were removed from the church in 2010, and underwent 17 months of conservation. Two of the windows were designed by Frederick Wilson, a prominent Tiffany designer and the head of the company’s ecclesiastical department and religious wing. In light of the museum’s history with Tiffany glass, Amy Dehan, the curator of decorative arts and design at the Cincinnati Art Museum, who had heard The Neustadt was putting together the exhibition (it previously ran at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware), thought “Tiffany Glass” was a wonderful show to bring to Cincinnati.

Though it went by several different names, Tiffany Studios was the brainchild of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany, who trained as a painter but turned to furnishings and design, directed his attention toward establishing a glass-making enterprise in the 1880s. Working with Arthur Nash, a skilled glassworker and chemist from Stourbridge, England, he developed a glass-blowing technique that he called “Favrile.” The innovation allowed different colors to blend together during the molten state of the glass-making process. The result was sophisticated coloration that appeared to have shading and texture. Tiffany’s work with glass brought a similar phenomenon to the tradition of stained glass windows, which had hardly changed since medieval times. The company developed methods of layering several pieces of glass to create depth, texture, and rich color fields akin to painting. Different types of glass—including Favrile and also opalescent glass, an opaque or rainbow-hued type Tiffany patented—that had their own variegations of hues were used by craftsmen to emphasize pictorial details in the glass scenes, to dazzling effect. In 1898, Tiffany and his studios began working with lighting and lamps. They used patterns—typically inspired by nature—to produce the glass lampshades, yet each lamp is unique due to variations in color and density in the individual pieces of glass used in their construction.

One standout of the exhibition is Well by Fence (circa 1910) a window designed by Agnes Northrop. The landscape scene, which epitomizes Tiffany Studios’ innovative techniques, pictures dense foliage before a wooden well and fence. In the scene’s background, a moody, swirling sky of pinks and purples peaks above rolling green hills. To achieve the texture of wood and bark on the fence, well, and trees, the studio used streaky glass, while modeled glass was used to indicate depth on the hills and to simulate pebbles on the walkway. For the sky, edged glass was layered to mimic the effect of a sunset.

Northrop, who designed this window and nearly all of the landscape windows for Tiffany (Well by Fence and another Northrop-designed window are in the exhibition), had an unusually high position in the company for a woman of her era. “Northrop was the foremost female designer at Tiffany and worked there for five decades,” says Dehan. “Like her male counterparts, she had a private studio.” Northrop’s work was recognized at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900, where she won a silver medal for her stained-glass designs.

Clara Driscoll, another prominent woman in the company and an Ohio native, supervised the female glass-cutting division at Tiffany Studios. Her Dragonfly lamp, which is featured in the exhibition, won her a bronze medal at the Paris World’s Fair the same year (she also won a bronze medal that year for her metalwork). Driscoll’s dragonfly patterns can be seen in two forms in the show. The Dragonfly Hanging Shade (circa 1905)—a lamp suspended from the ceiling with bronze chains—features an incredibly dense pattern of green dragonflies with aqua accents crowding a yellow background, while the Dragonfly Reading Lamp (circa 1899), features larger, blue-bodied dragonflies pictured upside down on a bronze-based desk lamp.

The Wisteria Library Lamp (circa 1901), another highlight of Cincinnati Art Museum’s show, is also a Driscoll design. “Wisteria is a motif you see again and again in Tiffany designs,” says Dehan. A favorite of Tiffany’s, the flower could be found on the grounds of Laurelton Hall, the designer’s country house on Long Island. To create this lamp, 2,000 pieces of glass were used. The lamp’s top, which features open metal work, gives the appearance of wisteria branches sprouting from it. “Blossoms drip off the branches,” says Dehan, “and the bottom rim has a beautiful, irregular outline mimicking the way the wisteria blossoms would fall.” The shade sits atop a bronze base, also designed by Driscoll.

Aside from beautiful examples of Tiffany craftsmanship, the museum will feature educational models and forgeries of Tiffany wares. The forgeries will reinforce the quality and elegance of Tiffany’s pieces. “In the forgeries, you’ll see the soldering isn’t as expertly done, the glass selection is not as tasteful, or the color and shading aren’t right,” says Dehan. “It’s the special nuances, extreme attention to detail, and overall superior artistry that set Tiffany’s pieces apart.” The educational models will show viewers how the pieces were built and designed, while over 100 pieces of sheet glass will be on hand to illustrate how and when different types of glass were used.

For presentation purposes, all the lamps on view will be lit, and all of the windows will be illuminated.

The Cincinnati show is not the only Tiffany viewing opportunity this month. On April 8, the New-York Historical Society will open a 4,800-square-foot, two-story glassed-in space, designed by Czech architect Eva Jiricna, called the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps. It will display 100 illuminated examples from the Society’s collection, including a unique Dogwood floor lamp (circa 1900–06) and a rare Cobweb shade on a Narcissus mosaic base.

By Sarah E. Fensom

All that Jazz Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:35:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A New York exhibition takes the first comprehensive look at America’s taste in design during the 1920s.

Five-Piece Coffee and Tea Service, 1929

Five-Piece Coffee and Tea Service, 1929, Gebelein Silversmiths, designed by George Christian Gebelein, silver, ebonized wood.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Dressing Table and Bench, circa 1929 Five-Piece Coffee and Tea Service, 1929 Tourbillons Vase, 1926 AD-65 Radio, designed 1932

In May 1919, an Indiana newspaper ran an editorial that detailed a litany of complaints from a Baptist minister about the state of culture. It read: “He finds jazz in present-day magazines, in books, in plays, in art and even in religion. In short, he complains, it is a jazz age.” Some three years later F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is popularly credited with the coinage of the term “jazz age,” published his collection of short stories Tales of the Jazz Age. In fact, during the early ’20s, the term was become fairly popular. As often occurs, a widespread cultural phenomenon ignites linguistic trends, and in the case of the 1920s, using the word jazz, with all of its connotations, as an epithet for the period was what we call today a “no-brainer.” Jazz music had deeply permeated American life and was one of the country’s top cultural exports to Europe. The term, as the cantankerous Indiana minister so astutely noted, also became a descriptor of the rhythm of life in the 1920s—the attitude, the relationships, the art, and the design.

“The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,” a new exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York (April 7–August 20), focuses on America’s taste in design during the period. The subject, viewers might be surprised to know, has never before been tackled by a major museum exhibition. Though plenty of shows have highlighted the various design movements of the decade, until now none has taken an intensive look at its overarching taste. If the Cooper Hewitt’s show, which was co-organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art (it opens there in September), is any indication, the ambition of an exhibition like this might have been the deterrent: 350 works from public and private collections, including furniture, jewelry, fashion, textiles, tableware, paintings, posters, and wall coverings, will come together to give viewers a panoramic view of the style of the ’20s.

Referring to the title of the show, Sarah Coffin, the curator and head of production design and decorative arts at the Cooper Hewitt, says, “We’re using jazz in two ways, as a metaphor for the era when jazz music comes to the fore and a metaphor for the changing temperature of the time, when we move on from the pre-World War I culture.” The exhibition showcases objects associated with speakeasies, jazz clubs, nightlife, and flappers, such as bejeweled cigarette and make-up cases and form-fitting fashions. A pastel drawing for a textile design titled “Party Ashtray” (1930–31), features chalky-white cigarettes with glowing orange tips and trails of grayish-blue smoke. The festive design was created by Donald Deskey, an industrial designer who won a contest to design the interiors of the Radio City Music Hall and went on to create the Crest toothpaste packaging and the Tide bull’s-eye emblem in the 1940s.

The message of these objects and designs goes beyond frivolous partying. One of the show’s themes is “Stepping Out,” which, says Coffin, “is the idea that people were stepping out of a traditional lifestyle,” says Coffin. During this period, urban living was rapidly becoming more popular, and within that context race relations, gender roles, and sexual mores relaxed. By eschewing tradition, groups that had been historically marginalized were beginning to experience hard-won acknowledgement and even harder-won freedoms. “Women were stepping out to vote, they were going out unescorted for the first time, they were going outside to engage in sports, and they were even stepping out of their girdles,” the curator says. Something as simple as a tube of lipstick represented a woman’s ability to make her own choices. One piece in the show, a silk purse made by Van Cleef & Arpels in Paris, features a clasp in the form of a nearly nude, reclining odalisque rendered in gold with diamond and sapphire adornments. Below the figure, a Greek key-and-wave pattern is rendered in blue and green enamel. The purse is a unique statement of eccentric glamour.

With the popularization of jazz and the international fascination with the culture of Harlem, “people were stepping out into African American musical opportunities,” Coffin says. For affluent whites, that meant breaking out of restrictive social roles and enjoying an exciting nightlife, while for famous African American musicians like Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker (who are depicted on posters included in the show), jazz represented an opportunity to escape from racism and segregation. To illustrate the role of music in the popular culture of the ’20s, the Cooper Hewitt is displaying sheet music, and clips of performances by Duke Ellington and fellow Cotton Club stars will play in the gallery.

Though jazz was greatly influencing American taste, not every object in the show is as explicit as “The New Yorker” Jazz Punch Bowl, a 1931 design by the Ohio-born industrial designer and sculptor Viktor Schreckengost. The large blue bowl, made of glazed and molded earthenware, was manufactured at the Cowan Pottery Studio in Ohio. It features the word “JAZZ” spelled out in capital letters. Around it, musical notes dance on musical staffs, while abstract forms float around skyscrapers. Its style of lettering and mark making has since become canonical not only for the period, but on restaurant menus, movie-theater signs, and graphics that reference the era.

Though the country was beginning to develop more confidence in its cultural aesthetic, after World War I, as before, Americans looked to the designers and trends of Europe—particularly France—for cues. For wealthy Americans, this meant commissioning pieces from abroad. For instance, a set of doors designed by Seraphin Soudbinine, a Russian-born French artist, and executed by Jean Dunand, a Swiss-born French artist, for Solomon R. Guggenheim’s music room take pride of place in the exhibition. Of carved, joined and lacquered wood, with eggshell, mother-of-pearl, gold leaf, and cast bronze, they were made in Paris in 1925–26. The striking green and orange doors take on a neo-Byzantine style, with angels playing horns atop geometric and monumental rock formations.

In 1926, an exhibition made up of 400 objects from the highly influential 1925 Paris Exposition toured museums in eight major American cities. The show was instrumental in opening America’s eyes to modernism. U.S. department stores such as Macy’s and Lord & Taylor immediately took on the mantle of modern design, exhibiting fine examples and recreating, in more affordable materials, pieces that were suitable for apartment living and fashionable cosmopolitan life. “During this period, department stores played a major role,” says Coffin. “They hired designers—many of them were architects—to design room displays that enabled people to see the effect of having an entirely new, modern room.” The curator cites a Macy’s exhibition catalogue with a forward by then-Met president Robert de Forest as being particularly influential. “The pieces were all American-made variants of imported French designs,” says Coffin. A notable work in the exhibition is a red Cubist-inspired dressing table and bench (circa 1929) after French designer Léon Jallot. The lacquered wood, mirrored glass, and metal ensemble was sold through Lord & Taylor.

It wasn’t just France; émigré Austrian and German designers and artists also had a profound effect on the American scene, as this exhibition is at pains to show. The Viennese school established roots in the U.S. with the opening of a branch of the Wiener Werkstätte on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1922. Pieces from that showroom are on view, including a four-piece silver tea set designed by Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and commissioned by Joseph Urban, a fellow Austrian designer, who came to the States in 1911. A birch-faced plywood, tulip poplar, and nickel-plated steel daybed (circa 1933–35) by Frederick Kiesler, a architect, theoretician, and theater designer from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is also on view. Kiesler’s design, which has a built-in desk lamp, is pod-like and brings to mind an impossibly chic cubicle.

While working in the United States, European artists became interested in American industrialization and building. The skyscraper was of particular fascination and pops up again and again in designs of the period. Austrian Art Deco furniture designer Paul T. Frankl—whose showroom was right around the corner from the Wiener Werkstätte’s—was well known for his skyscraper pieces and even called his company Skyscraper Furniture. Frankl’s skyscraper bookcase desk (circa 1928), made of California redwood and black lacquer, is featured prominently in the show. A silver-plated brass skyscraper tea set designed by Louis W. Rice, a German designer, and produced by the New York-based company Apollo Studios, is also on view. New York’s iconic architecture also inspired modernist artists who weren’t industrial designers; the exhibition includes a 1919–20 oil on canvas version of Joseph Stella’s celebrated image Brooklyn Bridge, which shows the famous structure in a highly geometric, kaleidoscope-type view. The jewel-toned painting gives the viewer the sense of being surrounded by the bridge’s complicated structural elements.

Not all American collectors were looking for the hottest new thing in the 1920s; in fact, some were actually looking to the past. “The Jazz Age” also claims the decade as a time when collectors were establishing “good American taste.” This included a reprisal of interest in 17th- and 18th-century furniture from England, as well as in large woven Renaissance-style tapestries and intricate Rococo wallpaper patterns from France. With the opening of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924, collectors and decorators took second looks at American colonial and Federal designs, and recreated what they could. A section of the show features a wrought-iron fire screen by Philadelphia artisan Samuel Yellin and a blanket chest made and painted by Max Kuehne in a 17th-century style. A tea service by Boston-based silversmith George Gebelein is also in the show. Gebelein, who is often considered the leading 20th-century American silversmith, made the piece in the style of famed silversmith and patriot Paul Revere. The tea set, which is just as American as jazz, will make you forget all about bathtub gin, smoky speakeasies, and wild nights on the town.

By Sarah E. Fensom

The Hand of the Craftsman Fri, 23 Dec 2016 20:41:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Professedly functional but sometimes fanciful, American Arts & Crafts objects still lend themselves to harmonious living.

The Gamble House, dining room;

The Gamble House, dining room

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gustav Stickley, Adjustable-Back Chair No. 2342 Frank Lloyd Wright, Tall back side chair Greene and Greene, Hall Lantern, 1910 Greene and Greene, unique table lamp from the Blacker House, Pasadena, Calif. The Gamble House Charles Rohlfs, leather-top table. The Gamble House, dining room;

Can you improve your life, and maybe even the world at large, by filling your home with thoughtfully made things? The notion might seem naïve and maybe even comical today, but it inspired many American Arts & Crafts designers to sit at their drawing boards and conceive a masterpiece. The American Arts & Crafts movement sprang from ideas first put forward in England by William Morris, John Ruskin, and other 19th-century creatives, and its expression reflected the individuals who embraced them as well as the regions that those people called home.

“One of the things that’s most important to realize about Arts & Crafts is that it really was a philosophy about a way of life, in which art played an integral role. It was not a style of art. It was interpreted in different ways around the world,” says Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “The difference between the United States and the British is the U.S.’s ability to democratize these ideas and get them to a larger segment of society.”

The Arts & Crafts movement arose in reaction to the poor quality of mass-produced goods of the time and the decorative excesses of the Victorian era. Its furnishings looked simple and honest, even if they were far from simple to make. Curves gave way to straight lines. Clutter was banished. Fussy flourishes were shunned in favor of techniques that let the grain of the wood serve as ornamentation and elevated the bones of the furniture to art. Gustav Stickley, the legendary New York state designer, might be most famous for his Arts & Crafts take on revealing what cabinetmakers once labored to conceal, allowing the tenons—structural components that held a chair or table or other piece together—to peek through surfaces and become decorative elements in their own right.

“I love that it [the Arts & Crafts movement] was meant to encourage a way of living that was radical, transformative, salubrious, and modern,” says David Rago of Rago Auctions in Lambertville, N.J. “Stickley, for one, was clear about the positive effects of living in a healthy environment fitted with objects and furniture that were made in the right spirit, by the hand of the craftsman, with natural materials, a minimum of ornament, working together for a unified whole. There was both a revolutionary and spiritual backbone to the material, which attracted both high beings and those bereft of soul, as seems so often the case—the former because they had something to give back, and the latter because they looked externally to fill their inner void.”

While British Arts & Crafts proponents romanticized the idea of making things by hand, as the guilds of old did, Americans were more open to relying on machines. They believed that surrounding yourself with thoughtfully designed and well-made objects had the power to make your life better, and they believed that the ability to do so should not be a luxury restricted to the wealthiest. But these beliefs ran smack into a dispiriting reality: it was virtually impossible to produce and price these objects for a middle-class American budget without at least some assistance from machines. Gustav Stickley, again, innovated his way past this uncomfortable fact by printing catalogues and magazines that showcased his wares and the ethos behind them. In showing his customers how they could assemble complete homes full of pieces all offered by his company (and, if the customers wished, a home for it all to go in), Stickley was among the first, and possibly the first, in America to market what we’d now call a “lifestyle.”

In devoting themselves to simple, honest-looking, lightly adorned designs, Arts & Crafts proponents birthed a style that Rago dubs “the team player of decorative arts.” Produced between the late 19th century and the early 20th, American Arts & Crafts items suit a surprisingly wide range of settings, from folksy to ultramodern, and complement a wide range of objects, from Native American pottery to Oriental rugs. Moreover, American Arts & Crafts furnishings were never intended to languish behind velvet ropes in a museum. “It’s a very functional sort of design,” says Jill West of Circa 1910 Antiques, a gallery in Laguna Niguel, Calif., that specializes in Arts & Crafts. “Even with children in the house, collectors feel comfortable paying a lot of money for them because they are sturdy. They are made to be used and to be functional. It’s not like a delicate piece of furniture that makes you say to your kid, ‘Don’t touch that.’”

Mixing different varieties of American Arts & Crafts furniture is a trickier proposition, and not one for interior-decorator amateurs. “The movement didn’t promote a particular style,” West says. “Everybody worked in their own way.” When asked if pieces by California-based Greene & Greene, Midwestern architect Frank Lloyd Wright, New York state entrepreneur Gustav Stickley, and Buffalo, N.Y.-based proto-studio furniture maker Charles Rohlfs could be placed in the same room and expected to play nicely together, Gadsden chuckled. “Arts & Crafts is about harmony, but the style can range drastically depending on where in the country it is,” she says. David Rudd, founder of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts in Syracuse, N.Y., was cautiously optimistic, saying, “You could have pieces by all four and have a room that’s comfortable, aesthetically, if you’re careful with the forms and with what you’re doing.”

Rohlfs is the oddest man out of those four American Arts & Crafts luminaries. He evidently didn’t get the memo about how the style demands restraint with ornamental details. Rudd recently sold an early revolving desk by Rohlfs that had elaborate piercework on its front and swirling, flamelike finials sticking up from either side. “This happens to be very simple,” he says of the not-at-all-simple-looking desk. “I have a second with much more carving.” The MFA Boston has an early Rohlfs hall bench on view in its Americas collection that is sedate by comparison to Rudd’s desk but is festooned with Rohlfs’ own exquisite hardware, which is flanked in turn by sumptuous carvings that resemble wafts of smoke. The longer you look, the more different styles you might see—Gothic, Art Nouveau, even Moorish. “There’s a little bit of everything in there,” says Gadsden. “It’s truly individualistic. He’s interpreting Arts & Crafts for his own needs, in his own ways.”

Frank Lloyd Wright’s angular, proto-modern designs are almost the antithesis of Rohlfs. On view in the same Boston MFA gallery as the Rohlfs bench is a chair Wright designed for the Warren Hickox House in Kankakee, Ill. Its unusually tall back was not merely aesthetic. “It created a room within a room, without walls, when you sat in these chairs around the dining room table. It created an enclosed space around you,” says Gadsden.

Pieces by Gustav Stickley might be somewhat easier to come by than pieces by Wright, Rohlfs, and the Greenes, but his finest material is no less pricey. Furnishings made by Gustav Stickley between 1901 and 1904 are especially prized. Rudd recently sold a 1902–03 dining table with a rare square top. “I think Gustav Stickley produced some of his better designs [then],” says Rudd. “They just seem to be purer forms. They’re almost bench-made.”

Greene & Greene material is rare for the same reason that Frank Lloyd Wright material is rare—it was designed by architects for a specific home and it only reaches the market if the home is emptied. Rago Auctions’ house record for a Greene & Greene piece belongs to a unique mahogany table lamp that sold in October 2015. Henry and Charles Greene created it around 1912 for the Blacker House, a Pasadena, Calif., home of their design that was dispersed against its late owner’s wishes after she died in 1946. The lamp was nearly dismembered in turn; its consigner spotted its shade at a yard sale and asked where its base was, only to be told that it had sold earlier that day. Once base and shade were reunited, the lamp sold for $502,000—well above its $40,000–60,000 estimate. The Modernism Museum of Mount Dora in Mount Dora, Fla., defeated another museum and the owner of the Blacker House to win it.

Of all the homes the Greene brothers designed and completed, only one survives in its original, unaltered form inside and out. The Gamble House, an 8,200-square-foot winter residence finished in 1908 in Pasadena is just as it was when the last Gamble family members moved out in 1966. Fully composed environments of the sort that the Greenes championed were strictly the province of the wealthy. We know precisely how much the Gamble house, lot, and assorted surroundings cost, down to the penny: $106,284.10, which translates to more than $2.6 million in modern dollars—not cheap, then or now. Visiting the Gamble House reveals what was lost when other Greene & Greene homes were altered, refinished, refurnished, and otherwise scattered to the winds; it’s not far from scissoring a poem into individual letters.

The dining room shows how deeply the brothers thought about how to craft spaces that would best please their owners. The art glass above the built-in mahogany sideboard in the dining room is enlivened with a rose pattern that alludes to the rosebush planted outdoors below it. The brothers built the Gambles a custom bracket to display an ancient Chinese bell on the mantel, and they shaped the dining room table top like a tsuba, or Japanese sword guard, to underline the Gambles’ love of Asian art. And the mosaic glass inlaid in the tiles on the fireplace harmonizes with the copper and glass Tiffany Studio mosaic bowl on the dining room table. “Greene and Greene were aware of what was in the Gambles’ collection, and they designed for it,” says Angela George, curator of the Gamble House.

Interestingly, there’s no proof that the Gambles preserved the house after learning about what happened to the Blacker house. Apparently, overhearing a would-be buyer declare that he would paint the interior white convinced the Gambles that it would be better to keep it intact. The Gamble House celebrated its 50th anniversary as a museum last September with the unveiling of a garden on the grounds. It was restored by Isabelle Greene, granddaughter of Henry Greene.

American Arts & Crafts pieces have since become antique, but the ideas that inspired Stickley, Wright, Rohlfs, and the Greenes keep their furnishings and fittings vital today. “They have strength, they have personality, and they have interesting forms that are pleasing to look at,” says West. “The details are subtle, but handsome. It’s great to live with, wonderful to look at, and we never grow tired of it.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley