Art Nouveau and Flower Fans Rejoice!
You might think this is a lot of hoopla over one chair but the excitement swirling around this rare joint acquisition by the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif and The Los Angeles Museum of Art, (LACMA), is palpable. Wendy Kaplan, department head and curator of decorative art at LACMA explains, “The word iconic has been so overused that it takes a work of art like this chair to restore its meaning,” The chair, she explains, was presented to the public once before in 1885 at the historic “Inventions Exhibition” in Liverpool, England where, “The British press at the time generated an immediate buzz. Fifteen years later, they were still writing about it: Studio magazine declared in 1899 that its “elaborately fretted back . . . and type of floral form” was the precursor of Art Nouveau. The renowned art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner included Mackmurdo (the chair’s designer) in his 1936 work Pioneers of Modern Design, which defined the field for generations.”
According the Huntington, “Mackmurdo was both an architect and designer who traveled with John Ruskin, one of the inspirational forces behind the Arts and Crafts movement. By the early 1880s he was a disciple of William Morris and the predominant founder of the Century Guild in 1882, an association of artists and entrepreneurs that attempted to realize the ideals of Morris by bringing the highest levels of artistic creativity to objects for the ordinary home. The chair dates from the very beginning of this enterprise and is one of relatively few pieces to bear the CG stamp.”
They add, “It is both a ravishingly beautiful and fascinating object,” said Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington. “This chair represents the first manifestation of a new design movement that emphasized sinuous, organic forms. Amazingly, it dates a full 10 years before this movement, the Art Nouveau, emerged on the European continent. It also provides an extraordinary educational opportunity for all our audiences—including visitors looking to better understand how art movements evolved and why things look the way they do.”
Picking which art to acquire is not an easy task. The Huntington explains this rare find, “When this extremely significant piece of revolutionary design linking the social and aesthetic thinking of William Morris with European Art Nouveau became available, we knew we should try to bring it to public view in Southern California,” said John Murdoch, the Hannah and Russel Kully Director of Art Collections at The Huntington. “And the most sensible way to do that was to join forces with LACMA. It simply seems the smartest way to build strength in depth when neighboring institutions collect in the same area.”
At The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, visitors will be able to view the chair, “in the final room in a series exploring the British Design Reform movement.” they state, “It will join other influential designs by Charles Robert Ashbee and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and sculptures by Alfred Stevens, Alfred Gilbert, among others.”
You can see the other chairs at various museums during your travels to either the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, (one of my favorite museums); the William Morris Collection, London, (which hold two chairs of them); or the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. For the next two years the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California will display this great work before it heads over to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (LACMA).
If you get to the Huntington to see this historic work, don’t forget to visit the magnificent gardens! It isn’t often Art and Gardens meet.
Britt : )
- The Huntington’s Japanese Garden in San Marino, California.
- The Desert Garden at The Huntington
- The Lost Gardens of the Brandywine at Winterthur Museum and Gardens through July 25!
- Part III: The Bishops Garden’s Flowers.
- Here at Missouri Botanical Garden beauty doesn’t fall away just because the snow has fallen