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To see the works of Henri de Toulouse-Laturec and his contemporaries on view now at the Driehaus Museum, visit the L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters exhibition site

There is perhaps no other artist as closely associated with Paris’s ‘Beautiful Age,’ the Belle Époque, than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His art of the late 19th century captured the colorful whirlwind of a raucous, modernizing city, from raunchy cabaret promotions to provocative brothel scenes. He was drawn to the avant-garde performers and prostitutes at very edge of society; an outsider himself, his own experiences informed his subjects.

 

The Outsider Aristocrat

Lautrec was born Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, a descendent of one of the oldest and most prestigious French families, on an estate in Albi in southern France. He was his parents’ first child and came from generations of counts and viscounts, but would nonetheless live the life of an outcast as a dwarf. Between the ages of 13 and 14, he broke each of his legs in turn. Neither fully healed and the legs ceased growing, presumably because of a genetic disorder caused by inbreeding in his aristocratic family—his parents were first cousins. Lautrec therefore grew into adulthood with the foreshortened legs of a child below a normal-sized torso. He stood at 4 feet, 8 inches tall, and used a cane to walk with difficulty for the rest of his life.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Mocked for his physical appearance and prevented from participating in the sports and outdoors activities appropriate for a boy of his background and which he longed to do, Lautrec coped using alcohol. He drank copious amounts, especially the alarmingly potent absinthe. He even hollowed out his walking cane in order to fill it with liquor and always have a drink close by. Highly intelligent and always bitterly aware of how a normal, pleasurable, successful life in society remained out of his grasp due to his deformity, he developed a stinging wit. “I will always be a thoroughbred hitched up to a rubbish cart,” he said.

He also escaped into the world of Parisian brothels, where he surrounded himself with prostitutes. Although known for his louche behavior, he didn’t spend time with these women for sexual pleasure alone. He found a kind of camaraderie in their common status as outsiders. Lautrec was drawn to these women and even adopted them as a kind of family. Fellow painter Édouard Vuillard commented,

 

“Lautrec was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance. He found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the prostitute.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec photographed wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

The Sympathetic Artist

Lautrec learned to draw as a child while bedridden with various illnesses. He favored horses as a subject; his father kept a full stable of them in Albi. In 1882, Lautrec moved to Paris at the age of 18 to study art in the studios of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon. At Cormon’s he met other young members of the avant-garde, including Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and French writer and painter Émile Bernard. Lautrec settled in Montmartre, and became a legendary fixture of the bohemian neighborhood over the next 20 years.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901).  Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Although Lautrec was an outsider in society and at the fringe of the Paris art world among the avant-garde, he would meet with wide acclaim and financial success through his posters, prints, and illustrations for journals and magazines. His first poster for the Moulin Rouge, The Dance at the Moulin Rouge featuring the striking, bawdy can-can dance of La Goulue (“The Glutton”), catapulted him to overnight success. This and the many so-called commercial works to follow inspired his contemporaries to view posters as fine art; arguably, Lautrec’s greatest masterpieces were advertisements for the famous Moulin Rouge and other eager clients in the entertainment business.

Lautrec didn’t merely observe Paris’s hot spots for the sake of his work. His art and life were inseparable, and he was a celebrated customer at the very brothels and cabarets whose prostitutes and performers he immortalized in his art. The Moulin Rouge even reserved a special front-row seat for him in the nightclub in addition to displaying his paintings. Lautrec formed close relationships with some of Paris’s greatest actresses, singers, and dancers; they were his muses, and, in return, he their publicist. Performers whose careers were supported by his exuberant posters and occasional portraits include American dancer Loië Fuller, French dancer and close friend Jane Avril, and French diseuse Yvette Guilbert. Paul Leclercq, a friend of Lautrec’s, described a typical scene at the Moulin Rouge that captures the spirit of Belle Époque Paris and the harmony between Lautrec’s personal life and work:

“In the midst of the crowd, there was a stir, and a line of people started to form: Jane Avril was dancing, twirling, gracefully, lightly, a little madly; pale, skinny, thoroughbred, she twirled and reversed, weightless, fed on flowers; Lautrec was shouting out his admiration.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lautrec was a master lithographer, tossing away artistic convention for his own vision and making exceptional use of all the latest innovations in color, texture, and printing. And like many artists of his generation, he drew heavy influence from the Japanese prints that were entering Paris for the first time at the end of the 19th century. He borrowed techniques like outlined areas of flat color, shifts in perspective, cropped compositions, and unusual angles.

One of Lautrec’s most notable achievements is his Elles series. Through these 50 paintings, Lautrec lifted the curtain on the intimate inner lives of the prostitutes he knew. The paintings depict the women in moments of solitude and repose. They aren’t romantic, floating feminine types; nor are they laughing, flirting, bawdy prostitute types; rather, they are real flesh-and-blood individuals. Through these paintings, the viewer enters an introspective, private moment that makes the women seem breathtakingly human.

Much of Lautrec’s work, and the Elles series in particular, reveal an artist who understood, even favored, the people who were consigned to the fringes of society. He showed deep sympathy for them, capturing qualities that they held in common with the rest of humanity, rather than emphasizing what set them apart as outsiders.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Unfortunately, Lautrec led a lifestyle that far outstripped his body’s ability to cope. He boldly declared at the age of 24, “I expect to burn myself out by the time I’m forty.” He died earlier than his prediction—at the age of 36 in 1901, from the combined effects of alcoholism and syphilis. He left behind a body of work that included 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, ceramics and stained glass work, and an uncounted number of lost works. These, and the spirit of Belle Époque Paris they immortalize, are his legacy which resounds today.

 

 

Resources
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec.” The Art Story: Modern Art Insight
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec,” by Cora Michael, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2010. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/laut/hd_laut.htm
“Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge.” Exhibition June – September 2011, The Courtauld Gallery, London. http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/toulouse-lautrec-and-jane-avril-beyond-the-moulin-rouge
Toulouse Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Colta Feller Ives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996.

 

Corie, Store Manager

Corie, Store Manager

First name? Corie-ann

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Museum Store Manager – My job is to ensure the day to day running of the Museum Store.  I also choose and buy all of the merchandise and set up all of our displays.

How long have you worked at the Museum? I have worked at the Driehaus Museum for three years.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  I am originally from a small town just west of Boston.  I moved to Chicago in 2012 and I have loved every moment since coming here!  My husband and I live in University Village and we really enjoy all the new restaurants and stores that are starting to open in our neighborhood. It’s quiet but were still so close to everything downtown.  

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I went to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and received my B.A. in Art History in 2008.  I spent a semester studying at NYU in Paris and completed two internships at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  I was working outside my degree when I met my husband at the Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.  He lived in Chicago and eventually I saw it as a great opportunity to move to a new city and get into the museum field.  I interviewed to be a volunteer at the Driehaus Museum and was hired to be a guide instead.  Three months later I was approached with the opportunity to open a new Museum Store for the Driehaus Museum and the rest is history!  

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Could I be “Keeper of the Jewels”?  That is an official job title, right?  If not I would like to be the Ladies Maid.  I have some talent with hair and makeup and I like to think my fashion game is strong. 

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  I would raid the refrigerator in the staff lounge and make up a lovely dinner for myself.  I would then set the grand table in the Nickerson’s dining room and eat my dinner there.  Since I have started working here I have always imagined what a dinner party would be like in the dining room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book?  I have a soft spot for Pixar Movies but period films tend to also draw me in.  I also read quite a bit but I always go back to Harry Potter every once in a while.

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  Anything tied to the holidays is my favorite.  Starting with the Murder Mystery event and then into our Christmas programming, it is the most fun time of year. I really can’t just choose one.  I do love having a pianist here during Santa Saturdays.  The house has so much energy when live music is being played.

What is your dream job? My dream job, ever since I was little, is to be an expert for the Antiques Roadshow.  I just need to choose a specialty and become an expert in that field.  Jewelry is my passion at the moment.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum? The day the Museum Store opened was so special for me.  I had worked for over 6 months building the look of the store and buying new merchandise.  Seeing the store finally open and people shopping was so exciting and fulfilling!

Emily, Museum Guide

Driehaus Museum —  November 2, 2015 — 1 Comment
Emily, Museum Guide

Emily, Museum Guide

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone. And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name? Emily

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Tour Guide- meaning that I give tours, but also answer guest questions on the floor.

How long have you worked at the Museum? Nearly five months.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I grew up in the historic town of New Castle, Delaware, which I attribute to my early fascination with history. It was originally settled by the Dutch in 1651 and still has some interesting quirks, including a few cobblestone road that will raddle your brain. Prior to my moving to Chicago, my husband started a job in the city and I followed a couple of months later in June 2014.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I received my BA in History & German from the University of Delaware, where my research interests were in 18th and 19th century women’s and African-American history. During this time, I joined a digital humanities project called the “Colored Conventions Project”, which aimed at making a public database on Black organizing in the nineteenth-century. From this experience, I realized my interest in the education of the public and the importance it can have on a community.

Feeling unsatisfied with only four years of German, I decided to accept a fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the department of Germanic Studies. I continue to work on my master’s degree, which this academic year has extended into a Teaching Assistantship. My research interests have changed into gender and sexuality in German literature, particularly in 18th century works. I came to the Driehaus Museum wanting a practical application to my education and to gain experience in the museum world. I am excited to continue working and learning at this beautiful museum.

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? I would probably be a normal housekeeper, knowing that my cooking skills wouldn’t please the Nickerson’s.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? If I could do anything, I would use years of classical piano training and play the Chickering and Sons piano in the Drawing Room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book? All-time favorite movie is Jaws. Favorite English book is a series called Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony. Favorite German book is a young reader’s book called “Momo” by Michael Ende, who more famously wrote The NeverEnding Story.

What is your dream job? Anything that would pay me to travel to unique places.

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name?  Laura-Caroline

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  I’m the Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum. I help care for and manage the historic interiors of the house and our decorative arts collection; and, in addition, I manage the planning, organization, and installation of our permanent and temporary exhibitions, like Maker & Muse and our upcoming Dressing Downton installations.

How long have you worked at the Museum?  I joined the team in May of 2014, so just a little over a year.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  Originally, I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. I live in Chicago’s exciting Logan Square neighborhood now and moved to the city about six years ago, by way of Memphis, TN and Washington D.C.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I started working in galleries and museums at the age of 16 and never looked back. So, my art background is already a bit of a long one. I studied Art History at Rhodes College in Memphis (go Lynx cats!). When I finished, I received a year-long academic internship working in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curatorial and registrar’s departments, organizing exhibitions and researching for exhibition catalogues. I eventually returned to Memphis to act as project coordinator for a public art organization called the UrbanArt Commission, taking care of the city’s art collection while planning new art projects throughout Memphis with local, regional, and national artists.

But, being a total nerd and missing school, I moved to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I received dual master’s degrees in Modern Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy. While at SAIC, I worked as Chief Registrar for the Roger Brown Study Collection a house museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was curator for the school’s Creativity in the Workplace program, curating approximately fourteen exhibitions a year throughout Chicagoland, and for a year I served as the program coordinator for SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program before deciding to go back into exhibitions and collections management, which is how I found myself at the Driehaus Museum. Previously, my focus was in modern and contemporary art, so this Gilded Age collection is a new and exciting venture for me!

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  While painstakingly installing 275 pieces of jewelry last January for our Maker & Muse exhibition, it sometimes felt like we WERE trapped in the museum overnight—these shows don’t install themselves, you know!

But, if I were not installing, had free reign of the place, and were allowed to break every collections-care rule in the book? I would absolutely post up in the Library’s (attributed to the Herter Bros.) chair under the gryphon lamp with a glass of scotch, a cigar, and a good book for the night. I also played piano for many years when I was younger, so I’d likely spend time on our Chickering & Sons piano in the Drawing Room. And, if friends are invited, then I wouldn’t pass up on a dance party opportunity in the Ballroom either. The house offers lots of great overnight possibilities, now that I think about it…

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  If you’ve never been to the Museum around the winter holidays, you really have to put it on your bucket list. We’re over-the-top, but tastefully decorated with holiday décor that—while wreaking havoc on the collections team for the amount of glitter that gets deposited everywhere—looks absolutely stunning and will immediately put you in the holiday spirit, even after a long afternoon of Michigan Avenue holiday shopping. Therefore, I’d have to go with Santa Saturdays being my favorite program at the museum. Because, who doesn’t want to have brunch with the jolliest man alive in such a lovely setting!?

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I work with amazing colleagues here at the Driehaus Museum, so picking one favorite moment is difficult and with a job as multifaceted as this one, every day is an adventure! I’ll give two examples. The first is one of the most memorable, though perhaps not necessarily my favorite. Our second floor features an original water closet in between Addie’s and Mrs. Nickerson’s bedrooms, which now act as exhibition galleries for us. During my third week of working at the museum, it came to my attention that the non-functioning original facilities within that water closet had been put to use for their originally intended purposes. It was in the process of determining how to handle that situation that I realized that this new job would not be like any other I’d ever experienced…

One of the sweetest moments I’ve had yet came on the last day of installation of the Maker & Muse exhibition. Our team worked many late hours for two weeks to install this extensive exhibition. The last day of install in particular was filled with intricate installation needs and last minute touch ups, in preparation for Mr. Driehaus’s first viewing of the exhibition that evening. But, the team finished with about an hour to spare. That brief period, between putting the last necklace in its case and showing the exhibition to its first visitor, found our team sitting on the main hall steps, having the first moment in months to really absorb and observe what it was we’d all been working towards. That shared sense of calm, pride, and enthusiastic exhaustion was really very special.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.

The Museum’s new acquisition forges a special and important link between two prosperous late 19th-century businessmen and their devotion to collecting art. Samuel M. Nickerson may have lived in Chicago, while the name of William Henry Vanderbilt was synonymous with New York. But they were both enthusiastic parts of the same wave of artistic interest across America at the turn of the century, which resulted in real cultural phenomena: rooms like our Sculpture Gallery, private collections open to the public as a precursor to museums, and publications like Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper's weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper’s weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William H. Vanderbilt was the eldest son of railroad mogul Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited the largest slice of his father’s massive fortune. He did a fine job in railroads himself, and nearly doubled his inheritance by the time of his death. In 1879 he embarked on a $3 million building project that would permanently etch the Vanderbilt name in New York brownstone and American architectural history. “Nothing so magnificent had before been attempted in New York in the way of a private residence,” The New York Times remarked afterwards.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

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Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

The Vanderbilt residence at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street was technically two mansions connected by an atrium; his daughters lived in the second with their husbands. It was a feast for the eyes. The architect-decorators were Christian and Gustave Herter, German-born cabinetmakers favored by New York’s elite, and they worked with experienced architects Charles Atwood and John Snook to anchor their profuse decorative elements to a standing structure. No two rooms were alike, and all were exactly to the taste of the moment. Just like the original interior designers of the Nickerson Mansion, the Herter Brothers favored a creative pastiche of historical and cultural styles all arranged together in interesting ways. You had vast groupings of artistic objects heaped on fireplace mantels, walls divided into three or more sections before reaching the ceiling, elaborate carvings in exotic wood, and jewel-tone colors. One’s eye never quite knew where to land.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection is really a book of description. And just as we trawl through Curbed or Pinterest to see how tastemakers arrange their interiors or tune in on television for sneak peeks of celebrity’s homes, this description was hungered for by America’s new middle class and nouveaux-riche.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

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Published in limited number—1,000 editions, of which the Driehaus Museum’s acquisition is #712—of beautiful materials, included richly grained and gilt-edged brown leather and deep blue silk inner linings, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection offered entrance to the private world of the wealthiest man in America. The reader is treated to a vivid tour of the home, from the Boudoir’s ivory-inlaid ebony walls to the grand three-story Picture Gallery, as well as Vanderbilt’s private art collection, which included around 200 paintings.

 

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

V-Interior

The author, Edward Strahan (Earl Shinn), was an influential self-made American art critic who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and returned with a mission—not to make art, but to write about it. He wanted to dazzle American eyes and minds with the wonders of great art, examples of which so few of them had seen. Even the publisher, George Barrie, seemed to emphasize the artistic quality with his beautifully bound books filled with lavish artwork. A year before coming out with Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, Barrie put the visions of the 1893 Chicago’s worlds fair into people’s homes with an illustrated two-volume set, World Columbian Exposition MDCCCXCIII, Art and Architecture. He also collaborated with Shinn on a series called Art Treasures of America.

They were proponents of a vast sort of gentrification campaign for young America taking place at the end of the 19th century, which needed men like William Henry Vanderbilt. You might call this a kind of Mediciean mindset. Many Gilded Age barons like Vanderbilt saw themselves as bringers of an American Renaissance in which the powerful and wealthy contribute to the public good and encourage the flourishing of the arts. So when Vanderbilt spent over $1 million to amass works by Alma-Tadema, Bougeureau, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupré, Fortuny, Millet, Millais, Rousseau, Troyon, and Turner, he had more than his personal financial portfolio in mind. Upon the grand opening of his mansion in 1882, Vanderbilt hosted two receptions, “to one of which he invited other multi-millionaires of the town to inspect his treasures, and to the other poor artists who had never been able to see the great galleries of Europe.” Afterwards, visitors were admitted by card on Thursdays. This was, according to one publication, “an important element in cultivating the artistic taste of the metropolis.”

Gallery of Paintings

 

"Figures from 'Down to the River' by L. Alma-Tadema."

“Figures from ‘Down to the River’ by L. Alma-Tadema.”

 

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Incroyables, by F. H. Kaemmerer.

 

Like Vanderbilt, Samuel M. Nickerson opened the Sculpture Gallery to art students and other interested Chicagoans, not only his personal guests. Art collections were viewed as public treasures, obtained by privilege but not to be hoarded. Rather, they were to be shared for the enjoyment and betterment of society at large. There was a deep belief during the aesthetic movement that exposure to exceptional beauty somehow elevated us, changed us, improved us as humans. Writing about that subject today, Alain de Botton puts it like this:

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”

 

 

 

 

 

Resources
Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Bibliopolis, “Publisher: George Barrie”
Dictionary of Art Historians, “Shinn, Earl / Edward Strahan, pseudonym”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library Table, Herter Brothers (1864-1906)
The New York Times, “Frick Remodeling Vanderbilt Mansion, Will Make Over One of Famous Brownstone Twins. Alterations to Be Costly: William H. Vanderbilt Built the Two Houses in 1880 at the Cost of $3,000,000—George Vanderbilt’s Tenure.” April 16, 1905.
The New York Times, “C. Vanderbilt Gets Mansion and Art, Property Worth $6,000,000 Reverts to Him by Grandfather’s Will on Death of George W. House Let to H. C. Frick. Stands at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street and Cost $1,600,000—Art Valued Above $1,000,000.” March 10, 1914.
Nathan Silver, Lost New York, p. 121-122

Art, according to John Ruskin, the influential writer of the British Arts and Crafts movement, is most beautiful when its forms are derived from nature.

Now, when we call Nature beautiful, it’s often her finer moments we’re thinking of. A rose, with its velvety bundled petals, is beautiful. So too are the colors of sunset, the splendor of a tree in summer, the simple asymmetry of a starfish, or the spread of a peacock’s tail.

But many art jewelry makers of the early 20th century embraced all kinds of flora and fauna—even the ones that today might be perceived as…well, the opposite of beautiful. Spiders, bats, snakes, frogs, naked branches, and rotting blossoms have all been immortalized in gold, silver, and stone. What some might consider nature’s ‘dark side’ today was actually a source of intrigue and inspiration—the muse of artists all over the world.

That resulted in some striking motifs in these makers’ works, as you’ll see in a number of pieces on view in our current exhibition, Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. Let’s take a look at a few of them, and stretch the definition of beautiful in the natural world a little further.

 

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), Chrysanthemum Pendant/Brooch, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. © 2014 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), Chrysanthemum Pendant/Brooch, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. © 2014 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Take this pendant featuring a trio of chrysanthemums. In the audio tour of the exhibition, Driehaus Museum founder and collector Richard H. Driehaus explains, “This is one of my favorite pieces in the collection, and by the great René Lalique, whose jewelry has always commanded worldwide attention. You can see how each of the chrysanthemums is in a different stage of its blooming.” A picture-perfect chrysanthemum blossom—with its tight puffball shape composed of tiny petals—doesn’t look exactly like these three flowers Lalique has masterfully carved in glass. Instead, the jeweler chose blossoms that were past their prime. The lower petals are beginning to droop and lose their shape, not quite wilting, but almost. Below the flowers Lalique features a misshapen drop pearl, or “baroque pearl”, which further emphasizes the statement this piece makes that beauty can also be found in imperfection.

 

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), Aquamarine Pendant, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014.

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), Aquamarine Pendant, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014.

Here’s another example by the masterful Lalique, also on view in the French Art Nouveau gallery of Maker & Muse. In the pendant above, he set an aquamarine stone into and below two pairs of spiked, thorny stems of icy-blue enameled gold. Especially when set against the skin of the wearer, the sharp contours of this piece are striking.

 

Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach (German, 1861 – 1918), Octopus Waist Clasp, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach (German, 1861 – 1918), Octopus Waist Clasp, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Also in about 1900, goldsmith Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach created this fascinating waist clasp in the Art Nouveau style; you can see it on the second floor, in the gallery dedicated to a wide variety of German and Austrian art jewelry. The two grotesque large-mouthed fish grasp the body of the octopus—here, a luminous opal—while simultaneously seeming to be entrapped by the creature’s silver tentacles. In addition to the sinuous symmetry of the fish tails and octopus arms, the German goldsmith has given careful attention to texture. Note the fish scales, elongated fish nostrils, and raised suction cups on the octopus’s curvilinear arms.

The Artificers’ Guild (English, 1901–1942), Pendant, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

The Artificers’ Guild (English, 1901–1942), Pendant, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Spiders were other favorite themes. This spiderweb pendant was produced in turn-of-the-century London by the Artificers’ Guild, and is on view in the British Arts and Crafts gallery of Maker & Muse. The spiderweb form functions as a seven-pointed locus for a variety of colorful precious and semiprecious stones; the piece includes opal, sapphire, zircon, tourmaline, amethyst, almandine, garnet, moonstone, and pearl.

 

Frederick James Partridge (English, 1877 – 1942) for Liberty & Co. (English, est. 1875), Tiara with Corn Design, c. 1900. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photo by John Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

 

In addition to the creepy-crawly side of nature, art jewelers also made the plain and ordinary into something awe-inspiring. This rare tiara by Fred Partridge, an important early British Arts and Crafts jeweler, is one of the highlights of the exhibition. Sheaves of grain are as humble a part of the natural world as there is to be found, and yet these five cornstalks, of semi-translucent horn topped with moonstones, are transformed into a supremely elegant work of art.

 

These are just a few of the stunning pieces of art jewelry featured in Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. There are many more—over 250!—and the exhibition is open through January 3, 2016. Self-guided visits are included in the price of general admission. For more information, visit the Maker & Muse exhibition site.

 

Spring has come to Chicago—and to the Chicago gallery of our latest exhibition, Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. A silver tiara, adorned with a spray of springtime lilacs, leaves, and vines, heralded the new season when it arrived at the Driehaus Museum this week.

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The elegant circlet is repossé silver, crafted from melted silver spoons donated by the women of Lombard, Illinois, in 1930. It was created as a symbol of Lilac Time, the annual springtime celebration in this west-suburban village. The crown adorned the first Lilac Festival Queen—whose name and the names of several other early Queens are etched in the crown’s interior—and continues to be an integral part of the festivities today.

 

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It’s also a late commission from artist and designer Christia M. Reade. Reade’s heyday was right at the turn of the century in Chicago, when the ideas from the Arts and Crafts Movement, having drifted over from England, took root here and bred a unique regional movement of its own. Arts and Crafts was about the artisanal talents of makers, and they weren’t shy about showing off asymmetry, unfaceted semiprecious stones, minute imperfections, and common metals—all indications of items made by hand in a studio, rather than by machine. Nature, as you can see in the Lilac crown, was chief among Arts and Crafts inspirations, often depicted in a freeform, romantic, medieval way.

 

Reade was the daughter of Josiah and Christia Reade; her father was a Chicago native, her mother a New York schoolteacher. Reade studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and soon became one of the city’s biggest names associated with the Arts and Crafts movement here. She achieved prominence as a principal designer of the Krayle Company, a domestic decorative arts firm with its office in the Marshall Field Building. Her ambitions took her to study in Paris for two years, probably under the artist Luc-Olivier Merson. When she returned from Europe, Reade opened her own studio at 211 Wabash Avenue, which she maintained until the 1920s.

 

Near Reade’s crown in the Chicago gallery you’ll see other stunning works of jewelry from the same period, many of them made by her female contemporaries. These include Clara Barck Welles, founder of Kalo Shop. She and Reade were fellow graduate of the Art Institute, and are listed as co-jurors on the committee selecting works for the Art Institute’s first annual exhibition of “Original Designs for Decorations and Examples of Art Crafts Having Distinct Artistic Merit” in 1902–03. (This was, incidentally, also a time when Samuel M. Nickerson was still a trustee of this institution.)

 

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The February 1897 issue of The Decorator and Furnisher devoted a spread to “Miss Christina M. Reade, and Her Work.”

 

“The woman decorator of today is a well established institution. She demands—and receives—full and due recognition for her work, not because she is a woman, but because her work is as a rule meritorious, and deserving of notice. She has had much to struggle against in the way of popular prejudice, but in spite of adverse criticism she has worked her way steadily to the front in a field hitherto conceded to man alone. We refer to her as a coalition; but from this great and growing unit we take pleasure in selecting the work of Miss Christina M. Reade of Chicago as excellent examples of artistic work…”

 

Reade was best known for her metalwork, but commanded a range of media and exhibited throughout the Midwest. To the same Art Institute exhibition in 1902–3, for example, she submitted a carved walnut bellows, mahogany book rack, copper mounting for a leather bag, copper lock with plates and hinge ornaments, an oak screen with copper panels, and copper buckles, brooches, and cloak buttons set with semiprecious stones like opal, malachite, and amber. She also designed metal lampshades. In The House Beautiful (Volume XI, 1901–1902), a “pierced brass” shade designed by “Miss Christia M. Reade, of the Krayle Company,” was recommended by the publication for one reader’s library drop light.

 

Reade would have been around 70 years old when she designed the Lilac crown for her hometown of Lombard, but it is filled with the same Renaissance simplicity that imbued her early work. The geometric Art Deco movement may have prevailed in 1930, but in Reade’s world, the romance of nature and the rustic beauty of a perfectly handmade object still captivated her.

 

The Lilac Festival crown is on loan from the Lombard Historical Society and will be on view at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum through February 2016.

 

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“We strongly advocate the use of different styles in different rooms, to avoid the monotonous effect invariably produced by the fanatic apostles of the so-called Eastlake or Modern Gothic. For the same reasons it will be necessary for articles of luxury, as Easels. Hanging Shelves, Cabinets, etc., to use motifs from the Mooresque, Byzantine, Japanese, etc., though diametrically opposed to the prevailing style of the room.” – August Fiedler

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William August Fielder

The principal interior designer of the Nickerson Mansion was William August Fiedler. He was German, born at Elbing in 1842. August Fiedler as he would later come to be known studied architecture in his native country but immigrated to the United States in 1871. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he found his way to Chicago, taking advantage of the post Chicago Fire building boom. A perfectionist in his pursuit of quality, Fiedler began his career the way many architects of the period did–as an interior designer.

 

 

fieldler advertBy 1877, he had his own furniture business, A. Fiedler and Company at 24 - 26 Van Buren Street. As a decorator, Fieldler would leave behind a lasting legacy in the richly carved details of the Hegeler Carus Mansion in downstate LaSalle, Illinois, built between 1874-1876. The high finishes of his custom woodwork and furniture attracted the attention of Samuel Mayo Nickerson who hired him to design some of the rooms for his new home at 317 Erie Street in Chicago (now the Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie). fiedler dining room

Fiedler’s impeccable attention to the smallest elements of style shine. He created unique parquet flooring and architectural flourishes with such precision and beauty that he went bankrupt by not charging his wealthy clients enough to compensate for the quality work he produced.

Visitors to the Hegeler Carus Mansion will recognize many similarities between that home and the Nickerson’s Marble Palace. The hand turned columns and cornices of the two homes are reminiscent of each other as are the ornate carvings that surround the fireplaces. Fiedler’s innovative use of turned wood spindles, decorative mantels and wainscoting are common to both interiors.

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Millwork detail, Hegeler Carus Mansion

carved sideboard hegeler carus

Fiedler carved sideboard, Hegeler Carus Mansion

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Parlor with parquet flooring and custom millwork, Hegeler Carus Mansion

Germania_Club,_August_Fiedler_arch

Germania Hall now the Germania Club at Clark and Germania Place.

But August Fiedler also began to design buildings here in Chicago and around the Midwest. He completed the Germania Hall in 1888 along with fellow architect John Addison and built private homes in Blue Island and Milwaukee.

 

Moorish_palace_labyrinth,_august_fiedler_archIn 1893 when the World’s Fair drew the curious multitudes to the White City, one of the standout buildings was Fiedler’s Moorish Palace, patterned after the Alhambra of Spain. It was one of three pavilions Fiedler designed for the Colombian Exhibition.

Long time Chicagoans will remember Henrici’s Restaurant on Randolph Street, another Fiedler project. On the city’s Gold Coast, 1547 North Dearborn Parkway is another of his sumptuously detailed interiors replete with lavish woodcarvings in an 18,000 square foot city estate.

In 1893, Fiedler was named the first Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education. He supervised the construction of fifty-eight schools and designed many including Burley, Goethe, Eugene Field and Pullman.

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Fiedler was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He died in Chicago in 1903.

 

For information about our upcoming trip to the Hegeler Carus Mansion on Wednesday, June 4, please visit our website.

 

 

Sources:

A. Fiedler and L. W. Murray, Artistic Furnishing and House Decoration, (C. H. Blakely & Co., printers, 1877)

http://chicagohistoricschools.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/william-august-fiedler/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Burnhamandroot/Sandbox

 

 

vreeland_bookclub_groupThe Tiffany Girls faced their toughest critic since the old master himself during a recent twilight tour at the Driehaus Museum. Susan Vreeland, author of the acclaimed bestselling novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, was the featured speaker at the Driehaus Winter Book Club this March. She also gave two lectures at the museum on the Women’s Department at Tiffany Studios. Vreeland provided some valuable insights as she accompanied “Clara Driscoll” and “Agnes Northrop” on a historic reenactment through their temporary studio and showroom in the Nickerson Mansion.

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Set in 1899, Clara and Agnes are preparing to enter their designs in the 1900 Exposition Universalle in Paris. Guests on the tour are invited to take roles as potential customers. Ms. Vreeland was handed the part of an English aristocrat and played it rather convincingly. She demanded answers about the techniques used to create the myriad effects associated with the fabrication of Tiffany lamps. Vreeland’s visit to Chicago was timed to coincide with Women’s History Month as well as to tour the exhibition: Louis Comfort Tiffany, Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. In her novel, Vreeland recreates the fin de siecle with its tempestuous labor struggles and the nascent women’s rights movement. Her book describes the strivings of young women artists who found gainful employment in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s New York studios alongside their grudging male counterparts.

“Remember to emphasize that this was a very diverse group of women,” Vreeland advised. “Some of the workers had formal art training while others who showed a certain predilection for the tasks had to be instructed in the selection and cutting of the glass by Clara herself.” “There were many languages spoken and the women represented a range of the immigrant population.”

Susan Vreeland with the "Tiffany Girls"

Susan Vreeland with the “Tiffany Girls”

She found the two actresses who portrayed Clara and Agnes to be both charming and very knowledgeable about their respective roles.

Ms. Vreeland read a portion of her novel in Roland Nickerson’s bedroom, pausing at Driscoll’s Wisteria Lamp to deliver a message on beauty and design. Later in an impromptu question and answer session, she fielded queries about her research, writing methods and the plot of her newest novel, Lisette’s List to the group.

“I write on a lap top,” she said. “Multiple drafts.”

Book signing following the group discussion

Book signing following the group discussion

Many questions centered on the betrothal and subsequent disappearance of Clara Driscoll’s second fiancé, social reformer, Edwin Waldo. In the book, the couple travels to Lake Geneva to mark their engagement. Although seemingly happy, Edwin suddenly and mysteriously disappears. He would resurface many years later without explanation. Vreeland speculated that he might have had some form of mental illness. Apparently he would vanish again after relocating to California. But she emphasized his sincere desire to help elevate the status of workers. Clara Driscoll was deeply influenced by his passion for reform. Vreeland suggests that Driscoll adopted some of Waldo’s methods when she marched her female employees arm in arm to storm a picket set up by the Glass Cutter’s Union.

When asked about the details of Edwin and Clara’s relationship, Vreeland replied that this is where researchers hit a wall. She was forced to speculate on the events their honeymoon trip blending what little information there was available with the fiction writer’s art.

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What was her favorite piece in the Driehaus exhibit? She loves the Peony Lamp which is on display in Samuel Nickerson’s bedroom.

tiffanygirls_deskExperience the Tiffany Girls Tour

  • Saturdays and Sundays in March. at 4 p.m.
  • First and Third Tuesdays in April, May, and June at 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning June 25th at 5:30 p.m.

Adults $18; Youth (10-17 years) $8

Ticket includes Museum general admission.

 

Photo credit: Marcin Cymmer

 

Happy 166th Birthday to Louis Comfort Tiffany born February 18, 1848.

One wonders what gift would make this artist/impresario smile? In the years following his death in 1933, many of his iconic works were relegated to attics or dustbins. But following a renaissance of appreciation, Tiffany’s name and output are once again secure in the annals of art history.

So exactly how might Mr. Tiffany celebrate today? There are some hints in the fabulous, over the top fetes that became a part of his legacy. On the occasion of his 68th birthday in 1916, Tiffany threw a lavish party at his Madison Avenue studios in New York City complete with a masque in pantomime entitled The Quest for Beauty . A woman clad in white robes emerged onto the darkened stage and told the hushed spectators they would see “Genius in the form of an artist hunting for Beauty”. The actors then mimed a caveman drawing inspiration from a dancing flame of a fire.

Later after a toast by J. Alden Weir, president of the Academy of Design, Tiffany, in a speech to the 300 assembled celebrants, summed up the quest that was his lifelong ambition:

If I may be forgiven a word about my own work, I would merely say that I have always striven to fix beauty in wood or stone or glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty; that has been my creed and I see no reason to change it. It seems as if the artists who place all their energies on technique have nothing left over for the more important matter — the pursuit of beauty.

Harper's Bazar, April, 1916

Harper’s Bazar, April, 1916

But that was just one of the many parties Tiffany threw in the cavernous space that was his studio and showroom. He had many theatrical events there in rooms heated by four huge fireplaces and lit with panels of vividly colored glass. It was the perfect artist’s loft to wow awestruck guests. Perhaps Tiffany’s most spectacular event was The Egyptian Fete of February 4, 1913. Invitations in hieroglyphs were sent written on papyrus scrolls. Four hundred attendees, attired in pre-approved period costumes including Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Dorothy Roosevelt and the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert de Forest stepped into “Alexandria” to witness a romantic encounter between Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Tiffany’s daughter Dorothy played one of the Queen’s attendants. One highlight was a suggestive dance performed by Ruth St. Denis who made a spectacular entrance unfurled from an Persian carpet. Catered by Delmonico’s restaurant, there was enough champagne to fuel some risqué behavior in the form of a rather uninhibited Turkey Trot. All of this sybaritic splendor was presided over by the artist himself garbed as an Eastern potentate.

Described in a gushing review by the New York Times, the late night bash was “one amazing riot of color” and “it eclipsed any fancy dress function ever presented in New York“. Even the Pinkerton security force wore Oriental disguise as they stood in silent watch over the treasures in the event space.

So perhaps today’s celebration although heartfelt might be a bit more restrained? How about a multi-layered cake with gloriously colored fondant stained glass panels and jewel-like flowers wrapped in iridescent Favrile spun sugar and lit with 166 candles? To quote the master: “I want to protest that beauty can be found in any material given the proper channel.” 

Many happy returns Louis Comfort Tiffany!

 

To read the article in the April 1916 issue of Harper’s Bazar click here.

 

Sources:
Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, Elizabeth Hutchinson, ed. (Metropolitan Museum of Art,  2006)
The International Studio, Volumes 57-58,  John Lane Company, 1915
Egyptian Fete A Fine Spectacle NYT February 5, 1913
(Art-The Quest for Beauty , An Address by Louis C. Tiffany) Art and Life, Volume 7, Issue 6 Author’s Bureau., 1916
 Behind Glass: A Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham By Michael John Burlingham  pp 130-131