Gems of the Centennial Exhibition, part I

As I am always keen on the topics of Design Exhibitions and my beloved Philadelphia, I was very pleased when the exhibition catalog “Gems of the Centennial Exhibition” became available.

I have been aware of miscellaneous objects created for our Exhibition, but to tap into contemporary criticism is a great privilege.

If you wish to take a peek, follow this link,Gems of the Centennial Exhibition .

Part of the  fun is to be able to find clues as to why certain design decisions were made. I can think of no other time in which peculiar little quirks drive me mad. Other centuries seem to have allowed reason and conventional notions of beauty  to influence aesthetic decisions. The 19th century, in it’s mad dash quest for novelty, progress, and historicism , produced many perplexing details.

Once such example is this Neo Grec  centre table.

Centre Table
Messrs. Allen & Brother
Philadelphia, Pennsyslvania
ca. 1875
Cherry with opaque white paint, marble.
approx. dimensions 32x45x30
Brooklyn Museum
Although this particular piece was not exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition, Messrs. Allen & Bros. did exhibit two equally peculiar cabinets.
I admire the Neo Grec treatment of ivory paint, the incised decoration being gilded, the attempt at restraint.. Although aspiring for Classical refinement. I find the legs with their scrolling vine work to be in the Neo Gothick style of the Audsley Bros. From my perspective, this centre table is a hybrid Neo Greco-Neo Gothick.
But I digress, back to peculiar design decisions.
The curtain rod rings, why? Was fabric to be hung? That would conceal the handsome palmette on the brace. If it had been a folio cabinet containing  light sensitive watercolours  and engravings, perhaps a hanging would make sense, but this is a centre table. Perhaps a decorative lambrequin-like hanging was employed. It is puzzling.
I was unable to find an answer, just another peculiar example in the “Gems of the Centennial…”
Pardon the quality, I scanned it myself, rather poorly.
What is apparent on this cabinet are the rings. Once again employed as a decorative motif, once again making no apparent sense,although this time they appear fixed, merely a conventional treatment. This particular image is on page 145.
Not a great mystery, just one of those little peculiarities that fascinates and piques  the interest of this Victoriana Nerd.

On to other objects listed in the “Gems”.

This great beauty by Tiffany has been making the rounds of the more exuberant blogs, chateauthombeau.blogspot.com. It is certainly a treasure.
Fruit Dish in Silver, by Messrs. Tiffany & Co., New York
And here it is , page 15,
A great favorite of mine is this circular settee.
by Marchand?
Paris
The text does not attribute the maker, although the photo seems to say by Marchand.
The text of “Gems…” goes on to describe this marvel of the up-holster’s art as being 14 feet high, 10 feet in diameter. It is in the Renaissance style, and covered in green satin. I would have thought charcoal from the image.This bit of fantasy is topped with a functioning fountain of red marble and bronze, lovely with the green satin.To finish off the confection”the whole is gracefully surmounted by a chandelier of fifty burners.” I love the purple prose, I love the setee.
A lovely Aesthetic Movement chimney piece follows.
Love the lady casually reading, oblivious to the maddening crowd.
and now, pg. 97
This fascination with contemporary images and responses may appear silly, it most likely is. But it helps to answer a few of the oddball questions I have whenever I gaze upon a 19th century room;particularly one before the Reform Movement had great influence. With the endless draping of mantle pieces, jardinieres, “artistic” easels, and Turkish Corners, I am often puzzled . The “Gems of the Centennial Exhibition” puts the period in context.
I end with a few gems that had exhibited at the Exhibition.
“Monumental Centerpiece”
Minton
made for “76 Exhibition
27″w x 24″d x 33 1/2″h
Wilson Sewing Machine
LOVE the Herter Bros. influence on so modest a piece of “furniture”.
Burdett Organ
trade card
BTW,
the proper title of the catalog is as follows:
Gems of the Centennial Exhibition:Consisting of Illustrated Descriptions of Objects of an Artistic Character, in the Exhibits of the United States, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Russia, Japan, China
Perhaps the most exuberant title ever.
The poor dears were really trying to prove their legitimacy.
Good Night
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One Response to “Gems of the Centennial Exhibition, part I”

  1. I always love looking through catalogues, brochures and souvenirs of these nineteenth century exhibitions, a feast for the eyes. Many of the pieces were made specifically for show and to produce orders, though with some of the pieces it surely must have been sheer showing off!

    The Philadelphia exhibition is a particularly important one, so if you ever come across a fully downloadable copy rather than a google snippet or preview do let me know.

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