Monday, April 29, 2013

The Armory Show of 1913

The current exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso and Chicago, celebrates in part the 100th anniversary of the famous “Armory Show” where Picasso’s works were first shown in the United States.  The Armory Show, officially known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, was one of the most controversial art exhibitions ever held and its impact continues to be felt today, most recently with the opening of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute designed by Renzo Piano.

The Armory Show featured the work of avant-garde European and American artists and received its common name from its initial venue, the 69th Regiment Armory in New York, where the show ran from February 17 through March 15, 1913.  The show came to Chicago and ran from March 24 through April 16 and had its final venue in Boston through the Copley Society, April 23 through May 14. 

An important note is that the Art Institute of Chicago was the only art museum to host the show during its tour of the United States.  Prior to the show, Chicagoans had almost no opportunity to see this type of art, save for a few progressive galleries and two Art Institute exhibitions on contemporary German and Scandinavian art in early 1913, which showcased artists including Vassily Kandinsky and Edvard Munch.

The Armory Show filled nine galleries at the Art Institute, but featured only a portion of the 1,090 works shown in New York.   Per the request of Art Institute Director William M. R. French, the focus on the Chicago exhibition was European artists that Chicagoans had not seen previously.  Artists represented included Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Rousseau, and several of the “Cubists.” 

Within a few years of the show, the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and the Arts Club of Chicago were formed, both focusing on the understanding of contemporary art.  A few private collectors also began purchasing works of art, such as Arthur Jerome Eddy, who purchased several of the most controversial works from the Armory Show, and amassed a sizeable collection by the time of his death in 1920. 

Glessner family friends Frederic Clay Bartlett and his wife Helen Birch Bartlett became major collectors of Post-Impressionistic and modern French art.  Their collection included works by Matisse and Picasso and other artists exhibited at the Armory Show, and several of these were displayed at the Art Institute in the 1920s. 

In 1926, following the death of Helen Bartlett, the collection, including Georges Seurat’s iconic A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, was donated to the Art Institute, making it the first museum in America to own a significant collection of modern art on permanent display. 

The Glessners’ neighbor Robert Allerton was also an important collector, donating nearly 900 works of art to the museum over his lifetime.  Chief among these were Sketches of a Young Woman and a Man and Seated Male Nude by Picasso, which became the first works by the artist in the Art Institute collection when they were donated in 1923 and 1924, respectively.

Although John Glessner was a long-time trustee of the Art Institute, there is no indication in the family journal that he or his wife attended the Armory Show.  However, an amusing entry in their journal, dated April 13, 1913 confirms that Mrs. Glessner’s two sisters, Helen Macbeth and Anna Macbeth Robertson, did attend the show.  John Glessner wrote:

“In the afternoon Frances and I went to the Flonzaley Quartet concert in the Fine Arts Theatre, and as we came out met Helen and Anna, who not only had been to the concert but before that went to the Art Institute to see the ‘Cubist’ pictures – which I thought too much for invalids to do.”

What exactly John Glessner meant by invalids is unknown; he may have felt that the controversial art was inappropriate for two ladies in their 70s to view.  However, Helen Macbeth was a gifted painter, so it is not surprising that she would have been most interested in seeing the modern pictures that were generating so much publicity and controversy.

Picasso and Chicago runs through Sunday May 12, 2013.  For detailed information on the Armory Show and its impact, visit  

Monday, April 22, 2013

To live content with small means

On September 23, 1897, Frances Glessner sat down at her desk at The Rocks, her summer estate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and paraphrased the popular poem “My Symphony” by William Henry Channing.  She wrote:

“To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy not respectable and
Wealthy, not rich; to study hard,
Think quiet, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes
And sages with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely;
Await occasion, hurry never;
In a word, to let the spiritual,
Unbidden and unconscious
Grow up through the common.”

Family friend Isaac Scott took the words and elegantly lettered them onto paper, surrounding the whole with a beautifully executed pen and watercolor border of leaves, and set the work within a simple mahogany frame.   Frances Glessner added “F.G. Sept. 23, 1897” at the lower right hand corner.

What led Frances Glessner to paraphrase the popular poem is unknown.  Her journal entry for the day consists of just one sentence noting the departure from The Rocks of her son’s friend Dwight Lawrence.  In spite of the unknown motivation, the piece says a great deal about who Frances Glessner was and what she believed was important in her life.  The words are so appropriate that if one did not know the origin of the poem, it could easily be believed that the poem was written for and about her. 

The framed poem hangs on the wall of Frances Glessner’s dressing room and many visitors have noted the beautiful sentiment and requested copies through the years. 

The original author of the poem was William Henry Channing, an American Unitarian clergyman, writer, and philosopher.  Born in Boston, he was raised by his uncle William Ellery Channing, a prominent Unitarian theologian.  He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1833 and was ordained in the Unitarian church two years later.  Throughout his life, he took a strong interest in social reorganization, Christian socialism, and Transcendentalism.  After serving a Unitarian church in England, he returned to the U.S. during the Civil War where he took charge of a church in Washington, D.C. and served as Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1863 and 1864.  A prolific writer and member of the Transcendental Club, he corresponded regularly with Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He died in London in 1884.  The poem “My Symphony” is his best known work today. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Driehaus Museum and Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series

Zaire centerpiece bowl. Raymond Ruys, designer; Delheid Frères, manufacturer, 1930. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. Featured in Jason T. Busch's lecture “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939” on September 19, 2013.

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, located steps away from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile at 40 East Erie Street, offers visitors a fascinating view of the Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion, one of the few remaining examples of homes erected by the wealthy of America’s Gilded Age.  Designed in 1883 by Burling & Whitehouse, the house features lavish interiors complemented by stunning examples of period furniture, decorative arts, and stained glass, including a magnificent selection of works by Tiffany Studios selected from the Driehaus Collection.
This is a repost of an article originally published on the Driehaus Museum blog on February 25, 2013 discussing their annual Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series.
Named for the man who commissioned the historic mansion the Driehaus Museum lives in today, the Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series is one of our most popular programs. Every year, we bring in five speakers who are experts and scholars on topics as wide-ranging as the Newport mansions, Edith Wharton, and the development of taste specific to America’s Gilded Age (to name a few from 2012).
The Driehaus Museum’s own Anna Wolff, Administrative and Programs Assistant, spends hours reading scholarly books on the decorative arts, searching other museum exhibitions, and watching YouTube videos to pull together a blockbuster slate of speakers each year. For this blog, she talked about the history and ongoing inspiration for the series.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the history of the Nickerson Lecture Series at the Driehaus Museum—when and why was it launched? Why was it named after Samuel Nickerson?
Anna Wolff: Well, I wasn’t here in 2008 when the museum launched the series, but the focus is to situate this amazing building into the context of prevailing tastes in art, architecture, and design. Simply put, it’s to help our visitors see that this building is both tremendously unique and typical at the same time. I think that what we know of Mr. Nickerson indicates that he like this house was a man of opulence, risk, and beauty, yet still one of many self-made wealthy Chicagoans who were influenced by the fashions of the day.
Q: How does the Series work? What can people expect to experience while attending one of the lectures?
AW: I like to have a little bit of everything, in an attempt to showcase the wide range of history, design and innovation in this fascinating time period. This year each lecture focuses on either a different area of the country or is objects-based. The goal is to encompass the material culture that built the world in which Samuel Mayo Nickerson lived, so that each year we see a slightly larger picture of the 19th century. Although Mr. Nickerson may have never gotten to see San Francisco in its architectural heyday, or visit Mark Twain in Connecticut, these spaces were born out of the same idealism that Nickerson and his architects were influenced by here in Chicago. During the Aesthetic Movement, it was believed that beauty should exist in everything, that handmade is always better than machine-made, and that living with art edifies the soul. Those ideas appear in every lecture in some way—and I like to think Mr. Nickerson is happy about that.
Q: The lecturers we’ve had in the past have covered a wide range of topics. What are some of your favorites?
AW: Hmm…this is a hard one! We’ve had so many fascinating topics and talented speakers over the years. I think Ulysses Dietz last year was a crowd pleaser—I think I could listen to him for hours. Aesthetic Movement Interiors at the New York City Seventh Regiment Armory [with Chelsea Bruner, City University of New York, 2011] was also a really fascinating topic. Who knew those military men had such good taste?
Q: These lectures have some of the most loyal supporters—we see the same faces again and again. What kind of feedback do you get from the community about the impact of these lectures, and do they influence your planning for upcoming seasons in any way?
AW: Sure they do! Our visitors are pretty vocal about what they like and what they don’t. (And most of them know my phone number too!) They typically have glowing reviews but occasionally they let me know if the speaker was difficult to understand or to hear. I factor in their reactions about previous lectures when searching for new faces. Some of our guests faithfully attend all five lectures every single year, so they really do feel a connection to the Series. It’s always gratifying to see people enjoying something that I have had a hand in crafting.
Main hall of the Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford Connecticut.  Featured in Patti Philippon’s lecture “The House Twain and Tiffany Built” on October 17, 2013.

Q: We just announced our fourth season, and I know you’re excited about all five lectures. Tell me a little bit about how you decide on this wide range of topics and speakers—what was your process in that?
AW: I have a folder that I put potential topics, such as new publications or exhibits or professors and curators, into, which includes a lot of recommendations from our guests as well. By late summer every year, it’s pretty full! Then I start to think through what would be interesting to our audience and categorize the topics, making sure we don’t have too much of one area represented. Once I streamline the list into about 8 to 10 names and topics, the Museum staff gives feedback and then the speakers get an official invitation. If they accept we are thrilled!  Then there are some logistical travel arrangements and paperwork, and then our members get first choice for tickets when we release the series in January.
Q: Anything you would want to do with the Series in the future—say, if you had an unlimited budget?
AW: How about we take this series on the road? Instead of seeing slide shows lets go see the real thing!

The remaining four lectures in the 2013 Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series are:

Buried Treasure and Tragedy: The Architectural Rise of San Francisco
Erin Fehrer, Editor-in-Chief, California Home+Design Magazine
Thursday April 18, 2013

The Architecture of Leisure: The Florida Coast Resorts of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant
Dr. Susan R. Braden, Former Professor of Art History, Auburn University
Thursday May 16, 2013

Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939
Jason Busch, Chief Curator and Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Carnegie Museum of Art
Thursday September 19, 2013

The House Twain and Tiffany Built
Patti Philippon, Beatrice Fox Auerbach Chief Curator, Mark Twain House & Museum
Thursday October 17, 2013

To read more about the lecture series and to purchase tickets, click here. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Glessners Visit St. Louis - April 1888

On Tuesday April 24, 1888, the Glessners left Chicago for a short trip to St. Louis, returning Friday morning.  We herewith present Frances Glessner’s accounting of the trip from her journal:

“Wednesday morning at 7:35 we reached St. Louis – we went to the Southern Hotel.  After breakfast (a poor one) we took a Victoria and went to call on Mr. Cameron whom we met on the street. 

"Then we drove over the principal streets, saw Mr. Lionberger’s house, built by Richardson, went to Shaw’s garden, a most interesting and wonderful place, then we lunched at a house out of town in a grove called “Delmonico Grove Restaurant.”  We had broiled chicken and canned asparagus.

“We went back then to the hotel, took another carriage and went to the Museum of Fine Arts to call upon Prof. Halsey Ives to whom we had a letter from Mr. Hutchinson.  We didn’t find Prof. Ives – but we went over the Museum.  We took Mr. Cameron to Torry Faust’s where we had some Pompano, Lobster and spring chickens – each drank two glasses of delicious beer.

“Thursday morning we took a carriage, drove to Tower Grove Park, by Lafayette Park through a part of Forest Park. 

"We drove all through Forest Park the day before – the Park is like a bit of woods with here a slope blue with violets and everywhere patches of spring beauties. 

"We lunched with Mr. Cameron at the Mercantile Club – and there we looked in at two pawn shops but failed to find anything to buy.  We drove where we had a good view of the bridge too.  We dined at the hotel and left for home at 7:55.”


There were actually two Lionberger houses in St. Louis, both of which were designed by Richardson. 

The J. R. Lionberger house, built for a founder and long time president of the Third National Bank of St. Louis, stood on Vandeventer Avenue and was demolished in 1951.  It was designed in 1885, with construction occurring in 1886 and 1887, the exact dates of design and construction for the Glessner house, and it shared a number of similarities in design. 

The I. H. Lionberger house was built for J.R.’s son, a leading St. Louis attorney and husband of Louise Shepley, whose brother George was Richardson’s assistant and one of the partners in the successor firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.  The son’s house was designed and built at the same time as the father's, and although it remains standing today, it has been significantly enlarged and altered. 

Shaw’s Garden was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw, a botanist and philanthropist.  It is known today as the Missouri Botanical Garden and is a National Historic Landmark.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Harry Gordon Selfridge - The Chicago Years

On March 31, 2013 the new Masterpiece Classic drama “Mr. Selfridge” premiered on Channel 11 WTTW in Chicago.  Episode one opened with Harry Gordon Selfridge, the legendary department store owner and innovator, planning for the construction of his huge store at the “unfashionable” end of Oxford Street in London, which opened on March 15, 1909.  But before Selfridge came onto the scene in London, he spent over 25 years in Chicago honing his skills and making his first fortune. 

Harry Gordon Selfridge was born in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1858.  His childhood was filled with tragedy – his two brothers both died while quite young, and his father went off to the Civil War and never returned to the family, leaving young Harry and his mother Lois (Baxter) Selfridge alone to care for each other.   In 1879, Selfridge came to Chicago to take a position with Field, Leiter & Co., working his way up in the company until becoming a director of Marshall Field & Co. and manager of the retail store. 

On November 11, 1890, Selfridge was married to Rosalie “Rose” Buckingham.  His bride was a cousin of the Ebenezer Buckingham family which resided at 2036 S. Prairie Avenue.  Two of Ebenezer’s children, Kate and Clarence, were among the bridesmaids and ushers at the ceremony.  (Kate Buckingham is best remembered today for funding the fountain in Grant Park as a memorial to her brother Clarence).  The 4:00pm ceremony was held at Central Church, with Rev. David Swing officiating.  Following the service, the bride’s sister Anna Buckingham Chandler and her husband Frank hosted an elaborate wedding supper in the ballroom of their home at 182 (now 744 N.) Rush Street.  The guest list featured many leading members of Chicago society including John and Frances Glessner; however, a look at Mrs. Glessner’s journal reveals that they were unable to attend:

“Tuesday I went to the office of the Visiting Nurse Association where I staid from eleven till two o’clock.  The nurses reported to me.  I gave them money for carfare, they took out stores, etc.  I rushed home for luncheon.  Elsie Leslie and her sister Miss Lyde were here to luncheon.   I sent these two, Fanny, Miss Scharff and Mrs. Elliott to Rose Buckingham’s wedding at Central Music Hall – they all enjoyed it very much.  I couldn’t go for several ladies called.  I couldn’t go either to the reception.”  (Mrs. Elliott was the author Maud Howe Elliott, a daughter of Julia Ward Howe, and wife of the English artist John Elliott).

In 1891, the Selfridges welcomed their first child, a son Chandler, but he died soon after.  The Selfridges and Chandlers were already spending their summers at Lake Geneva at this time, so the little boy’s body was interred at Oak Hill Cemetery in that town.  Two years later, the Chandlers purchased the building constructed by the government of Ceylon for the World’s Columbian Exposition, and had it disassembled and rebuilt on the Lake.  It became known as Ceylon Court. 

A few years later, the Selfridges purchased the adjoining property and began construction on their summer home Harrose Hall (shown above), which was completed in 1899.  (The name is a combination of the names Harry and Rose.  Selfridge retained ownership of the property until 1922, but it was rarely used after he moved to England in 1906.  It was sold to another family and demolished in 1975).

In Chicago, the Chandlers and Selfridges lived together in the house on Rush Street until 1898, when the Selfridges purchased a city house at 117 Lake Shore Drive (later 1430 N. Lake Shore Drive, shown below).  The house had been designed in 1890 by architect Francis Whitehouse for his widowed mother-in-law Barbara Armour, who relocated here from her long-time South Side residence at 1945 S. Prairie Avenue.   Mrs. Armour had died early in 1898, and the Selfridges purchased the house for $100,000. 

In early 1904, Selfridge decided to strike out on his own, and he sold out his interest and resigned from Marshall Field & Co.  Soon after, in conjunction with several other business partners, he purchased the firm of Schlesinger & Mayer (including their famous store designed by Louis H. Sullivan), changing the name to H. G. Selfridge & Co.  However, before the year had ended, he sold the store to Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., making a sizeable profit in the deal.   By 1906, Selfridge had set his sights on London, and it is at that point in time that the series “Mr. Selfridge” begins.

Notes on the family:  Harry and Rose Selfridge went on to have four more children, Violette (1892), Rosalie (1893), Harry Jr. (1899) and Beatrice (1901).  Rose Selfridge died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic, and Selfridge’s beloved mother Lois, who always lived with him, died in 1924 at the age of 90.  Selfridge died in 1947 at the age of 89, having watched much of his fortune disappear during the Depression.

Daughter Rosalie sent the following letter, dated November 11, 1913, to Frances Glessner while Rosalie and her mother were in Chicago:
"My dear Mrs. Glessner:- It was so dear and kind of you to think of me on my debut and to send me such a lovely and lasting reminder.  The beautiful little ring will always recall one of my mother's dear friends, and add another link to the many ones which bind us to Chicago.  I hope I may drop in to see you, one day before we leave, and that we may also have the pleasure of welcoming you some day in London.  Appreciatively yours, Rosalie Selfridge"
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