Monday, May 27, 2013

The Kimball House on Chicago's Prairie Avenue

On Sunday June 9, 2013, Glessner House Museum will hold its 16th annual fundraiser, A Walk Through Time.  This walking tour explores the interiors of the privately owned historic mansions in the Prairie Avenue Historic District.  Featured are seven residences built between 1870 and 1894, in addition to the Glessner and Clarke house museums, and Second Presbyterian Church with its significant collection of Tiffany windows.  The tour runs from 1:00 to 4:00pm and costs $50 per person.  For more information or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.  Limited tickets will also be available at the door.

One of the featured properties on the tour is the William W. Kimball house at 1801 S. Prairie Avenue.  When the Glessners moved into their new home across the street in December 1887, the Kimball lot was empty.  This view, taken by George Glessner from his bedroom window, shows the lot with a path cutting across it diagonally toward 18th Street, an Illinois Central train behind, and the coach house of the George M. Pullman mansion at the far left. 

The proximity of the Pullman house is an important part of how Kimball came to live on Prairie Avenue.  It is well known that Pullman did not like the appearance of the Glessner house.  He was once quoted as saying “I don’t know what I have ever done to have that thing staring me in the face every time I go out of my door.”  Another time he said “I don’t like it and wish it was not there.”  As the story goes, Pullman wanted to ensure that whatever was built on the empty lot would be something he would enjoy looking at when he walked out his door.  He convinced his friend William W. Kimball to purchase the lot and build a residence.  Pullman even went one step further; he suggested what architect Kimball should use.  The architect was none other than Solon S. Beman, the architect of Pullman’s world famous town south of Chicago.  However, the appearance of the Kimball house bears no resemblance to the brick Queen Anne style homes of Pullman’s employees.  For the Kimball house, Beman turned to the French Chateauesque style, using the 12th century Chateau Du Josselin in Brittany as inspiration for the gray Bedford stone mansion.  The exterior features an abundance of carved stone decoration, in addition to turrets, elaborate chimneys, a slate roof, and detailed copper cresting. 

The Kimball house was completed in 1892 after two years of construction and was reported to cost $1,000,000 to build, which possibly also included furnishings.  William W. Kimball, founder of the piano and organ company that bore his name, moved into the house with his wife Evaline (Cone) Kimball and a staff of approximately twelve servants.  The Kimballs had no children. 

The interior of the house is quite as elaborate as the exterior.  Although many of the original 29 rooms have been subdivided, most of the major rooms remain intact, and the flavor of the original house has been preserved.  Rooms on the first floor have ceilings 13’4” high, those on the second floor are one foot lower.

Upon entering the house, visitors pass through the great double entrance doors into a small entrance foyer, the walls of which are sheathed in Mexican onyx.  An inner set of double doors leads into the Great Hall which is two stories high and features an elaborate staircase illuminated by three huge leaded glass windows.

The fireplace in the Hall is made of Caen stone, a stone derived from Normandy that was used in the building of many cathedrals.  Four rooms enter off of the hall – the library which faces Prairie Avenue; the drawing room; a huge dining room featuring carved oak, a massive fireplace, and a built-in sideboard which originally housed Mrs. Kimball’s extensive collection of antique silver; and Mr. Kimball’s home office to the east of the main staircase. 

Mrs. Kimball also enjoyed collecting paintings by the Old Masters and others, and the paneled walls of the Great Hall would have featured many of these works including:
“The Bather” by Millet
“A Field of Flowers” by Monet
“Portrait of His Father” by Rembrandt
“Bathing Nymph and Child” by Corot
“Beata Beatrix” by Rosetti
“Dutch Fishing Boats” by Turner
“Stoke by Nayland” by Constable
“The Countess of Bristol” by Gainsborough
“Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Gods” by Reynolds
The Kimball collection of 24 paintings was bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago where they can be seen today.

William Wallace Kimball, a native of Maine, was born in 1828 and had come to Chicago shortly before the Panic of 1857.  He purchased four pianos from a bankrupt dealer and although he knew nothing about pianos, managed to sell them for a nice profit.  By 1864 he had established an elegant shop and warehouse in the newly built Crosby’s opera house.  His pianos were especially popular with the huge numbers of German and Scandinavian immigrants flooding into the city.  When his store and warehouse were destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, he was back in business just two days later, operating out of the billiard room of his house at 1641 S. Michigan Avenue.  In 1886, the Kimball piano and organ factory was built, and the next year, the first Kimball piano was built.  By the turn of the century, the Kimball Piano and Organ Co. was world famous and the largest organization of its kind in the world.  Kimball died in 1904 at the age of 76.

After Mrs. Kimball died in 1921, the house was converted to a boarding house.  In 1924, the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects approached John J. Glessner about acquiring his house at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue for use as their headquarters.  He agreed but stipulated that until the house became available following his death, the AIA must acquire and use the Kimball house for a club.  This was done and the Architects Club of Chicago was operating in the house by 1925, through the generosity of 100 Chicago architects who each gave $1,000 for the purpose.  Unfortunately, the club failed during the Depression and closed its doors in 1937.  For several years following, they leased the building to Miss Daisy Hull who ran a school for “backward” children.  In 1943 she purchased the house for just $8,000, less than 1% of what the Kimballs paid to build the house 50 years earlier.  Four years later the publishing firm, Domestic Engineering Company, acquired the house and the adjacent Coleman house at 1811 S. Prairie Avenue.  The two houses were acquired by R. R. Donnelley in 1973 who in turn donated them to the Chicago Architecture Foundation in 1991.  They leased and then sold the properties to the U. S. Soccer Federation for use as their national headquarters, which is how the buildings are used today.

NOTE:  Film buffs will note that the house was used as the setting for the 1996 movie “Primal Fear,” starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Edward Norton.

North side of the entrance porch.  Note how the wrought iron fence is constructed to curve underneath the projecting extension.

Elaborate stone carving over the porch.

Cast plaster ceiling.

Dining room fireplace.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Frances Glessner's Book of Quotations

In September 1895 Frances Glessner began collecting quotations in a book she labeled simply “Volume No. 1 Quotations.”  Over the next 34 years, she filled 194 pages with more than 1,200 quotations gathered from a variety of sources.  Most are written in her own hand, a few are clipped from periodicals.  Reading through the quotations provides a great deal of insight into her character, and the values that she considered most important in her life.  It is believed that the quotations were gathered to be shared with her family over breakfast.

Family friend Isaac Scott designed two elaborate covers for her book of quotations, which for reasons unknown, were never used.  The two covers were mounted and one was framed, so perhaps Frances Glessner found them so attractive that she preferred to display them.  The first cover, shown above was designed by Scott in 1896 in Boston, and is labeled:
Breakfast Table Quotations
Prose and Poetic
adapted for reading at the
Breakfast Table
Compiled and Edited
Frances M. Glessner
Chicago, Ill.              1896
The words are set amongst a lush pen and ink design of foliage and flowers, typical of much of the work Scott designed for the Glessners including furniture, metalwork, and embroidery designs.

The second cover, shown above, is executed in ink and watercolor wash and is undated.  Entitled Breakfast Table Quotations, the design features a large urn surrounded by elaborate scrollwork with torchieres at either side.  Within the urn is the following quotation:
“I wonder at men always ringing a dish or jar before buying it but being content to judge of men by his look alone.”
The quote is attributed to Diogenes, a Greek philosopher born about 412 B.C.  It was apparently a favorite quote of Frances Glessner, to be featured on the intended cover for her quotation book. 
(NOTE:  Both book covers are on display in the butler's pantry at the museum).

Immediately following the title page in the quotation book is a page featuring five quotes, which precedes page 1 on which the numbered quotations begin.  These may have been favorite quotations and appear to have been written at different times.

The first quotation comes from Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), who served as British Prime Minister in 1868 and again from 1874 to 1880.  He played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party in the 1840s.  His quote reads:
“It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.”

The second quotation comes from Joseph Joubert (1754-1824), a French moralist and essayist.  He wrote extensively but published nothing in his lifetime.  His widow gave his notes and papers to Chateaubriand who in 1838 published Collected Thoughts of Mr. Joubert.  The quotation in Frances Glessner’s book reads:
“Good maxims are the germs of all excellence.”
It comes from a slightly longer quotation which reads in full:
“A maxim is the exact and noble expression of an important and indisputable truth.  Good maxims are the germs of all excellence; when firmly fixed on the memory, they nourish the will.”

The third quotation was written by Beatrice Harraden (1864-1936) a British writer and suffragette.  It comes from her debut novel, Ships That Pass in the Night, a love story set in a tuberculosis sanatorium.   Although that book was a best-seller, Harraden never again achieved the same acclaim for her subsequent works.  She became an ardent suffragette and wrote extensively in the suffragette paper Votes for Women.  The quote from her novel included in Frances Glessner’s book reads:
“What does matter is to judge gently, and not come down like a sledge-hammer on other people’s feelings.”
In the novel, the next line reads:
“Who are we, any of us, that we should be hard on others?”

The fourth quote comes from a book entitled Thoughts, written in 1886 by Ivan Panin (1855-1942), a Russian emigrant to the U.S. who achieved fame for claiming to have discovered numeric patterns in the text of the Hebrew and Greek Bible.  Most of his published works deal with this topic, but Thoughts, among his first published works, contained “435 sententious observations on abstract subjects, such as misfortune, charity, truth and love” according to a review in the New York Evening Post.  The review goes on to say that “the writer’s excuse for the book is characteristically given as follows”:
“All that is good has been said before;
All that is noble has been thought before.
But is there less need now of resaying the good,
of rethinking the noble?”
That is the quote which Frances Glessner recorded in her book of quotations.

The last quotation is unattributed.  Similar versions are found in various sources, but none exactly worded as Frances Glessner recorded it:
Have you learned to think and judge without prejudice?”

Taken together, these five random quotes, brought together on a single page by Frances Glessner, serve as a window into her character, and show the breadth and scope of the books and periodicals she was reading on a regular basis.   Each quotation invites the reader to look deeper into their own soul, and to consider the thoughts and feelings of their fellow human being.  Penned well over a century ago, the words still ring true today and continue to inspire and provide direction in a world that is so different from that of Frances Glessner, but in many ways, has not changed at all.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Glessners and Japonisme, Part II

On Tuesday May 14, 2013 at 7:00pm, Glessner House Museum will host a lecture by Rolf Achilles entitled “The Glessners’ Kutani ware bowl and Chicago’s take on Japonisme.”  The event celebrates the restoration of the Glessners’ Kutani bowl, funded by a generous gift from the Chicago Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, The First Chapter and restored by the talented craftsmen at The Conservation Center.  For further information on the lecture or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.  Tickets are $10 per person and can also be purchased at the door.

Last week we explored the Glessners’ strong interest in the Japonisme movement by looking at several of the books in their library that focus on Japanese art and design.   This week, we spotlight a few of the beautiful objects on display in their home.  The Western world had been closed off to the kingdom of Japan for centuries until 1853 when the American government sent a formal party headed by Commodore Matthew Perry to the Emperor of Japan to establish friendship and trade.  A formal treaty was signed in March of 1854.   Many Americans, including the Glessners, would have first had an opportunity to see examples of Japanese wares at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.   (The Glessners attended the fair for two days in August of that year).  Not surprisingly the Japanese department was one of the main centers of attraction of the fair and Clay Lancaster, writing in his Japanese Influence in America in 1963, noted that “the importance of the exhibits, in introducing Americans to these phases of Japanese art cannot be overestimated.”  The Glessners also frequently visited curiosity shops, and their journal makes numerous mentions of looking at and purchasing items of Japanese design.  The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 also provided a wonderful opportunity to view “some four hundred pieces, including sculptures in wood, plaster, and bronze and other metals, carvings in wood and ivory, paintings, prints, cloisonné enamels, pottery and porcelains, lacquers, metal works, and architectural models” according to A History of the World’s Columbian Exposition published in 1897, R. Johnson, editor.

An interesting entry is found in the Glessner journal, dated January 30, 1891:
“We stayed in the parlor after supper where Prof. Morse talked for awhile about his experiences in Japan where he was a Professor in the University of Tokio.  When he came in the house he walked straight up to a vase which we have always called ‘Corean’ – he told us it was very rare Satsuma – and the first he had ever seen in a private collection.  He showed us how the (Japanese) made tea and was altogether interesting and delightful.  He asked me Sunday if I had the September Harper’s for 1888.  I sent to the attic and found it.  It had a very interesting article about Satsuma with a picture of the mate (almost) to our vase.”

NOTE:  Prof. Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925) originally gained recognition as a zoologist and in 1877 travelled to Japan where he was offered a post as the first Professor of Zoology at the Tokyo Imperial University.  He amassed an important collection of more than 5,000 pieces of Japanese pottery and ceramics which today form part of the “Morse Collection” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  He became Keeper of Pottery at the Museum in 1890, shortly before his visit to the Glessners. 

The 10-inch stoneware jug, shown above, is very similar to a piece of Sunkoroko Satsuma illustrated in the September 1888 Harper’s article by Prof. Morse, but it is not known if this is the piece referenced in the journal entry. 

This vase, 14.5 inches tall, is also a Satsuma piece, but was clearly made for the Western market.  It features the typical dingy cream color seen on many Satsuma pieces, and is decorated with large roses applied in relief to the vase, with a stick-like branch that “jumps” on and off the surface of the piece.  The glaze features a fine crackling effect.

The centerpiece of the May 14th lecture is the Glessners’ large Kutani bowl.  Measuring more than 19 inches in diameter, the boldly colored porcellaneous stoneware bowl is an example of ao Kutani and is dateable to the 1870s period when the Glessners first began collecting “bric-a-brac” and Japanese objects.  Original Kutani ware was only made for a brief period in the Kaga province during the mid-17th century, but the process was revived in the 19th century.  Ao Kutani (green Kutani) refers to pieces that are decorated all over in green, yellow, and purple, usually with geometric background patterns.  A “fuku” (good luck) mark on the reverse of the piece indicates it may have been produced at the Yoshidaya kiln, originally built on the site of the Old Kutani kiln.  The Glessner piece features a bold design of bamboo stalks and leaves with cherry blossoms, all set against a background of stylized chrysanthemums.  The sides are deep green with repeated stylized scalloped clouds.  The bowl shows in photographs of the Glessners’ home on Washington Street taken about 1880 so it is clearly among the earlier pieces of Japanese manufacture that the Glessners purchased.  In their Prairie Avenue home, the piece was always displayed atop the Isaac Scott designed bookcase in the upper hall.  It was damaged in 1996 and has not been on public display since that time.

Another interesting piece in the collection is a 14.5 inch stoneware oil plate featuring a Samurai warrior made in Seto Japan and attributed to Kozan, who exhibited at both the 1876 and 1893 fairs.  It began its life as a piece of Seto folk pottery produced for everyday use, which was then glazed and decorated, a wax resist applied and glazed again to achieve the beading effect.  (Detail shown at top of article)

This pair of Japanese vases feature enamel work consisting of trailing floral vines against the marbleized brown and cream ground.  In John Glessner’s 1923 The Story of a House, he mentions this “pair of mottled Japanese vases from the Centennial Exposition of 1876.”  They may be the first pieces of Japanese design the Glessners every purchased.

This piece, considered among the finer pieces in the Glessner collection is known as engobe ware, an example of Japanese porcelain that copies Chinese pieces.  The fine quality white porcelain is glazed in a version of ‘ashes of roses’ – a popular color in the 19th century. 

A striking piece, displayed in the library is an example of Hirado ware.  Hirado has a long history of porcelain production and the period from the mid-1700s to about 1830 is considered to be the years in which the finest Hirado, and in fact the finest Japanese porcelain, was produced.  The ware is characterized by a very fine-grained, pure white body with no traces of grayness, and bold ultra-marine blues, the pieces formed into slender necked exaggerated forms.  This is probably the finest Japanese piece in the collection today. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Glessners and Japonisme, Part I

On Tuesday May 14, 2013 at 7:00pm, Glessner House Museum will host a lecture by Rolf Achilles entitled “The Glessners’ Kutani ware bowl and Chicago’s take on Japonisme.”  The event celebrates the restoration of the Glessners’ Kutani bowl, funded by a generous gift from the Chicago Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, The First Chapter and restored by the talented craftsmen at The Conservation Center.  For further information on the lecture or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.  Tickets are $10 per person.

The Glessners had a strong interest in Japanese design, as evidenced by the numerous Japanese made items in the collection, as well as a significant number of books and publications on Japanese art and design.  In this article, we will examine a few of the books found in their library; in the next blog posting, we’ll feature some of the beautiful items on display in the house.

Artistic Japan was one of the most successful publications of the late 19th century aimed at educating the European and American public about the art and culture of Japan.  A total of 36 issues were produced in French, English, and German between May 1888 and 1891.  The audience for the magazine included knowledgeable collectors as well as individuals such as the Glessners who were eager to collect Japanese objects as part of defining their home environment.  Each issue was lavishly illustrated with full-color plates featuring Japanese art from leading collections as well as details of textiles and other objects.  The articles were penned by the leading European writers and collectors of Japanese art, including Edmond de Goncourt and Philippe Burty, both of who had helped initiate the Japonisme movement in the mid-1860s.  The publisher of Artistic Japan was Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), a progressive art dealer who was extremely influential in introducing Japanese art to the West.  In 1894, his Paris gallery was redesigned as the Maison de l’Art Nouveau, with windows by Toulouse-Lautrec and Tiffany.  The shop sold “contemporary” art objects with a Japanese influence in what came to be known as the Art Nouveau style (named after Bing’s gallery).  The museum archives contains the first 24 issues of the publication, including the first issue which is stamped “Sample Copy.” 

Edward Greey (1835-1888) was an English officer, diplomat and art dealer.  He became enchanted by everything Japanese after being sent as an attaché to the British Legation in Japan in the 1860s.  By 1868, he moved to New York City where he imported and dealt in Asian ceramics, textiles, and art objects, specializing in Japonica.  He also authored numerous books, most of which were Japanese-themed.  The Glessners visited Greey’s shop in New York in April 1884 purchasing a vase and receiving a signed copy of his book The Bear Worshipers of Yezo and the Island of Karafuto (Saghalin) or The Adventures of the Jewett Family and their Friend Oto Nambo.  He was one of the first westerners to write about the light-skinned, bearded Ainu people of Yezo (Hokkaido).  Six months earlier, Greey and his wife presented Frances Glessner with a signed copy of another of his books, The Wonderful City of Tokio or Further Adventures of the Jewett Family and their Friend Oto Nambo while he was exhibiting in Chicago.

The Glessners owned another volume by Greey entitled A Brief History of Japanese Bronze, published in 1888, the year that Greey died.  Tragically, Greey committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a pistol, the result of ill health and financial difficulties.  Little remembered today, clearly Greey was a significant influence in the Glessners’ understanding and appreciation of Japanese art and culture.

The great English designer Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) was the author of another important book on Japan in the Glessner library, Japan: Its Architecture, Art, and Art Manufactures, published in 1882.  Dresser was a pivotal figure in the Aesthetic movement, and a major contributor to the allied Anglo-Japanese branch of the movement.  He wrote several books on design and by 1865 was called the “most active revolutionizer in the decorative arts of the day.”  In 1876-1877, he traveled throughout Japan as a guest of the nation by order of the Emperor.  His design work, much of which looks strikingly modern even today, included carpets, ceramics, furniture, glass, graphics, metalwork, and textiles.

James Lord Bowes (1834-1899) was a wealthy Liverpool wool broker, art collector and patron of the arts, an author and authority on Japan and its art.  He began actively collecting Japanese art works of all kinds in the 1860s, sharing his passion for the subject with architect George Ashdown Audsley, who designed his Liverpool home Streatlam Tower in 1872.  He was appointed the Honorary Japanese Consul at Liverpool 1888, a position he held until his death eleven years later.  In 1890 on the grounds of his Liverpool home, he opened to the public the first museum dedicated to Japanese art in the western world.  He published several works on Japanese art and design, including Japanese Marks and Seals in 1882, a copy of which the Glessners owned.  After his death, the Bowes Museum of Japanese Art closed, and its contents were sold at auction. 

British architect James Conder (1852-1920) worked as a foreign advisor to the government of Japan during the Meiji period.  He designed numerous buildings in Tokyo, and educated many Japanese architects earning him the designation of the “father of Japanese modern architecture.”  Invited by the Japanese government, Conder taught at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo beginning in 1877.  He helped transform the Marunouchi area of Tokyo into a London-style business district, and several of his students became prominent architects, building western-style buildings in Japan.  He developed a strong interest in Japanese arts and studied painting with a prominent Japanese artist.  His studies led to a number of publications including The Flowers of Japan and the Art of Floral Arrangement published in 1891, a copy of which the Glessners owned.  It was the first book in English on ikebana (the art of Japanese floral arranging).  He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Tokyo Imperial University in 1915 and remained in Japan for the remainder of his life. 
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