This short list of notable acquisitions began with a request to decorative arts curators in major American museums to choose and discuss a favorite recent gift or purchase.
Raphaelle Peale’s Still Life with Strawberries and Ostrich Egg Cup has come to the Seattle Art Museum from the estate of Ruth J. Nutt, well known to collectors of American silver for the surpassing collection she built and lent generously over the years to many public institutions, and especially to SAM. It was surely the silver-mounted ostrich egg cup in Peale’s exquisite still life that drew Ruth and her husband, Roy, to the painting. Eventually she acquired a similar Federal period cup, by John McMullin of Philadelphia, which is also now in SAM’s collection.
Painted in June 1814—in strawberry season—the canvas is the product of an artistic personality who seems to have felt a greater affinity for objects than people. It seems possible to read this arrangement of objects—an ostrich egg from Africa, a Chinese export porcelain creamer, a celadon bowl, and strawberries grown on the Peale family farm—as the poignant expression of a son’s feeling for the accumulated knowledge, world view, and rarified taste of his father, Charles Willson Peale. The ostrich egg cup and the creamer appear in other still life paintings by Raphaelle and by his brother Rubens, so we can assume they were prized family items. Ruth Nutt must have recognized that Raphaelle Peale had the same love of fine objects that she had, and that like her, he sensed their intimate connection to the personalities who possessed them and gave them meaning. — Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art , Seattle Art Museum
Inspired by a conversation with Henri Matisse, beginning in 1937 John Monteith Gates, then the design director at Steuben Glass, enlisted twenty-seven well-known European and American artists to create designs for glass, among them Matisse, Thomas Hart Benton, Salvador Dalí, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Fernand Léger. The series was made in 1939 and exhibited in the company’s New York City showroom in January 1940. Steuben proposed a limited edition of six of each design, five to be sold and one to be kept by the glassworks. However, a full edition of all of the designs was not completed, Steuben did not keep a set, and the company did not document how many were produced, so the exact number of each design made is unknown. Léger’s mold-blown vase engraved with a cubist composition is the ninth from the series to enter the Corning Museum of Glass collection, which also holds design drawings for twenty-one of the twenty-seven. — Tina Oldknow, Senior Curator for Modern and Contemporary Glass, Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Romare Bearden drew from the past for inspiration, and no single painting summarizes the life and work of this extraordinary artist better than Profile/Part II, The Thirties: Artist with Painting and Model. Bearden’s only known self-portrait, it is the last in a series of autobiographical collages chronicling more than three decades of his life that was inspired when he reminisced about his career for a New Yorker biographical profile published in 1977. In this large-scale collage Bearden foregrounds the art historical sources and studio practices that guided his working process. Of the series, this is the only one that directly references his artistic practice, with allusions to the influences of modernism, medieval and African art, spiritualism, and personal history as well as the unique approach to collage and painting that established Bearden as among the most innovative artists of the twentieth century. — Stephanie Mayer Hedyt, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta
An important artist and teacher, Eugène Grasset was a pioneer in art nouveau design. He designed stained glass, furniture, jewelry, textiles, and ceramics, but is especially known for his book illustrations, magazine covers, and theatrical and advertising posters. Grasset provided many illustrations for the printer Charles Gillot, through whom he met the jeweler Henri Vever. Vever later commissioned designs from Grasset for twenty pieces of jewelry for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, including this necklace, which was acquired in June 1900 by Gillot for his wife, Marie.
Among the most distinguished jewelry firms in Paris during the nineteenth century, Maison Vever was founded by Pierre Vever in 1821. His son Ernest took over in 1848 and in 1874 Ernest’s sons Paul and Henri became partners. From 1889 natural themes featured predominately in their designs. Jewelry by Grasset was described at the time as “painters’ jewels,” for its appearance was achieved with enamels or gold as if by brushstrokes. His designs frequently included mythical female figures, animals, or flowers. Maison Vever was awarded the prestigious grand prize for their display at the 1900 exhibition, a rich testimony to art nouveau “artistic” jewelry. — Barry Shifman, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts from 1890 to the Present, Virginia Museum
On his return from Egypt in 1738, Captain Frederic Louis Norden, a Dane, wrote to Baron Philipp von Stosch, an antiquarian dealer in Rome: “Let them talk to me no more of Rome; let Greece be silent….What other nation ever had the courage to undertake work so surprising.” Norden was one of a growing number of enlightened Europeans who were introduced to the art of ancient Egypt through their own travels, the publications of other travelers, and through volumes of engravings such as Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquité Expliquée et Représentée en Figures (1716).
Josiah Wedgwood was the first European ceramics manufacturer to respond to what would become known as Egyptomania. Following Wedgwood’s lead, many continental porcelain factories, including Sèvres and the royal factory in Naples, also began to employ Egyptian imagery. It seems that the Vienna porcelain factory employed such imagery only on tête-à-têtes of this model. The service, which includes a coffee pot in the form of a canopic jar and a sugar bowl and creamer with lids surmounted by a crocodile and sphinx, respectively, was probably introduced sometime before 1792, the year in which Anton Grassi, the factory’s artistic director, presented the queen of Naples with “one of the new sets of breakfast coffee cups and saucers for two, decorated with hieroglyphs and other Egyptian motifs.” Undated drawings for a coffee pot and cup of this shape with bands of hieroglyphic decoration and medallions are in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna. — Donna Corbin, Louis C. Madeira IV Associate Curator European Decorative Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art