Living in Style: Five Centuries of Interior Design from the Collection of Drawings and Prints

Exhibition objects

Living in Style

Five Centuries of Interior Design from the Collection of Drawings and Prints

June 18–September 8, 2013

Interior design is often thought of as a modern, post-industrial concept, but sculpting our domestic environment became an art form in its own right much earlier. Renowned and highly paid artists from a wide array of disciplines were often involved in the creation and manipulation of living spaces that would meet or even exceed the wishes of their patrons.

Made singlehandedly or by an interpreter in various stages of the manufacturing process, many features of artists' designs have been captured on paper. This exhibition combines drawings, prints, and objects from all over Europe and the United States as they were collected by the Metropolitan Museum over a period of more than a hundred years. It highlights the ingenuity, beauty, and wit often found in designs for the decorative arts, and follows the dynamic development of shapes, ornaments, and materials alternately governed by issues of comfort, theory, and aesthetics.

The exhibition highlights designs for the interior as they were captured on paper through various drawing and printing techniques. Although united by subject matter, the designs differ widely in terms of why they were made and the functions they originally served. The many exhibited works illustrate the full circle of the creative design process: from the moment of inspiration and the subsequent design phase, to the execution and then beyond; to the documentation of executed pieces and their reception in designs by new generations of artists.

In the theme pages below, these different categories are illustrated by objects from the exhibition. It is important to note however, that this system of classification is not necessarily exclusive. A drawing or print can serve multiple purposes and its function can change over time. For example: a sketch by one artist can serve as the model for another's design, either directly or through its reproduction in print; an artist can decide to use one of the drawings from the design process as a final presentation drawing to show to a patron; and a presentation drawing can end up in a portfolio or catalogue for re-use in the future. The groups as they are formulated below are therefore not set in stone, but help us to recognize and determine to which step or function in the design process a specific drawing or print relates.