The Museum's preeminent collections of American silver, ceramics, glass, and jewelry are installed on this level and on the mezzanine balcony below.
Among the nineteenth-century works on view on the West Balcony of The Charles Engelhard Court are silver, glass, and ceramics of the Aesthetic movement, objects made between the 1870s and 1890s and characterized by conventionalized surface decoration, an eclectic synthesis of styles, and a diversity of innovative techniques. Like their British counterparts, American designers found inspiration in Chinese, Islamic, and especially Japanese precedents. This strong interest in the exotic was translated into new forms and a creative use of materials often employed to simulate precious materials. Stylistically, the influence of Japanese art is evident in the use of such natural motifs as birds, fish, flowers, and insects, and the prevalence of asymmetrical composition.
The West Balcony features a number of objects originally made for and exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, two of the country's most important international expositions of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. These exhibitions were critical venues for manufacturers to publicize and present their latest artistic and technical achievements to an increasingly sophisticated and style-conscious world audience. Unparalleled in conceit, craftsmanship, and design–and often scale–these presentation pieces often evoked national pride through symbolism and historical references or celebrated the country's bounty, as seen in the eclectic subject matter. The exemplary objects on display here are among the most ambitious works ever produced by the major firms of the day, notably Tiffany & Co. and Union Porcelain Works.
Art Nouveau & Arts and Crafts
The northern section of the West Balcony is devoted to objects made in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, ranging in date from 1890 through the first half of the twentieth century. The Art Nouveau style, heir to the French movement, was popularized in decorative arts at the turn of the twentieth century. Characterized by the undulating line that informed both form and decoration, the Art Nouveau style was manifest in silver by the organic shapes of Gorham Manufacturing Company's Martelé line and in glass by Louis C. Tiffany's Favrile confections. Following English antecedents, American designers embraced the Arts and Crafts movement with its reverence for handcraftsmanship and emphasis on restrained embellishment, as seen in the hammered surfaces of the metal wares on display.
Examples of exquisite American jewelry dating from 1700 to 1930 are displayed on the West Balcony. The earliest jewelry made and owned in colonial America was of a sentimental nature, related to courtship and marriage or to death and mourning. Coral, worn to ward off evil, gold, and pearls feature prominently in early American jewelry. Throughout the nineteenth century, hair jewelry enjoyed favor, as did such exotic materials as tortoiseshell. With the discovery of diamond deposits in South Africa in 1869, jewelry sparkled as never before. Late nineteenth-century American jewelers also favored colored gems and native stones, such as tourmalines and peridots. Around 1900, practitioners of the Arts and Crafts movement effected a return to handcraftsmanship and created superb jewelry, often set with colorful enamels and gemstones. Additional jewelry by Louis C. Tiffany is on display in Gallery 743.
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