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Works from the Gilded Age
Promised Gift of Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore, in celebration of the Museum's 150th Anniversary
Episode 2 / 2020
First Look
In speaking of their gift, Deedee expressed, 'Ultimately, I hope we will make some more friends for the nineteenth century and its kaleidoscopic variety of arts.'"

The Met was a forerunner in recognizing the powerfully eclectic nature of the decorative arts of the nineteenth century in its collecting and exhibitions, but those stories are significantly enhanced by this year's promised gift of eighty-eight works of art from the collection of Deedee and Barrie Wigmore. Deedee, a noted gallerist of American painting, was a pioneer collector of the second generation of Hudson River School artists. A stand-out in the Wigmore gift is the Sanford R. Gifford painting An Indian Summer Day in Claverack Creek. It beautifully conveys an almost spiritual quality in its depiction of the luminous atmosphere and mirror-calm water of a late summer day.

The couple has also been a major collector of the decorative arts of the Aesthetic Movement, which embodied the "quest for beauty" sought by artists, designers, and craftsmen of the 1870s and 1880s. In that period, art infused everything—furniture, lighting, ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, even dress—and manifested itself in artistic interiors.

The impressive Herter Brothers display cabinet, with extraordinary carving and marquetry decoration, epitomizes the ideals of the Aesthetic Movement with its niches and vitrines designed to showcase works of art. The designers carefully examined and interpreted the passionflower, rendering it naturalistically in the carved fretwork at the base, increasing its stylization in the fanciful floral capitals, and finally flattening the blossoms in the ornamental marquetry.

The Wigmores have probably the largest private collection, and some of the most unusual examples, of artistic brass—andirons, lighting, and furniture—including a display cabinet with intricate detailing in different colored metals, a form thus far unique. The cabinet is akin to a garden pavilion, with its fanciful suggestion of attenuated columns, climbing vines, decorative fences, and pair of delicate filigree garden gates, no doubt intended to reveal a splendid objet d'art.

A magnificent Rookwood vase, large in scale and dating to the very first years of the company's production, was probably decorated by Rookwood's founder, Maria Longworth Nichols. The painted swallows, dragonflies, and spiders combine her fascination with Japanese prints and her interest in the French technique of barbotine, in which colored slips are applied to pottery as oil pigments are to a canvas.

The Wigmores appreciated the craftsmanship, delicacy, and color harmonies of the artistic jewelry produced under the auspices of Louis C. Tiffany, who sought semiprecious stones with special properties of color and light rather than the diamonds and rubies typical of his father's firm, Tiffany and Co. This necklace combines opals, favored for their iridescent rainbow palette, suggestive of his Favrile glass, to great effect with native Montana sapphires and demantoid garnets.

These works of different materials and varied inspiration delight us with their inventiveness of form and approach to nature. They encapsulate the essence of the design ideas and exuberance of the Aesthetic Movement. In speaking of their gift, Deedee expressed, "Ultimately, I hope we will make some more friends for the nineteenth century and its kaleidoscopic variety of arts."

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen
Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator of
American Decorative Arts
The American Wing
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