From left: the Louis Kahn building; the Old Yale Art Gallery, designed by Egerton Swartwout in 1926; and Street Hall, designed by Peter Bonnett Wight in 1866 on the site of the first Yale Art Gallery, built in 1832. They are now all joined together in the expanded Yale University Art Gallery. © Elizabeth Felicella, 2012.
View of American paintings and sculptures gallery. © Elizabeth Felicella, 2012.
This gallery of masterpieces includes the chest-on-chest made by Stephen Badlam (1751-1815), the carved figures by John Skillin (1745-1800) and Simeon Skillin, Jr. (1756-1806) of Dorchester Lower Mills and Boston, Massachusetts, 1791. Paper shipping labels pasted to the top of both the upper and lower case read, “For Elias Hasket Derby/ Esqr Salem/ Keep this side up/ & preserve it/ from the Sun, from wet & from bruises./ It is of consequence enough/ To merit great attention.” It is believed these labels were affixed when the piece was shipped from Badlam’s shop in Dorchester Lower Mills to Derby’s wharf in Salem. Federal chairs are hung on the wall, a nod to Charles F. Montgomery’s installation of the Mabel Brady Garvan collection called American Arts and the American Experience, which opened in June 1973. Montgomery’s installations, designed by Ivan Chermayeff, were called works of art in themselves. Some chairs and artifacts were hung on the walls. © Elizabeth Felicella, 2012.
View through the Yellin gates into the coins and medals gallery. © Elizabeth Felicella, 2012.
Parlor from the Rowley house, Gilead, Connecticut, circa 1770, a new period room with late Baroque paneling at the Yale University Art Gallery. © Elizabeth Felicella, 2012.
Polychrome bed from the Lucia and Arthur Mathews shop in San Francisco, 1910-15.
This Colonial Revival Connecticut sunflower chest made from old and new parts and a Wallace Nutting Colonial Revival ladder-back chair put the reform styles in context in the early 20th-century gallery.
Flat-paneled wardrobe, circa 1790, probably by Jean Rousseau, who was active in Louisiana 1813-37 and may have brought this Haitian style to New Orleans.
David Barquist looks over a Philadelphia worktable. He used to work at Yale but now is curator of American decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and president of the Decorative Arts Society, which scheduled a special day-long visit to the Yale University Art Gallery.
This cast-iron radiator from Street Hall, made by H.B. Smith Co. in Westfield, Massachusetts, and patented in 1868, is in the late 19th-century gallery.
New Haven, Connecticut
After 14 years of planning and seven years of construction at a cost of $135 million, the Yale University Art Gallery has settled into three contiguous buildings on Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut, and is ready for an onslaught of visitors. Director Jock Reynolds had no trouble raising money and attracting gifts of collections and single works of art. (The donors of galleries, collections, and individual works of art are an impressive group of well-known collectors. Most, but not all, are Yale graduates.) After consulting with curators and professors in more than a dozen departments, architects reconfigured three existing buildings into one flowing space to create an unparalleled teaching resource and a visual treat.
The entrance is through the Modernist building that was designed by Louis Kahn in 1953. It connects with the adjacent Italianate Gothic Old Yale Art Gallery, which was designed by Egerton Swartwout and finished in 1928 to accommodate the collections of huge Assyrian reliefs, Greek vases, old master prints, and James Jackson Jarves’s collection of early Italian Renaissance paintings that had outgrown the third building, Street Hall, a Ruskinian Gothic temple of learning. Street Hall was designed by Peter Bonnett Wight and built in 1866 on the site of the first Yale Art Gallery building. The first building was built to John Trumbull’s specifications to house his paintings commemorating the events of the American Revolution.
In December 1831 Yale president Jeremiah Day signed an agreement with Trumbull, then 75, for a lifetime annuity of $1000 a year in return for 88 paintings, including his Revolutionary War series and 60 portrait miniatures, and agreed to construct a fireproof building for the paintings, the design and installation subject to Trumbull’s approval. It was the first university art gallery in America, established in 1832.
For the recent renovation the Louis Kahn building was taken back to its original cinderblock, brick walls, and honeycomb ceiling designed to be fitted with movable partitions to allow for changing gallery spaces and unobstructed vistas. M.A.D. readers may want to make a beeline to the American paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts galleries that are on the first and second levels in Street Hall, but to get there you must walk through several galleries.
To put American art into a global perspective, start on the third floor of the Kahn building, where Yale’s newest collection of Indo-Pacific art has been installed brilliantly. Much of what is on view is Southeast Asian sculpture and textiles, the promised gifts of Thomas Jaffe, who also has endowed its curator, Ruth Barnes, who came in 2010 from the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Oxford. She has put out as much as the gallery will hold: a treasury of Javanese gold from the prehistoric to the medieval times, Indonesian textiles, ancestral sculpture, shields from central Borneo, and a Toraja sarcophagus taken from the rocks in mountainous Sulawesi. Some of the sculpture looks as if Modigliani collaborated with Giacometti, a good segue for the adjacent galleries of modern and contemporary art that inhabit Kahn’s light-filled spaces.
The chronological display of American design from 1900 to the present begins here in small galleries. One is dominated by a carved and painted bedstead by California artists Lucia and Arthur Mathews. On the wall there is a gate designed by Louis Sullivan for the Chicago Stock Exchange and a Sabatos rug made in the Sabatos Arts and Crafts community in Lovell, Maine, and shown at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. A Colonial Revival Connecticut sunflower chest made from old and new parts and a Wallace Nutting Colonial Revival ladder-back chair put the reform styles in context. A case of art pottery and glass further defines the period.
The adjacent gallery, devoted to design from 1920 to 1950, features promised gifts from the John C. Waddell collection of modern design, and the silver, glass, and ceramics are from the Swid Powell collection. The centerpiece, a “Mesa” table designed by Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb, is strewn with products from the era. There is also a gallery of American studio crafts and paintings, prints, and textiles.
You can descend by elevator directly to a gallery of American art before 1900 in Street Hall, but go in the other direction to see African, Asian, and European art, and you won’t miss the central staircase in the Old Yale Art Gallery with its wrought-iron railing. It took a contemporary craftsman three years to make. The railing once had wide gaps between the banister supports that were deemed a safety hazard even when the building opened in 1928. It was remedied with flimsy in-fills that were not up to today’s code, and they have been replaced by hand-wrought iron tendrils made by metalworker John Rais based in part on a drawing by Swartwout and also inspired by the three sets of gates by Philadelphia metalworker Samuel Yellin that separate the stairs from the adjoining gallery spaces on the first and third floors.
Connecting the Old Yale Art Gallery with Street Hall was a challenge because of the alignment of floors. The architects solved it with a glass elevator and staircase in Street Hall. In Street Hall they also reclaimed skylights and wainscoting that had been covered over when the building was used for offices and classrooms for the art history department. They removed layers of paint from the woodwork, stripping it down to the original chestnut wainscoting at the Chapel Street entrance, grained some white pine paneling to match, and painted other wainscoting gray-blue. In the room dominated by Trumbull’s monumental painting of George Washington, the walls above the wainscoting are painted Pompeian red. The gallery also features Trumball’s paintings of key scenes and battles from the Revolutionary War, including a scene of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A row of Massachusetts worthies by John Singleton Copley is anchored by John Smibert’s famous The Bermuda Group (1728-39).
Adjacent is a dimly lit gallery for portrait miniatures. Yale has 300 portrait miniatures. Chairs are provided so the miniatures can be examined, and digital images of others can be viewed. Folk portraits by Ammi Phillips and John Brewster, Jr. and a small Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks fill another small gallery.
In the 1930’s Francis P. Garvan introduced sporting art and genre paintings to the collection. A popular favorite is a painting by Edmund Coates (1816-1871) of Indians in moccasins playing lacrosse on ice. In 1961 a bequest from Stephen Carlton Clark added works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and Edward Hopper. Teresa Heinz gave 19th-century landscapes by Martin Johnson Heade and Fitz Henry Lane in 1992. Heade’s Two Hummingbirds with Their Young is a recent acquisition. Just under the skylights are nine lunettes depicting the nine muses that were painted in 1889 by Harry Siddons Mowbray (1858-1928) for the Huntington mansion on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street. They introduce the mural art movement in America that emerged as a serious art form at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition.
There are sculptures by Hiram Powers, Frederic Remington, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens and 20th-century works by Elie Nadelman and Alexander Calder in the new Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation Galleries and the Mary Jo and Ted Shen Gallery. (Monumental sculptures by Henry Moore and Aristide Maillol have been installed on the new Margaret and Angus Wurtele sculpture terrace on the fourth floor that was added to the Old Yale Art Gallery building. Other sculpture can be found in adjacent courtyards and gardens.)
In 1941 Katherine S. Dreier gave Yale an important anthology of Modernist art. The Société Anonyme was founded in New York in 1920 as an experimental museum of modern art by Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray. Dreier gave 1000 works of art to Yale when she realized her Connecticut house could not become a museum. On view now at the Yale Art Gallery is a special Société Anonyme exhibition with works by more than 100 artists who contributed to Modernism, including Constantin Brancusi, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Joseph Stella, and many lesser-
known artists who will not be forgotten.
American decorative arts from the 17th century to 1900 are presented in a chronological survey in the new Lulu C. and Anthony W. Wang Galleries on the first floor of Street Hall where two period rooms have been installed. The front door of the Rose house, circa 1725, from North Branford, Connecticut, was discovered in storage and now is the entrance to its parlor with Prussian blue-painted walls. Adjacent is the reconstructed parlor from the Rowley house, circa 1770, from Gilead, Connecticut, with late Baroque fielded paneling, pilasters with floral-incised capitals, and a vine-carved and paneled summer beam, all painted white. Like the Rose house door, the Rowley house room was bought early in the last century by Yale’s benefactor Francis P. Garvan but stayed buried in storage for two generations.
Among the early pieces of 18th-century furniture displayed in the Rose house parlor is an extraordinary painted Taunton, Connecticut, chest of drawers on loan from Jane and Gerald Katcher and a cupboard painted with trees and birds, probably made in Hampton, New Hampshire, and from the Garvan collection. The Rowley house parlor has a lineup of vernacular chairs including Windsors.
Most of the furniture in the galleries is displayed on the floor as it was used, not on plinths as in most museums. The masterpieces are all there—the six-shell Newport Goddard-Townsend high chest, the Stephen Badlam chest-on-chest with figures carved by John and Simeon Skillin, Jr., and the Philadelphia high chest with rococo carving by—you guessed it—the Garvan carver! The Joseph Richardson teakettle is at the top of a pyramid of rococo silver in a case in the center of the room emphasizing what Robert C. Smith called the “apogee of the rococo in America” in Philadelphia.
Some of the case furniture, chairs, tables, and looking glasses may be familiar to old-timers who know the books written by Gerald Ward, Patricia Kane, and David Barquist, published by Yale in the late 1980’s, that feature Mabel Garvan’s and others’ collections. There are some recent additions. An early New Jersey spoon rack introduces the Dutch traditions. A small gallery features furniture not made on the East Coast, including horn furniture made in San Antonio, Texas, and a flat-paneled wardrobe made in Haiti, probably by Jean Rousseau, a Haitian craftsman who fled during the slave revolt and introduced the flush-panel style to the United States. Next to it is a portrait of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, who led the Haitian revolution in the 1790’s resulting in Haitian independence. It is from a series of portraits of Haitian rulers painted by Louis Rigaud in 1877 and exhibited at the 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans.
Another architectural element built into the galleries is a teak archway that was carved in India after a design by Lockwood de Forest for an 1871 addition to publisher William Henry Appleton’s house in the Bronx. Ceiling paintings by Elihu Vedder and Edwin Blashfield were commissioned in 1893 for the Gilded Age mansion of Collis Huntington on Fifth Avenue where Tiffany’s now stands.
There is Rococo Revival furniture, Neo-Grec, Egyptian, Aesthetic Movement, and Reformed styles, and a “study case” with ceramics, glass, and metalwork that sums up the period; it includes a patent model for a refrigerator, a Mason jar, a Nantucket basket, an African carved cane.
A small alcove focuses on women’s work and schoolgirl education with some gifts from Davida Deutsch, a scholar in this field whose husband attended Yale Law School. A bright Connecticut bed rug on the wall is an ambitious form of women’s work. A cast-iron radiator patented in 1868, from Street Hall, made by H.B. Smith Co. in Westfield, Massachusetts, is an improvement on an earlier Albany cast-iron stove visible in the next gallery.
Objects challenge each other, and masterpieces stand out in every gallery. Some can be found in the long silver gallery packed with teapots, chocolate pots, and tankards by the earliest Boston and New York makers up to modern day makers, all carefully chosen from the 7000 pieces of silver in the collection. In an adjacent gallery is an extraordinary collection of coins and medals, approximately 100,000, a collection with great strengths in Greco-Roman coinage and American medals pertaining to the American Revolution.
The museum is free to all and open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 8 p.m. during the academic year September through June; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and closed Mondays and major holidays. There is no bookstore or café.
The collections can be seen in a day, but it is worth a two-day trip in order to include the Furniture Study, which is a block or so away. The Furniture Study holds 1000 pieces of furniture from the Garvan and other collections and other wooden objects and can be seen by appointment. Call (203) 432-0632. There are 18,000 objects in all media in the Yale American decorative arts collections. A convenient and comfortable hotel with valet parking, the Study, is at 1157 Chapel Street, just a block away from the art gallery.
Don’t miss the Yale Center for British Art housed in another Louis Kahn building across Chapel Street where the current special exhibition Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century opened on February 28 and continues until June 2. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, furniture, jewelry, costumes, and decorative arts by John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, the American ex-
patriate Edwin Austin Abbey, Walter Crane, Carl Faberge, House of Worth, and Cartier, as well as photographs and cinema, define the turbulent decade during the reign of King Edward VII (1901-10). The exhibition also considers the new technologies of the era: electrification, the motor car, recorded sound, and the cinema, which illuminates this period of diamond tiaras and ostrich feather fans, the beginning of women’s suffrage, and the rise of the labor movement on the eve of World War I. Take time to hear the voices of Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, Sarah Bernhardt, and many others from Yale’s vast collection of historical sound recordings offered on iPods and watch the films of Edwardian London in the last section.
Yale has more projects being planned and under construction. As part of the new Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at the newly acquired West Campus are two centers, the Center for Conservation and Preservation and Yale Digital Collections Center, which will be completed later this year. Patricia E. Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, and her staff have developed the Rhode Island Furniture Archive Web site, a resource for the study of furniture making in Rhode Island from the 17th to 19th century. It is continually updated. Kane and John Stuart Gordon, the Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts, are responsible for the new gallery installations of American decorative arts from 1700 to the present in the Yale University Art Gallery.
For more information, see the Yale University Art Gallery Web site (www.artgallery.yale.edu).
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest