Those who seek out the Deedee Wigmore Galleries, nestled deep within The American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, will be rewarded with a most artful step into an earlier time.
From a wildly intricate brass étagère created by The Charles Parker Co. to an elaborately enameled table clock by E. F. Caldwell & Co., from a majestic chair featuring ebonized wood and gilding by A. Kimbel and J. Cabus to a gold-framed oil painting by William Stanley Haseltine depicting a New England shore, the sumptuous objects featured in “Aesthetic Splendors: Highlights from the Gift of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore” offer nothing less than a tour-de-force walk through the designs of an historic period.
The evocative showcase of American paintings, home furnishings and decorative arts, along with a few pieces of art jewelry for good measure — primarily from the 1860s to early 1890s — celebrates the promised gift made by the Wigmores in honor of The Met’s 150th anniversary and features some 50 examples from their historic collection of treasures. Most of the items have never been seen by the public.
Advance exhibition materials share that, “Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore have promised 88 superlative examples of American Aesthetic Movement and Gilded Age decorative arts and contemporaneous paintings from their collection — one of the preeminent holdings of late 19th-century American art in private hands — to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
In pre-exhibition comments, Max Hollein, director of The Met, noted, “Comprised of prime examples of American decorative arts and paintings, all created around the time The Met was formed, this gift has particular resonance in the museum’s anniversary year. We are deeply grateful to Met Trustee Barrie Wigmore and his wife, Deedee, for their exceptional generosity.”
As visitors will learn from a text panel of the exhibit, “A key tenet of the Aesthetic movement was that art infused every aspect of a domestic interior, including not only furniture and woodwork but also ceramics, metalwork, lighting and wallpaper.”
The installation, surrounded by incredibly vibrant reproduction wallpaper designs, has been organized to evoke the Wigmores’ own home in The Dakota, the legendary Central Park West apartment building.
You can only imagine that meticulously appointed setting filled with historic furniture designs from New York makers Herter Brothers and Kimbel & Cabus and Philadelphia firms A. and H. Lejambre and Daniel Pabst. The interiors also feature work from Cincinnati, Ohio, ceramic legend Rookwood Pottery, design icons such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and artists including the Hudson River School’s Albert Bierstadt and George Inness.
The Wigmores’ collection represents a period, The Met shares, “that coincides with many significant cultural achievements in New York, including the founding of The Met in 1870. The enormous wealth earned by post-Civil War industrialists and financiers gave rise to what is known as the Gilded Age — a period when highly skilled craftspeople, mainly immigrants, produced sumptuous objects for a discerning clientele.”
It’s clear that it would have had to have truly been a discerning customer who would not only appreciate but be able to afford such intricate works, including the commanding-yet-delicate Herter Brothers cabinet filled with marquetry, carvings and gilding or the finely detailed brass-and-enamel table from The Charles Parker Co. of Meriden in Connecticut’s New Haven County.
Throughout, there are vases and floor lamps,
andirons and tables, music stands and chandeliers, each worth more than a moment’s study.
Of the grouping, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the museum’s Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang curator of American Decorative Arts, notes, “These works represent a truly transformative gift that will considerably enhance our strong collection by adding to areas of preexisting strength and building upon new areas of interest. The Wigmores have been collecting for the past four decades with extraordinary discernment and intelligence, and the items that will be coming to The Met are true masterworks in all media.”
And even the quickest walk through “Aesthetic Splendors” makes that abundantly clear.
“Aesthetic Splendors: Highlights from the Gift of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore” continues through Aug. 16 in the Deedee Wigmore Galleries within The American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. (at 82nd Street) in Manhattan. For more, visit metmuseum.org.