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: Gift of Cut Glass Chandelier


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Among the most distinguished possessions of the Art Institute are its various period rooms representing past fashions in living in France, England, and America. The great charm of these rooms lies in the fact that they appear just as they might have appeared in the houses they originally occupied, and evoke, to an unusual degree, the spirit of the times in which they were created. Their chief interest is in the absolute fidelity with which they reflect the decorative arts of their periods. Contrary to some opinion, such perfection of aspect has not been achieved without infinite foresight and patience, as is most recently witnessed by the addition of an old English glass chandelier to the Charleston dining room presented by Mr. and Mrs. James F. Bell. Since the installation of the rooms in 1931, Mr. Bell has been on the lookout for a lighting fixture as authentic in every respect for the dining room as is the beautiful crystal chandelier for the drawing room. This has now been found and installed, the latest of the important additions made to the Charleston rooms by Mr. and Mrs. Bell.The chandelier is an eight-armed fixture, constructed of glass except for the core and incidental metal furniture, with a heavy shaft elaborated with pineapple cutting, and plain glass hurricane shades. In general outline it is reminiscent of the brass chandeliers that probably inspired it, except that it has a large urn in the middle of the shaft instead of the more usual ball. The gracefully curved arms, ending in dished bobêches hung with cut pear drops, are of plain glass that has turned a pale violet color through exposure to the sun in a Chinese garden room in Canton. The top of the baluster shaft is finished with a shallow domed member of flatly cut glass with pear drops, and the bottom with a beautifully cut finial topped by a flat disk hung with pear-shaped cut pendants.The proportions of the chandelier are perfectly worked out, and it has a strong, simple, architectural quality that adapts it perfectly to the somewhat severe architectural scheme of the room in which it now hangs. In general rightness of style and proportion no more suitable fixture for the Charleston dining room could have been found. It is an accessory that has proved worth waiting for, and one that adds immeasurably to the distinction of the room.The inclusion of such a handsome fixture in a colonial interior is quite in keeping with the custom of the time. English furniture, silver, glass, paintings, and countless other accessories of living were coveted by the colonists, who were as eager to be instep with fashion as if they still lived in England. The result was that fine American houses were not far behind those of England in the quality of their appointments.The Institute’s new chandelier was made in England, or possibly Ireland, about 1770 or 1780, and reflects, in the vase-shaped detail of the shaft, the influence of the Adam brothers. The undecorated arms are also a characteristic made in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when a return to the simplicity of earlier periods was notable.The popularity of English glass chandeliers is evidenced by the fact that they were exported all over the world. Records show that they were shipped to Portugal, Spain, America, East India, and China. The one now in the Institute was discovered in China, where it had hung for many years in the hall of a large house in Canton. One of the walls of the room opened on a garden filled with trees and flowers, and it was the constant exposure to a strong China sun that resulted in the curious and attractive violet tone of the glass arms of the fixture. From that remote source to a Charleston room in a Minneapolis museum is a romantic, roundabout, and, we can’t help feeling, a fitting end to a journey that began in England in the eighteenth century. Without a doubt, the chandelier feels more at peace with the spirit of Charleston than with the ancestral gods of a Chinese exporter.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Glass Chandelier, English or Irish, late XVIII century
    Gift from Mr. and Mrs. James Ford Bell
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Source: "Gift of Cut Glass Chandelier," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 29, no. 18 (May, 1940): 88-90.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009