The Frick Announces Loans from Horace Wood Brock

Posted in museums by Editor on May 19, 2013

Press release (14 May 2013) from The Frick Collection:

Mounted Vase, c. 1786–88, Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, hard-paste porcelain with gilt-bronze mounts attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751–1843); Horace Wood Brock Collection; photo: Michael Bodycomb. More Information: http://www.artdaily.com/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=62577#.UZOed7YzKA8[/url] Copyright © artdaily.org

Mounted Vase, ca. 1786–88, Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, hard-paste
porcelain with gilt-bronze mounts attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire;

  Horace Wood Brock Collection. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

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The Frick Collection announced the extended loan of several important decorative arts objects from Horace Wood Brock, one of America’s most remarkable collectors. Over the last three decades, he has assembled an enviable collection of French and English decorative arts dating from 1675 to 1820, as well as paintings and Old Master drawings. Dr. Brock has also been a generous lender of works of art, loaning objects to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and now to the Frick. Five French clocks from his collection are featured in the current special exhibition Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, which opened in the Portico Gallery in January and will remain on view until February 2014. In addition to Dr. Brock’s clocks, four important pieces of French eighteenth-century decorative arts from his private collection are now on view in the Frick’s permanent collection galleries, where they can be enjoyed by museum visitors for the next several years. They are a secrétaire by Royal cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener, a longcase clock by Balthazar Lieutaud, and two rare Sèvres porcelain vases. The exhibition of clocks and watches as well as the placement of the four additional loans in the galleries has been coordinated by the Frick’s Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, Charlotte Vignon.

The impressive longcase regulator clock displayed in the East Vestibule near the museum’s Entrance Hall was made in Paris around 1750−55, when the fashion for rococo design was at its peak. A perfect example of this highly decorative style, the clock’s shape avoids straight lines in favor of a fanciful play of curves and counter-curves, adorned by heavy gilt-bronze mounts that call to mind the branches of a tree. Although the mounts take their inspiration from nature, they are not representational but rather a pure fantasy of the rococo style. The clock is topped by the winged figure of Time, made by an unknown craftsman. The figure holds a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other as reminders of man’s mortality. The case was made by Balthazar Lieutaud, who became a master cabinetmaker in 1749, only a few years before creating this piece. About a decade later, in 1767, he executed a longcase clock that was purchased by Henry Clay Frick in 1915 and is now displayed at the foot of the Grand Staircase. It was made in the newly fashionable neoclassical style, which evolved in response to the extravagance of the rococo. This later clock is crowned by a gilt-bronze group representing Apollo riding his chariot, made by the bronzemaker Philippe Caffiéri.

Potpourri Vase and Cover, ca. 1763–70, Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, painted and gilded soft-paste porcelain with gilt-bronze mounts, ca. 1785; Horace Wood Brock Collection. Photo: Michael Bodycomb.

Potpourri Vase and Cover, ca. 1763–70, Royal Manufactory of Sèvres, painted and gilded soft-paste porcelain with gilt-bronze mounts, ca. 1785; Horace Wood Brock Collection. Photo: Michael Bodycomb.

The exquisite soft-paste potpourri vase on view in the Fragonard Room was made by the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres around 1763–70. Its gilt-bronze mounts were added later, around 1785. The vase is topped by a finial composed of a cluster of berries nestled inside an acanthus-leaf cup. The support— which incorporates goats’ heads with elaborately curved horns—recalls the Athénienne, a type of pedestal table that was fashionable during the late eighteenth century in France and was loosely based on ancient models. The pierced metal band that separates the bowl of the vase from its cover suggests that it might have been designed to hold potpourri, a fragrant mixture of dried flowers and spices that perfumed the air of aristocratic residences during the eighteenth century. With its references to classical antiquity, it also could have been intended to evoke an incense burner, although it is unlikely that it would have been used in this way. The pendant to Dr. Brock’s vase is in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

A second vase made at the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres and lent by Dr. Brock is illustrated above. Between 1786 and 1788, the Sèvres manufactory produced a dozen round and oval vases in dark blue hard-paste porcelain that were fitted with gilt-bronze mounts attributed to the renowned bronzemaker Pierre Philippe Thomire. The oval version was commissioned in November of 1786 by Dominique Daguerre, the preeminent Parisian marchand-mercier (merchant of luxury goods) of the period, and thus was referred to in the factory’s records as a “vase Daguerre ovale.” The vase exemplifies the highly sophisticated luxury items produced in France on the eve of the revolution. The symmetry of the vase recalls ancient models, as do its gilt-bronze mounts, which are in the shape of acanthus and laurel leaves, pine cones, and palmettes.

Secrétaire à abbatant, c. 1785, by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734–1806), oak veneered with mahogany, gilt-bronze mounts, marble, leather writing surface; Horace Wood Brock Collection; photo: Michael Bodycomb

Secrétaire à abbatant, ca. 1785, by Jean-Henri Riesener, oak veneered with mahogany, gilt-bronze mounts, marble, leather writing surface; Horace Wood Brock Collection. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

The vase is displayed in the Boucher Room atop a secrétaire à abbatant, also from Dr. Brock’s collection. The French word secrétaire derives from secret, or secrecy. Such pieces were created to secure private documents. When opened, the fall-front panel provides a leather-covered writing surface and reveals twelve interior drawers of varying sizes and shapes. The lower part of the cabinet (concealed by two doors) provides extra storage, as does the large drawer above the fall-front panel. The desk was made around 1785 by Jean-Henri Riesener, who was appointed cabinetmaker to the king in 1774, the year Louis XVI acceded to the throne. In 1784, when the crown was attempting to reduce its expenditures, Riesener was replaced by a younger (and less expensive) cabinetmaker. Around this time his style changed, shifting away from furniture decorated with marquetry in colorful, exotic woods to veneered mahogany as seen in this secrétaire. Although this change was probably motivated by an effort to eliminate the labor-intensive marquetry work, it also reflected the new taste for simpler furniture that had been inspired by English models. Dr. Brock’s secrétaire epitomizes Riesener’s latest style. The splendid yet sober mahogany veneer panels are adorned with gilt-bronze mounts inspired by classical architecture: a frieze of scrolled acanthus leaves decorates the large drawer above the fall-front panel while a less ornate frieze of smaller acanthus leaves frames the desk’s side and front panels. The result is an elegant, perfectly symmetrical, and harmonious piece of furniture.

And, finally, the mantel clock featured on page one is one of the five timepieces included in the Precision and Splendor exhibition. It was made about 1785 to 1790 and represents Study and Philosophy after a sculpture by Simon-Louis Boizot. Classical symmetry is achieved by placing within an imaginary equilateral triangle the figure of Study on the left, Philosophy on the right, and, in the center, a column topped by a globe. The composition is completed by the harmonious contrast between the dark patinated bronze figures, the clock’s white marble column and dial, and its elaborate gilt-bronze ornamentation.

Dr. Brock trained as a classical pianist and holds advanced degrees in mathematics, mathematical economics, and political philosophy. His serious involvement with music, along with a commitment to the study of Greek and Latin and to European history and languages, led to his deep appreciation of and love for European art of all kinds. What makes his collection unique is that it was formed in accordance with a highly original and personal theory that he developed about the concept of “beauty-in-design.” He described this theory in the catalogue published in conjunction with the 2009 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection. In terms of design, Dr. Brock argues that a beautiful object “is composed, like a Bach fugue,” with themes and transformations. A theme constitutes the basic motif of the work (for example, a simple S-curve visible in the line of the arm of a chair) while the transformations are the echoes of this theme (such as a reversed, rotated S-curve found in the back of the same chair). A simple theme combined with simple transformations brings maximum symmetry and harmony to an object. Conversely, disorder and/or incoherence often correspond to a complex theme and a complex set of transformations (as seen in Victorian furniture and twentieth-century atonal music). According to Dr. Brock, “the highest degree of satisfaction typically results when the right balance is achieved between order and disorder.” He further states that an object with “a very simple theme but sufficiently complex transformations can be as beautiful and as pleasing as an object with a complex theme but a simple set of transformations.” The presentation of works of art also plays an important part in Dr. Brock’s theory. In his homes, the objects from his collection are not grouped according to their materials, function, or date or place of manufacture. Instead, they are displayed next to each other or on top of each other with the goal of enhancing the beauty of each individual piece and creating a perfect symmetry, coherence, and harmony.

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