Exhibition | Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 14, 2015


Florist’s Sign and Bracket, 18th century, France, wrought iron and rolled iron, cut, polychromed, and gilded; fastened with rivets and rings. Sign: 28 × 21 × 5 inches (71.5 × 52.6 × 12.5 cm), bracket: 33 × 52 × 2 inches (84 × 132.5 × 6 cm) (Rouen: Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, inv. LS 2011.0.199)

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Now on view at The Barnes Foundation:

Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen
The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, 19 September 2015 — 4 January 2016

Curated by Judith Dolkart with Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau

The world’s most important collection of wrought iron objects—door knockers, garden implements, jewelry, keyhole escutcheons, locks, bas reliefs, signs, strongboxes, surgical tools—from the Musée le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen will complement one of the most intriguing collections at the Barnes Foundation: the 887 pieces of European and American metalwork that punctuate the Foundation’s signature wall arrangements of old master and modern paintings.

Escutcheon, 18th century, France, wrought iron and rolled iron, stamped and with openwork, 19.3 × 16.4 × 0.8 cm (Rouen: Musée de la Ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Inv. LS S.N.3)

Escutcheon, 18th century, France, wrought iron and rolled iron, stamped and with openwork, 19.3 × 16.4 × 0.8 cm (Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Inv. LS S.N.3)

Albert C. Barnes underscored the formal affinities that these objects shared with the “motives and arabesques” in the paintings in his Gallery, neither identifying individual objects nor explaining their use. Often, he combined disparate objects—shoe buckles and door hinges, ladles and hasps—to create new forms. In a 1942 letter to the American artist Stuart Davis, Barnes noted that the anonymous craftsman of such functional items was “just as authentic an artist as a Titian, Renoir, or Cézanne.”

This exhibition will explore the fabrication, function, and intricate ornamentation of approximately 150 masterworks from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen. They range in date from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, and they show iron as unexpectedly versatile, with its capacity to convey both masculine heft and an impossibly fragile delicacy that is hard to square with its industrial image. Objects ennobled with silver and gold inlays show iron as more than base metal. Some are deadly serious in their efficacy; others delight as much by their wit as by their exquisite intricacy—locks that represent their own function, for example, one with a built-in faithful guard dog or one with spring-loaded manacles ready to catch a lock-pick—an 18th-century sign in the shape of a greyhound that looks like something Calder might have made two centuries later, an early electrified bat-shaped night-light.

Assembled in the 19th century by Jean-Louis-Henri Le Secq Destournelles (1818–1882), the celebrated photographer of French architectural monuments, and his son Henri (1854–1925), the Le Secq collection was shown to great acclaim at the Exposition Universelle in 1900 and installed until the 1920s at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris. In the early 1920s, Le Secq acquired the deconsecrated church of Saint-Laurent in Rouen, where he lived and arranged his extensive collection of European and Middle Eastern objects by type, in distinctive, often symmetrical, wall arrangements and in custom-made vitrines. Barnes, who traveled frequently to France as he built his collection, is believed to have visited Rouen to see this impressive holding. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue containing an essay on Barnes’s collecting of metalwork, one on the collection at Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, and short essays on groups of works, and an illustrated glossary of technical terms.

The exhibition is curated by Judith F. Dolkart, the Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, and former Deputy Director of Art and Archival Collections and Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes Foundation. An expert on the art and culture of 19th-century France, Dolkart graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1989 and received an A.B. in fine arts in 1993 from Harvard-Radcliffe College, where she examined the work of Frank Stella for her thesis. In 1997, she earned an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. During her 2013 fellowship at the Center for Curatorial Leadership, Dolkart was mentored by the director of the Harvard Art Museums and had a week-long residency with the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, curator in charge of the objets d’art at the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, selected the objects included in Strength and Splendor and authored the catalogue’s essay on the holdings in Rouen, as well as several entries on individual objects.

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The catalogue is available from The Barnes Foundation:

Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, with contributions by Richard Wattenmaker, François Boyenval, Hélène Thomas, and Bruno Varin, Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musée le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen (Philadelphia: The Barnes Foundation, 2015), 175 pages, ISBN: 978-0984857869, $65.

Strength_and_Sp_1The Le Secq collection is the most important holding of wrought iron in the world, combining artistic virtuosity, technological innovation, and whimsy. It was created by Jean-Louis Henri Le Secq Destournelles (1818–1882) and his son Henri-Jean Le Secq des Tournelles (1854–1925). The older Le Secq focused on masterpieces—exceptional objects. The younger Le Secq inherited his father’s enthusiasm and assembled an encyclopedic array of adornments, instruments, and tools, which he catalogued like natural history specimens. He gave the collection to the city of Rouen, where it has been spectacularly displayed in the deconsecrated church of Saint-Laurent since 1921. This catalogue covers some 150 of the most magnificent objects in the Le Secq collection, classed in ten categories—including locks and keys, decorative plaques, and everyday objects—with essays on the history of the Le Secq collection and on the place of
metalwork in the Barnes Foundation.



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