Joseph Urban: Unlocking an Art Deco Bedroom

Page 1

Amy Miller Dehan

Amy Miller Dehan is Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Cincinnati Art Museum

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM

Christopher Long is Martin S. Kermacy Centennial Professor, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin Elizabeth McGoey is Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff Associate Curator, Arts of the Americas, Art Institute of Chicago

Also available from GILES: SIMPLY BRILLIANT Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s Cynthia Amnéus Contributions by Adam MacPhàrlain, Ruth Peltason, Rosemary Ransome Wallis, Cameron Silver, and Amanda Triossi In association with Cincinnati Art Museum CINCINNATI SILVER 1788–1940 Amy Miller Dehan With contributions by Janet C. Haartz and Nora Kohl In association with Cincinnati Art Museum FRANK DUVENECK American Master Edited by Julie Aronson Introduction by Barbara Dayer Gallati Contributions by Julie Aronson, André Dombrowski, Sarah Burns, Colm Tóibín, Kristin L. Spangenberg, and Elizabeth A. Simmons In association with Cincinnati Art Museum

ISBN 978-1-911282-56-3 Distributed in the USA and Canada by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution The Keg House 34 Thirteenth Avenue NE, Suite 101 Minneapolis, MN 55413-1007 USA www.cbsd.com GILES An imprint of D Giles Limited 66 High Street, Lewes BN7 1XG UK gilesltd.com

Urban jacket 01_07 CC2019.indd 1

UK£39.95 / US$49.95 ISBN 978-1-911282-56-3

54995 9 781911 282563

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM Edited by Amy Miller Dehan With contributions by Christopher Long, Elizabeth McGoey, and Amy Miller Dehan Austrian-born artist Joseph Urban (1872–1933) was a highly prolific designer and architect in the early twentieth century, recognized for his notable impact on shaping American modernism. He arrived in the United States just as modernist influences were emerging in architecture and design, and over the next two decades would become one of the most significant designers working at the forefront of the new era. Urban’s distinctive style—a combination of Viennese fin-de-siècle design, cutting-edge Art Deco forms and bold color—lent itself to several high-profile projects, including set designs for the Metropolitan Opera, the Ziegfeld Follies, and Hollywood films; the building and interiors for the New School in New York; and the color direction for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Joseph Urban: Unlocking an Art Deco Bedroom presents an Urban-designed interior commissioned in 1929 for the teenage daughter of Chicagoans Mr. and Mrs. Leo F. Wormser. Since 1973, the Cincinnati Art Museum has held the most complete collection of elements from this rare, avant-garde bedroom. Utilizing period photographs, blueprints, the artist’s design sketches, invoices, recorded interviews, and other primary resources, the museum has fully researched, conserved, and installed this exceptional Art Deco space. This volume, illustrated with over 90 images, features five essays that reveal the story of the Wormser family commission and highlight Urban’s wideranging career, his role in defining American modernism, the country’s acceptance of modernist designs, and the bedroom’s restoration and reinstallation. Front cover illustration: Elaine Wormser in her bedroom, Chicago, 1930. Photography by Alvina Lenke Studios. Private Collection Back cover illustration: Joseph Urban in his office at William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, New York, 1920. Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

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J O S E P H U R B A N : U N LO C K I N G AN ART DECO BEDROOM E d i t e d b y A my M i l l e r D e h a n With contributions by Christopher Long, Elizabeth McGoey, and Amy Miller Dehan

Cincinnati Art Museum in association with D Giles Limited


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FIG. 11 Joseph Urban, Color Scheme for the Agricultural Building, in American Asphalt Paint Co.’s Progress In Industrial Color and Protection at“A Century of Progress” (Chicago: American Asphalt Paint Co., 1933). Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University


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THE WORMSER BEDROOM


THE WORMSER BEDROOM Amy Miller Dehan

T H E W O R M S E R FA M I LY A N D T H E I R C O M M I S S I O N Elaine Wormser (1912–2007) was seventeen in 1929, when she and her parents moved into the recently completed Drake Tower at 179 East Lakeshore Drive.1 Designed by architect Benjamin H. Marshall, the luxury apartment building (fig. 12) was erected on the last parcel of vacant land facing north on Lakeshore Drive.2 With sweeping views of Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park, the thirty-story tower was the tallest residential building erected in the city prior to World War II.3 Its lobby connected to that of the neighboring Drake Hotel. The tower’s tenants had access to all the hotel’s services and werewithinwalkingdistanceofthecity’sbusinesscenterandthebestclubs,schools,and amusements.4 For a young woman coming of age in the late 1920s, it would have been a marvelous locale. Elaine was born on August 7, 1912.5 Her father, Leo Falk Wormser (1884–1934) (fig. 13), was a native of and prominent figure in the city.6 A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was partner in the firm of Rosenthal, Hamill & Wormser, where he practiced corporate,realestate,andprobatelawandwasthepersonalattorneyofJuliusRosenwald, one of the wealthiest men in the history of Chicago.7 Wormser was also a leader in Chicago’s Jewish community.8 Elaine’s mother, Helen (1890–1956), was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Welby Goldsmith of Cincinnati.9 Her father was a successful attorney, and she grew up in the predominantlyJewishneighborhoodofAvondale.10HelenmarriedLeoWormserin1911 at Cincinnati’s Sinton Hotel.11The couple made their home in Chicago.They were active in the city’s social and cultural scene and frequently traveled abroad.12

Elaine Wormser in her bedroom, Chicago, 1930. Photography by Alvina Lenke Studios. Private Collection


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THE WORMSER BEDROOM

FIG. 33 Joseph Urban, Reinhardt Theatre, 1928, watercolor, unrealized. Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book & ManuscriptLibrary,Columbia University

green and gold dominate . . . [with] deep reds and pale pinks in the banks of roses in the murals.”88 The ceiling was black glass and the walls were covered in a lacquered rayon fabric in a green and gold leaf design.The black chairs were upholstered in gold textured Fabrikoid.89 The silvered ceiling of Elaine’s bedroom was a luxury detail Urban employed in his own NewYork apartment and in his Manhattan architectural office (1925), as well as the St. Regis Hotel in New York (1927–28), the Bossert Hotel Grill Room in Brooklyn (1928), Cincinnati’s Gibson Hotel (1928), the Emerich commission (1929–30, fig. 26), and other interiors.90 Opaque, reflective black glass, also known by the trade names Vitrolite, Sani Onyx, and Carrara Glass, was a popular material in the period.91 Introduced around the turn of the century, it had a modern, rich look and was easily cleaned. In addition to using it in Repose, the Central Park Casino, and the Wormser bedroom, Urban also proposed it for the façade of the Max Reinhardt Theatre (designed 1928, not built), where gold balconies became a decorative feature (fig. 33); the Kaufmann Department Store (designed 1928, not built)92 and the William Penn Hotel ballroom (1929), both in Pittsburgh;93 and New York’s Bedell Department Store (1928).94 The woolWilton carpet featuring a tight pattern of abstracted floral forms (see fig. 76) may have first appeared in Urban’s Yonkers studio (fig. 34).95 Urban’s wife Mary raised sheepdogs on their estate, and his daughter Gretl recalled, “Occasionally there were puppies,andquiteoftentheygotintoFather’sstudio.AlthoughFatherreallylovedthem, they made little drops here and there, so he designed a special carpet with flowers on it so the spots wouldn’t show. He said the flowers were there for the dogs to smell.”96 Donald M. Douglas, an Urban protégé, recalled that Urban often used intricate patterns on the floors of his spaces.“This was a favorite device of his.Without being insistent, without the viewer being conscious of the fact, Urban would unify various spaces or emphasize one space, or break up space by his treatment of the floor. In practically all of his interiors, the design of the carpet was one of the most important features.”97The watercolor sketch for this carpet design (fig. 35) was located among Urban’s papers.98 Later, this same design appeared in the dining room Urban created for Chicago’s Congress Hotel (1932), another interior that featured a green and black color scheme.99 The wall hangings behind Elaine Wormser’s bed and the bedcover, which is trimmed in black velvet (see fig. 71), were both made of iridescent green silk taffeta with satin trim and lining and decorated with a stenciled, cascading design of ivy and flowers in blue, green, and gold. A similar pattern appears in Urban’s wall treatment for the St. Regis Hotel (fig. 36). A striped moiré similar to that covering the Wormser armchair, daybed, dressing table and desk chairs appeared in the interior of the Ruxton automobile (1929–30), for which Urban served as color consultant.100 Another related


THE WORMSER BEDROOM

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produced by people moving before the masses of color. He tried to get life into his most colossal of all settings—blood, warmth, texture and motion.”21 Urban was a master storyteller, a skill honed through his early work in illustration and stage design. No matter the project, he realized that for authenticity and success, he mustfullyknowhischaracters(orinhabitants),hisaudience(orclients),andthenarrative to be told. When a project lacked an inherent storyline, he developed one as part of his working process. A description of the completed Wormser room, likely produced by Urban’s studio, read, “[Urban] has introduced a touch of Viennese merriment that bespeaks the happiness of youth.The artist’s conception was that a girl is asleep on a hill looking down upon a flowered meadow. Accordingly, the bed stands on a platform and the carpet represents clusters of meadow flowers.”22 Although Urban built upon and incorporated many of the features initially used in his earlier interior, Repose, it is important to note that Urban did not simply duplicate this space for Elaine Wormser. Repose was a boudoir, not a bedroom. It was a space for a mature, in-command woman. Urban’s design for Elaine was tailored specifically for her, much as he had done when designing bedrooms for Marjorie Merriweather Post’s very young daughter (who would become the actress Dina Merrill) at Mar-a-Lago (1927) (see fig. 7)23 and for the mature Katharine Brush, the writer (1933) (fig. 54). The Wormser


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FIG. 59 Joseph Urban, Study for ColorTreatment of the Dance Studio, New School for Social Research, New York, 1930, watercolor. Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book & ManuscriptLibrary,Columbia University

bedroom was designed as a reflection on adolescence, a time when one foot dips its toes into adulthood as the other remains planted in childhood. It distinctly projects the notionofwhataneighteen-year-oldgirlofElaine’sstationatthistimeshouldbe:feminine, vibrant, smart, and bold. Elaine remembered that she met Urban“many times,”but given his heavy workload in these years, it is unlikely that he grew to know her well over the course of the commission. Rather, as a man with two daughters who were very dear to him, Urban may have drawn heavily from his own experiences as a father.24 Sitting above the rest of the bedroom, Elaine’s bed is positioned on a dais (a simplified stage),withinarecessednicheandbackedwithwallcurtains.Vertical,steppedskyscraper bookcasessitjustinsidethenicheoneitherside,andthependantlightsprovideadditional framing. In these placements and divisions of space, Urban has essentially created a proscenium, the area in a modern theater that is in front of the curtain, often including thecurtainitselfandthearchorframeworkthatholdsit—theareatheaudienceiscuedto focus upon. A comparison, albeit more extreme, is seen in Urban’s treatment of the bed in his 1919 set design for Act II of the comic opera La Belle Helénè (fig. 55).25 One could argue that Urban’s employment of these focal devices derived exclusively from his stage experience, but they appear in many bedrooms from this period. A visual cue to the era’s heightened appetite for glamor and drama, platforms and niches for beds were seen in


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THE WORMSER BEDROOM


THE WORMSER BEDROOM (1929–30)

Joseph Urban, Bedroom for Elaine Wormser, Chicago, 1930. Photography by Alvina Lenke Studios. Colorization based on recent research and added by Light Work, Syracuse, New York, 2020


FIG. 81 Lidded Box and Dish, circa 1925, probably Austria, enameled copper, box: 2 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2 in. (6.4 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm); dish: 1⁄2 x 3 3⁄8 x 3 3⁄8 in. (1.3 x 8.6 x 8.6 cm). Lent in memory of Elaine Wormser Reis

FIG. 82 Dish, circa 1925, probably Austria, enameled copper, 115⁄16 x 3 3⁄8 x 3 3⁄8 in. (4.9 x 8.6 x 8.6 cm). Gift of Mrs. Thomas J. Reis, 1973.776

FIG. 83 Lidded Box and Dish, circa 1925, probably Austria, enameled copper, box: 2 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2 in. (6.4 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm); dish: 1⁄2 x 3 3⁄8 x 3 3⁄8 in. (1.3 x 8.6 x 8.6 cm). Lent in memory of Elaine Wormser Reis

FIG. 84 Dish, circa 1925, probably Austria, enameled copper, 1 x 3 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2 in. (2.5 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm). Gift of Mary Reis Sullivan, John Reis and Richard Reis in memory of their mother, Elaine Wormser Reis, 2018.146


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FIG. 85 Joseph Urban, Storage Box and Shelf, 1929–1930, United States, cardboard and cloth with paper collage and lacquered wood, box: 3 3⁄8 x 20 1⁄16 x 14 15⁄16 in. (8.6 x 51 x 37.9 cm); shelf: 17 3⁄8 x 21 x 5 in. (44.1 x 53.3 x 12.7 cm). Gift of Mrs. Thomas J. Reis, 1973.769. This box and shelf do not appear in archival images of the room, but, according to Elaine Wormser Reis, they were used in the interior.

FIG. 86 Joseph Urban, Curtain Ties, 1929 –1930, United States, silk, cotton, and wood, 37 in. (94 cm). Gift of Mrs. Thomas J. Reis, 1973.770, 1973.771. These curtain ties do not appear in archival images of the room, but, according to Elaine Wormser Reis, they were used in the interior.


Amy Miller Dehan

Amy Miller Dehan is Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Cincinnati Art Museum

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM

Christopher Long is Martin S. Kermacy Centennial Professor, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin Elizabeth McGoey is Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff Associate Curator, Arts of the Americas, Art Institute of Chicago

Also available from GILES: SIMPLY BRILLIANT Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s Cynthia Amnéus Contributions by Adam MacPhàrlain, Ruth Peltason, Rosemary Ransome Wallis, Cameron Silver, and Amanda Triossi In association with Cincinnati Art Museum CINCINNATI SILVER 1788–1940 Amy Miller Dehan With contributions by Janet C. Haartz and Nora Kohl In association with Cincinnati Art Museum FRANK DUVENECK American Master Edited by Julie Aronson Introduction by Barbara Dayer Gallati Contributions by Julie Aronson, André Dombrowski, Sarah Burns, Colm Tóibín, Kristin L. Spangenberg, and Elizabeth A. Simmons In association with Cincinnati Art Museum

ISBN 978-1-911282-56-3 Distributed in the USA and Canada by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution The Keg House 34 Thirteenth Avenue NE, Suite 101 Minneapolis, MN 55413-1007 USA www.cbsd.com GILES An imprint of D Giles Limited 66 High Street, Lewes BN7 1XG UK gilesltd.com

Urban jacket 01_07 CC2019.indd 1

UK£39.95 / US$49.95 ISBN 978-1-911282-56-3

54995 9 781911 282563

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM

JOSEPH URBAN: UNLOCKING AN ART DECO BEDROOM Edited by Amy Miller Dehan With contributions by Christopher Long, Elizabeth McGoey, and Amy Miller Dehan Austrian-born artist Joseph Urban (1872–1933) was a highly prolific designer and architect in the early twentieth century, recognized for his notable impact on shaping American modernism. He arrived in the United States just as modernist influences were emerging in architecture and design, and over the next two decades would become one of the most significant designers working at the forefront of the new era. Urban’s distinctive style—a combination of Viennese fin-de-siècle design, cutting-edge Art Deco forms and bold color—lent itself to several high-profile projects, including set designs for the Metropolitan Opera, the Ziegfeld Follies, and Hollywood films; the building and interiors for the New School in New York; and the color direction for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Joseph Urban: Unlocking an Art Deco Bedroom presents an Urban-designed interior commissioned in 1929 for the teenage daughter of Chicagoans Mr. and Mrs. Leo F. Wormser. Since 1973, the Cincinnati Art Museum has held the most complete collection of elements from this rare, avant-garde bedroom. Utilizing period photographs, blueprints, the artist’s design sketches, invoices, recorded interviews, and other primary resources, the museum has fully researched, conserved, and installed this exceptional Art Deco space. This volume, illustrated with over 90 images, features five essays that reveal the story of the Wormser family commission and highlight Urban’s wideranging career, his role in defining American modernism, the country’s acceptance of modernist designs, and the bedroom’s restoration and reinstallation. Front cover illustration: Elaine Wormser in her bedroom, Chicago, 1930. Photography by Alvina Lenke Studios. Private Collection Back cover illustration: Joseph Urban in his office at William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, New York, 1920. Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

12/03/2021 09:04