Design and Decoration

An Important and Rare Urn by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright is the most important architect of the 20th century. Prolific and visionary, Wright changed the American architectural landscape, defining cultural values through structure and space. He created harmonious environments, considering all details of a project from the architecture within the landscape to the furniture and decorative objects within its interior. It was this attention to detail that was coordinated from form and ornamentation all the way down to its specific placement within an interior that indicates Wright’s interest in the Arts & Crafts movement at the turn of the century.

Detail of Plate XXXVI from the Wasmuth Portfolio showing the copper urn in the interior of Browne's Book-Store, 1910.

Wright used several decorative forms repeatedly in his interior design; the copper urn was among his favorite objects and he included it in drawings and prints as early as the 1890s. In 1902, the Chicago Architectural Club included drawings and objects by Frank Lloyd Wright in an exhibition and one of his copper urns was among the items on view. Despite his appreciation for the form, the number of projects with urns was small; it is estimated that only nine were produced. Wright incorporated urns into the interiors of the Joseph Husser House, Chicago (1899); Edward C. Waller Residence, River Forest (1899); the Susan Lawrence Dana House, Springfield (1902); the Avery Coonley House, Riverside (1907); Browne’s Bookstore, Chicago (1908); Unity Temple, Oak Park (1908) as well as his own Home and Studio also in Oak Park (1889/1898).

Entryway of the Edward C. Waller House c. 1899 featuring the present lot.

The present lot is one of two urns from the Edward C. Waller House remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1899 and is among the very earliest examples of this form. One of the urns was centered on the dining table while the other was placed in the entrance hall where the circular motifs of the vessel echoed the circular shapes of the baluster in the railing of the upstairs landing. While all of Wright’s urns feature a geometric pattern with a combination of circles and squares, there were two variants of the design. There are more examples displaying an open hexagon above and below the central medallion. This example, complete with its original liner, features the rarer ‘bow tie’ motif above and below the central medallion. 

True ornament is not a matter of prettifying externals. It is organic with the structure it adorns, whether a person, a building, or a park. At its best it is an emphasis of structure, a realization in graceful terms of the nature of that which is ornamented.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright 1867–1959

During his seventy year career as an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright created more than 1,100 designs, half of which were realized and a large portion of which came about later in his life. Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin in 1867. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1885 to study civil engineering, completing only two years of the program. After working for Joseph Silsbee on the construction of the Unity Chapel in Oak Park, Illinois Wright decided to pursue a career in architecture and he moved to Chicago where he began an apprenticeship at the famed architectural firm Adler and Sullivan, working directly with Louis Sullivan until 1893.

After parting ways, Wright moved to Oak Park. Working from his home studio, he developed a system of design developed from grid units and rooted in an appreciation of natural materials that would come to be known as the Prairie School of Architecture and would change the landscape of American design forever. Wright devoted himself to teaching and writing during the 1920s and 1930s. 1935 marked the beginning of an immense surge of creativity and productivity as he began work on his most celebrated residential design, Fallingwater. In the 1940s and 1950s Wright focused on his Usonian designs that reflected his belief in democratic architecture, offering middle-class residential options. In 1943, Wright took on his most demanding commission, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum, which would open its doors six months after his death in 1959, would be called his most significant work.

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