An Intricate Design
Midwestern Art Nouveau
Architect Louis H. Sullivan developed many of his most important buildings in collaboration with master colorist Louis J. Millet. As lead artistic partner in Healy & Millet, a Chicago-based decorative arts studio, Millet helped develop the architectural compositions of Sullivan's buildings through a highly sophisticated use of color. Their collaborations included such notable Adler & Sullivan buildings in Chicago as the Auditorium Building, Schiller (later Garrick) Theater, and the famed exterior of the Transportation Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which rebelled against the stark white classicism of other fair building’s through the use of forty-four different colors and its legendary "Golden Door". Sullivan and Millet's friendship and collaborations continued throughout their lives, including the coloration and leaded glass for the small rural banks that occupied the later years of Sullivan's life.
Hand-painted stencils with masterful layering of colors provided a subtle three-dimensional quality to the walls thus enhancing the sense of space.
The Trading Room of Adler & Sullivan's 1894 Chicago Stock Exchange Building is considered a masterpiece of Sullivan and Millet's collaborative work. With Millet, Sullivan's intricate stencil designs were developed into animated compositions that conveyed a sense of movement and depth. The most complex of the room's stencils was this example which incorporates fifty-two different colors—the nuances between many are so close that the differences are barely perceptible, but all combine to create a highly powerful effect.
Sullivan and Millet used hand-painted stencils as an appropriate medium for honestly addressing the essential nature of a flat plaster wall surface. The masterful layering of colors provided a subtle three-dimensional quality to the wall surfaces, which enhanced the sense of space within the overall room. This pattern covered a plaster wall that concealed a massive steel truss that spanned the room. The structural strength of the concealed span is symbolically reflected in the vibrant red at the bottom, with the pattern rising to a more passive green at the top.
The building's identity resides in the ornament.
During their partnership, Dankmar Adler and Louis H. Sullivan created some of the ground breaking and influential buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Adler specialized in the engineering side of the business, which allowed Sullivan to work primarily as the designer on their projects. Together they completed many notable structures including the famous Wainwright Building (St. Louis, 1891), the Schiller Building (Chicago, 1891) and the James Charnley House (Chicago, 1891–1892). However, it was the Chicago Stock Exchange, built at the height of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, that was undoubtedly the magnum opus of their career. The interior of the building was decorated with lavish organic designs inspired by the flora and fauna of the prairie landscape exemplary of their uniquely Midwestern style of Art Nouveau. Although the partnership ended in 1895, Adler and Sullivan forever changed the architectural landscape of Chicago with more than 180 buildings designed during the 15 years they worked together.