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June 7th, 1999
European Decorative Arts

When planning the Philadelphia Museum of Art's new home atop Fairmount (which opened in 1928), the legendary Museum director Fiske Kimball proposed a "walk through time" featuring paintings, sculpture and applied arts installed in dramatic galleries enhanced with period architectural elements as well as historic interiors. This integrated and contextual approach continues to distinguish the Museum from many other institutions and spurred the development of celebrated collections of decorative arts and sculpture, now on view in newly reinstalled galleries that realize Mr. Kimball's vision.

A French Cloister with elements from the Abbey of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines (1270-80s) and the 12th-century Portal from the Abbey Church of Saint-Laurent create a powerful architectural context for the visual interplay of portraits, religious paintings, stained glass and stone carving in the Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art. A suite of 13 huge tapestries depicting the life of Constantine, designed by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and the Italian artist Pietro de Cortona (1596-1669), is strikingly installed in the Museum's Great Stair Hall. On view nearby in a spectacular gallery is the Kienbusch Collection, a vast armory of swords, shields, firearms, crossbows, and full suits of armor-which delights visitors of all ages.

Across the Great Stair Hall, in the Galleries of European Art from 1500 to 1850, a remarkable suite of period rooms presents the fine and decorative arts in architectural context. In the Room from Het Scheepje (The Little Ship), Delft tiles, carved paneling, furniture, and a selection of brass, pewter, glass and iron objects come together in an appealing, and authentic, domestic interior from the Golden Age of 17th century Holland.

AFTER 1700
While renowned for elegant 18th-century English and French interiors filled with treasures-including the furniture of Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Johnson, a table made by Jean-Henri Riesener for Marie-Antoinette, silver made in Paris for Russian empresses, and Sèvres porcelains--the Museum's collections of European Decorative Arts also bring visitors "up to date" with remarkable objects from the 19th and 20th centuries.

On the Museum's first floor, the Galleries of European Art from 1850 to 1900 feature marvels of craftsmanship and extravagance. Among them: a 700-pound jewelry cabinet bedecked with gilded ornaments, delicate pate-sur-pate porcelains by Mintons, an elaborately inlaid chest by Morris and Company, and sinuous furniture and objects by French Art Nouveau-master Hector Guimard.

Home to one of the country's most important collections of 20th-century design, the Museum presents focused and revelatory installations in the 20th-Century Design Gallery (#170) on the Museum's first floor. Modern delights featured in recent years have included the classic metal furniture of Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, functional glassware by Germany's Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Finnish designer Alvar Aalto's molded plywood armchair, innovative Italian foam furniture of the 1970s, the bold Casablanca Sideboard by Memphis, and Philippe Starck's endearing kitchen utensils.

A non-profit organization of design professionals founded in 1970, COLLAB supports the acquisition of important examples of modern and contemporary decorative arts. Each fall, COLLAB sponsors its prestigious Design Excellence Award, as well as a related competition for college-level design students. Recent Design Excellence honorees include Terence Conran, Philippe Starck with Ian Schrager, Richard Meier, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

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