The Dallas Museum of Art announced on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, the acquisition of a major work for its acclaimed decorative arts collection, a Corner Chair by Charles Rohlfs, one of America’s most virtuosic furniture makers. The Corner Chair (c. 1898-1899), with its sinuous fretwork design, is one of the designer’s most inventive and whimsical examples of household furniture. It is currently on view, with more than 40 other objects by this protean American craftsman and designer, in the DMA’s presentation of The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs, the first major touring exhibition of this turn-of-the-century artist.
The chair is a gift to the Museum from the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation in honor of Joseph Cunningham. Dr. Cunningham is the Curator at the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation and curator of The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs.
“We are grateful to the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation for their gift, for it supports so beautifully the DMA’s ongoing dedication to enhancing its decorative art and design collection and more specifically its holdings of works from the turn of the twentieth century, including the American Arts and Crafts movement,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “Until now, the Museum owned one work by Charles Rohlfs, the exceptional Rotating Desk, which visitors can also see as part of the Rohlfs exhibition.”
“We are pleased to contribute this extraordinary example of Rohlfs’ design genius to the Dallas Museum of Art, which has shown exceptional commitment to American decorative arts and design,” said Bruce Barnes, President and Founder of American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation. “The gift is made in honor of Joseph Cunningham, whose vision and tireless efforts have been essential to establishing ADA1900 and building its relationships with museums and scholars across the country.”
Since the rediscovery of Rohlfs’ work in the 1972 Princeton exhibition The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1876-1916, scholars have characterized his furniture among the most original produced at the turn of the twentieth century. Though obliquely considered a participant within the American Arts and Crafts movement by the nature of his independent studio, dark oak furniture, and self-taught approach, Rohlfs often eschewed the rigid lines and “honest joinery” of Gustav Stickley, the Roycrofters, and other furniture makers of this period. Instead, his works exhibit fanciful forms, undulating carving, and a particular delicacy that deny easy stylistic association with most furniture of the period.
“We are deeply honored that the Museum has received this gift from the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation in honor of Joseph Cunningham, who was responsible for the organization of The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs and authoring its award-winning catalogue,” said Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Dallas Museum of Art. “This exquisite chair, one of two known surviving examples, is a superlative companion to the exceptional Rotating Desk (Model No. 500), a work by Rohlfs already in the Museum’s collections.”
Corner Chair by Charles Rohlfs
In 1898 or 1899 Charles Rohlfs created an intriguing and intricately pierced boxlike table and four-chair set. The table’s legs, placed at the mid points of each side of the table rather than at the four corners, are joined by cruciform cross stretchers pierced with a repeating fretwork pattern leaving the four corners empty for the four Corner Chairs, which, thus, fit entirely under the table top. The other two chairs and the table have never been located.
Born in Brooklyn, Rohlfs was educated at the Cooper Union “School of Science” before securing a position as a designer of cast iron stoves. During the 1870s and 1880s, Rohlfs pursued a career as an actor while maintaining contracts with various foundries for his design work. During the late 1880s, he began experimenting with furniture making at first to furnish his new home in Buffalo, but then by the end of the 1890s he was promoting himself as a professional maker of “artistic furniture.” Rohlfs’ rapid ascendance in the field of furniture design was marked by the acclaim his work received at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 and the Turin International Exposition of Modern Art in 1902. With his flair for the eccentric and his refusal to be categorized as an adherent of any particular style or school, international critics singled out his work as among the most innovative and “artistic” produced in America. Changing tastes and declining sales prompted Rohlfs to all but abandon his cabinetmaking interests by 1908.
After the Dallas presentation of The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs ends on January 3, 2010, the exhibition continues its five-city national tour to the Carnegie Museum of Art (January 30–April 25, 2010); the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (May 22–September 6, 2010); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (October 19, 2010–January 23, 2011).
The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Chipstone Foundation, and American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation. The exhibition is curated by Joseph Cunningham of American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation. The Dallas Museum of Art acknowledges generous support from American Airlines.
About the Dallas Museum of Art
Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs are its encyclopedic collections, which encompass more than 24,000 works and span 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Established in 1903, the Museum today welcomes more than 800,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings and dramatic and dance presentations.
The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.
About American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation
ADA1900 works independently and in collaboration with museums to foster knowledge and appreciation of American decorative art (furniture, lighting, ceramics, metalwork and glass) from the period 1876-1940, with a focus on the American Arts & Crafts and Prairie School movements and American art pottery. It supports collection development at museums around the country through judicious gifts and loans of art, as well as strategic advisement on acquisitions. ADA1900 works closely with curators at more than twenty museums, as well as with independent scholars, on scholarship, exhibitions, and object research, conservation and installation.