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St. Louis Art Museum to buy $825,000 Frank Lloyd Wright chandelier

St. Louis Art Museum to buy $825,000 Frank Lloyd Wright chandelier


ST. LOUIS • The St. Louis Art Museum is buying a Frank Lloyd Wright chandelier to go with its Frank Lloyd Wright chair, aiming to bolster its collection of the renowned Midwestern architect.

On Monday, the board approved spending $825,000 on the fixture, its largest purchase this year.

The 1903 chandelier is in brass, bronze and iridescent leaded glass. It stretches about 30 inches from the ceiling. Its flat, square glass shade hangs over a smaller glass cube.

Museum curators call the chandelier purchase a “rare opportunity.”

“We’ve been looking for Frank Lloyd Wright for 20 years,” David Conradsen, the museum’s associate curator of decorative arts and design, told the board Monday. “It’s been top of our wish list forever.”

Wright is the most important American architect of the 20th century, museum curators say. He was an influential member of the Prairie School, the Midwest’s “greatest contribution” to the American Arts and Crafts movement, and became an international figure “widely published and emulated,” according to the museum’s acquisition paperwork.

But as Wright’s work has gained popularity in the past few decades, museums have increasingly focused on landing his pieces — and that’s increasingly difficult, Conradsen said.

“Every museum is looking for Frank Lloyd Wright,” he said. “There’s just so few opportunities. The demand far outstrips the supply.” Conradsen said he had had his eye on this piece for about a year.

The chandelier, titled simply “Ceiling Lamp,” is one of two from the master bedroom of the Wright-designed Francis W. Little House, in Peoria, Ill.

Museum curators praise the piece for reducing “the object and its parts to an elemental geometry.”

The shade, built in squares of iridescent glass, echoes the geometry of the house, the curators wrote, and helped produce “a unified design experience.”

“As a unique object and a superb example of Wright’s Prairie School aesthetic from a central Illinois location, this work would become a signature icon in the museum’s growing collection of decorative arts of the American Arts and Crafts movement,” the curators wrote.

This is the Art Museum’s most expensive acquisition this year, museum executives said.

Last year, the museum installed the limestone arches of Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone Sea” in a tight courtyard on the museum’s lower level, a process totaling about $2 million.

Dennis Casey, who studies and writes about Wright’s work, said the price tag for the chandelier was probably a bargain. Similar Wright lights, he said, have recently sold for millions.

“They may not look like it,” Casey said, but Wright’s windows and chandeliers are very involved, with two or three different types of metal bars, called cames, that hold in the panes.

New York art dealers Cathers & Dembrosky are representing the unnamed sellers, who acquired the chandelier from one of the Little House’s previous owners. St. Louis Art Museum executives said they were using private donations to buy the piece.

The chandelier was installed in a lower level gallery at the museum last week and is now on display.

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