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Flights of Fancy: Six Centuries of Ornament and Pattern on Paper

January 27–April 8, 2001

Often conceived as marginal embellishment, ornamental decoration has been an important forum for experimentation and invention. Over the centuries, prints and drawings have brought new ideas about ornament to artists, connoisseurs, and laymen alike; and both famous and little-known artists have created an extraordinary array of works for decorative projects. In designs for coats of arms, imaginary fountains, and stage costumes, Albrecht Dürer, Charles Nicholas Cochin, and Natalia Gonchorova created works that combined usefulness and fancy. An exhibition of ornament and pattern in designs for the applied arts as well as in independent works of art, Flights of Fancy presents prints and drawings from the museum’s collections by a remarkably diverse group of artists including Martin Schongauer, Stefano della Bella, Violet Oakley, Paul Klee, Frank Stella, and Christopher Wool.

The exhibition presents vivid images of vines and arabesques, borders and frames, vases and vessels, architectural ornament, decorative letters, and works that demonstrate the calligraphic use of line. Filled with fantastic creatures and floral designs, the margins of a fifteenth-century French illuminated manuscript and a Pennsylvania German fraktur reveal the decorative use of the border or frame. Félix Vallotton uses a background of checkered, dotted and zigzag lines to energize his languid nude in a print titled Laziness, while colorful, flat shapes express vibrant musicality in Henri Matisse’s Jazz series. A look at vases and vessels includes Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Large Marble Urn, Susan Crowder’s Vessel #2, and Jacques Bellange’s Gardener—a beautiful young woman carrying an elaborate urn atop her head. Also featured in Flights of Fancy are examples of decorative letters and calligraphy by Rockwell Kent and Jan Vredeman de Vries, as well as illustrations of caryatids and the antique orders by Giulio Bonasone and Sebastiano Serlio.

Main Building


Madeleine Viljoen, Curatorial Fellow, Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs

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