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Learning from Frank Furness: Louis Sullivan in 1873

October 6–December 30, 2012

Frank Furness (American, 1839–1912) was the leading architect in Philadelphia during the second half of the nineteenth century. Working in a city known as the "workshop of the world," Furness turned away from contemporary European historical forms to design buildings out of the materials and formal vocabulary of the Industrial Revolution. An important link between Furness and modernist architecture of the twentieth century was Louis Sullivan (American, 1856– 1924), who at the age of seventeen held a job in Furness's Philadelphia office before moving to Chicago in 1873 and embarking on his own remarkable career. Sullivan later stated that his brief experience with Furness had more influence on him than his formal training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris. This exhibition is centered on Furness's most important piece of furniture, a massive desk he designed for his older brother in 1870–71. Its horseshoe arch, stylized patterns, and dynamic interplay of intaglio and relief carving reflect Furness's bold combination of form and elaborate detail that he used in his buildings. A preparatory drawing for the desk will be exhibited in addition to an accompanying bookcase also designed by Furness. These objects will be juxtaposed with drawings executed by Sullivan between 1873 and 1884, showing how deeply he absorbed his former mentor's ornamental style and evolved it into something more sinuous and organic, as seen in the 1899 stair baluster from the Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store (later Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co.) in Chicago, which will also be on display. This exhibition is part of the Furness Festival, a citywide program of exhibitions, symposia, and other events commemorating the centenary of Frank Furness's death in 1912.

Main Building


George E. Thomas, principal at Civic Visions and lecturer in urban studies, University of Pennsylvania,in collaboration with David L. Barquist, the H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., Curator of American Decorative Arts, PhiladelphiaMuseum of Art

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