Silver exhibition to dazzle Indianapolis Museum of Art visitors

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Tiffany, Gorham, and the Height of American Silver, 1840-1930 opens April 1 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Tiffany & Co. (American, est. 1837), pair of candelabra, about 1879, silver, copper and gold, Anonymous Lender.

The quality of silver work is truly outstanding and the variety of forms amazing. The Granthams of Downton Abbey would feel right at home!

When Lilly House opens for a new season on April 1, the historic mansion—the cornerstone of the Indianapolis Museum of Art‘s 52-acre Oldfields Estate—will be the site for a unique showcase of American history.

Tiffany, Gorham, and the Height of American Silver, 1840-1930 will dazzle visitors with more than 60 exceptional pieces of 19th-and 20th-century silver from private lenders and the IMA’s permanent collection. The exhibition explores the legacy of the American silverware industry, from the initial surge following the removal of foreign wares from the market with the enactment of the Tariff of 1842, to the nation‘s achievement as the world’s largest producer of silverware by the late 19th century. Highlighted in the exhibition are the advancements made by Tiffany & Co. and Gorham Manufacturing Co., manufacturers that propelled the nation onto the world stage as an international leader in silver production. Visitors will also learn how the silver industry influenced American culture, from dining and etiquette rituals to social class identities.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Charles L. Venable, the IMA’s Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO. Venable’s publication, “Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor,” won the Charles F. Montgomery Prize for excellence in decorative arts scholarship in 1994.

“It has been a true delight to curate this exhibition of extraordinary American silver, as major collectors have been so generous,” Venable said. “The quality of silver work is truly outstanding and the variety of forms amazing. The Granthams of Downton Abbey would feel right at home!”

The pieces displayed in the exhibition reflect the broad array of styles popularized during the 19th-and-20th centuries, from the elaborate Gothic and Rococo revival styles to the simplified aesthetics derived from ancient Greek and Roman art to the streamlined Art Deco style that gained popularity in the 1920s. A highlight of the exhibition is a host of splendid works in the naturalistic, Japanese taste of the 1880s.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Pair of candelabra (c. 1879) from Tiffany & Co. that demonstrates the manufacturer’s success with Japanese-inspired pieces—a trend that gained popularity in the mid to late19th century.
  • Turtle soup tureen and tray (1890) from Gorham Manufacturing Co. provides a glimpse into a unique culinary tradition of the 19th century—soup made from large sea or snapping turtles.
  • Designed by Charles Osborne for Tiffany & Co., Goelet Racing Cup for Schooners (1885) illustrates that silverware was used for more than just dining and entertaining. Pitchers like this one were used for serving wine and water at formal dinners, but were also given as trophies in sport competitions. This racing cup was given as a trophy in a yacht race, which is reflected in the piece’s sea imagery.
  • Designed by George Wilkinson for Gorham Manufacturing Co., Hot water urn (c. 1871) is decorated with symbols inspired by the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, complete with acanthus leaf handles, coin-like medallions and lion paw feet.

Exhibition visitors can also learn more about silver production with a video illustrating the process at Gorham Manufacturing Co., and a touchable silver ingot to add a hands-on element to the exhibition.

The exhibition is free for IMA members and will be included in the IMA’s new general admission ticket—$18 for adults, $10 for children ages 6-17, and free for children 5 and under. Special exhibition tours will be offered every Sunday and on the third Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. and are included with general admission.

Tiffany, Gorham, and the Height of American Silver, 1840-1930 is located on the second floor of Lilly House and will run through Jan. 4, 2016. The exhibition is presented by The Alliance of the IMA.

Learn more at http://www.imamuseum.org/exhibition/american-silver.

About the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Founded in 1883, the Indianapolis Museum of Art serves the creative interests of its communities by fostering exploration of arts, design and the natural environment. Encompassing 152 acres of gardens and grounds, the IMA is among the 10 oldest and 10 largest encyclopedic art museums in the United States and features significant collections of African, American, Asian, European, contemporary art and design arts that spans 5,000 years of history. Additionally, art, design, and nature are featured at The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, Oldfields–Lilly House & Gardens, a historic Country-Place-Era estate and National Historic Landmark on the IMA grounds and the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist residences. For more information visit http://www.imamuseum.org.

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Stephanie Perry
Indianapolis Museum of Art
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