Dining chair thumbnail 1
Dining chair thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 135, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Dining chair

Chair
1902 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This chair is one of a set of six. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1949) designed them for the dining room of the Ward Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, USA. When all six were placed around the dining table, their tall, screen-like backs formed a second space within the room. Wright often used furniture in this way to redefine and change interior spaces.
The simplicity and solidity of this chair's form are typical of furniture in the Arts and Crafts style, with its respect for tradition. But while British designers shunned modern power tools and other industrial machinery, Wright embraced machine production, which is reflected in the clean, straight lines and smooth surfaces of this chair.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Stained oak; leather upholstery with horsehair stuffing - not original
Brief Description
Stained oak dining chair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902, for Ward Willits House
Physical Description
Summary Description

High-backed stained oak with eleven vertical slats and a drop-in seat upholstered in leather. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright



Structure and Materials

The chair frame is of mortise-and-tenon construction with all parts of a rectilinear form. The two back uprights run the full height of the chair and taper slightly towards the top. The eleven slats extend below the seat to the back stretcher and are held at the top by a deep top rail. Ogee-shaped braces are screwed to the four inside corners of the seat frame to strengthen the leg joints. They provide additional support for the drop-in seat.



The precise spacing of the slats, the rectilinear forms and the lack of decorative elements gives a distinctly industrial look to the design. The mortise-and-tenon joints make the construction almost invisible and add to the machine-made appearance. In fact, scribed lines between the slats reveal that this precision is all achieved by hand.



Summary of later interventions/changes

The leather upholstery on the drop-in seat is not original.
Dimensions
  • Height: 141.5cm
  • Width: 43.3cm
  • Depth: 45.8cm
Measured on 15/9/10 by LC
Style
Gallery Label
  • DINING CHAIR Ward Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, USA Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902 Stained oak, leather upholstery (not original) W.4-1992 Acquired with the assistance of the Rudolph Palumbo Charitable Trust and the National Art Collections Fund, an independent charity. The extraordinarily high back and severe rectilinear form of this chair inevitably invites comparison with contemporary European furniture, in particular the chairs designed around 1900 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It is worth recalling, however, that Wright had already designed a group of high-back chairs for his own house in 1895.(1993)
  • Chair for the Ward Willits House 1902 Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1949) USA Frame: stained oak Upholstery (replacement): horsehair with leather cover Designed for the Ward Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund and the Rudolph Palumbo Charitable Trust Museum no. W.4-1992 Wright differed from British Arts and Crafts designers by his declared enthusiasm for ‘the clean cut, straight line forms that the machine can render far better than would be possible by hand’. This geometric regularity was at one with his architectural design. Wright also celebrated the natural state of wood and advocated staining, never varnishing or painting furniture. (01/12/2012)
Credit line
Purchased with Art Fund support and the assistance of the Rudolph Palumbo Charitable Trust
Object history
Wright believed that it was impossible to detach a building from its furnishings. In an English preface to the Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe, published in Germany in 1910 he wrote: 'In Organic Architecture… , it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another. The Spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing…The very chairs and tables, cabinets and even musical instruments, where practicable, are of the building itself, never fixtures upon it…'



This chair is one of a set of six designed in1902 by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1949) for the dining room of the Ward Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, USA. The house is an early example of what became known as Wright's 'Prairie' house style distinguished by its horizontal lines and low lying appearance. Like so many of Wright's designs the house and the chair were influenced by Japanese aesthetics.



Wright often used furniture to redefine and change interior spaces. When all six of these chairs were placed around the dining table, their tall, screen-like backs formed a second space within the room. For him, a dining room was 'always a great artistic opportunity.'



The chair was acquired along with six other Wright pieces including a glass triptych (C.115:1-3-1992), a desk (W.72-1992), two ceramic plates (C.113 and C.114-1992), an armchair (W.8-1992) and a copper urn (M.28-1992), from the

collection of Thomas S. Monaghan. On its acquisition it was described as 'one of Wright's most beautiful chair designs', representing 'the pinnacle of Arts and Crafts furniture design.'
Historical context
The extraordinarily high back and severe rectilinear form of this chair inevitably invites comparison with contemporary European furniture, in particular chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The relationship between the two designers, if any, is unclear. However, it is worth recalling that Wright designed a group of high-back chairs for his own house in 1895, whereas Mackintosh's first such chair was designed in 1897.



The simplicity and solidity of this chair's form are typical of furniture in the Arts and Crafts style, but, while British designers shunned modern power tools and other industrial machinery, Wright embraced machine production. He said that he favoured 'the clean cut, straight line forms that the machine can render far better than would be possible by hand'. In this instance he has attempted to achieve a machine-made appearance while actually having to rely on hand manufacture. Simplicity was also critical to the finish of the furniture, and wood was stained, never vanished, to reveal the 'nature' of the material.
Summary
This chair is one of a set of six. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1949) designed them for the dining room of the Ward Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, USA. When all six were placed around the dining table, their tall, screen-like backs formed a second space within the room. Wright often used furniture in this way to redefine and change interior spaces.

The simplicity and solidity of this chair's form are typical of furniture in the Arts and Crafts style, with its respect for tradition. But while British designers shunned modern power tools and other industrial machinery, Wright embraced machine production, which is reflected in the clean, straight lines and smooth surfaces of this chair.
Bibliographic References
  • Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., pp. 188-189.
  • Hanks, David A., Frank Lloyd Wright: Preserving an Architectural Heritage, Decorative Designs from The Domino's Pizza Collection, (Studio Vista, London, 1989)
  • 'Recent acquisitions of furniture and woodwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum'. Burlington Magazine June 1993, vol. CXXXV, no. 1083, pp. 443-448. This item illustrated as item IX.
Collection
Accession Number
W.4-1992

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record createdMarch 17, 2000
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