The El Mirasol mansion Aesthetic Movement bronze hanging lantern late 19th century
The pierced tapering top above elephant-heads, over a suspended tapering pierced body with dragons. height approximately 69in (175.3cm), greatest diameter approximately 21in (52.5cm)
Exhibited: Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY, "Transformed by Light," December 21, 2005 through May 7, 2006
This spectacular lantern hung in the entryway to El Mirasol, the lavish estate built in Santa Barbara in 1909 by Mary Herter, the widow of Christian Herter. El Mirasol was decorated by Mary's son, Albert Herter, and his wife, Adele, both renowned artists. When Mary died in 1913, the estate was converted into a lavish hotel by Albert and Adele Herter who sold it in 1920 to Frederick C. Clift; it eventually became a retirement home for elderly elite and was where Albert Herter himself died in 1950. El Mirasol suffered two attic fires in 1966 and the buildings were demolished in 1969; the dragon lantern remained in situ until then.
Japanese arts first became known in the West when Admiral Perry opened the way for trade in 1854; in 1862, the Japanese delegation at the International Exhibition in London caused a frenzy among artists and collectors, who vied for treasures. Christian Herter, who with his brother Gustave ran one of New York's premier interior design firms, was no exception and began not only to acquire Japanese goods but to incorporate Japanese aesthetics into his designs. These include the sunflower motifs seen on Herter Brothers furniture, and on the lantern here. According to Herter family tradition, Christian Herter played a role in its design and creation.
This lantern epitomizes the tenets of the Aesthetic Movement and borrows stylistic elements from Middle Eastern, Japanese and Indian art. The tapering body, with its sunflower motif and applied dragons, is Japanese in manufacture or modeled very closely from Japanese examples, while the domed top alludes to Orientalist motifs popular at this time as well. It is not dissimilar to the Turkish room that the Herter Brothers firm did for the Spreckels mansion in San Francisco in 1900, illustrated in Katherine Howe, et al, Herter Brothers, Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age, Harry N. Abrams and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994, p. 239.
For greater discussion on Christian Herter and the Japanese aesthetic at the end of the nineteenth century, see Marilynn Johnson Border "Christian Herter and the Cult of Japan," Aspects of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America, Robert Judson Clark ed., (vol. 34, no. 2), 1975, pp. 20-27; and David Hanks "Christian Herter and the Aesthetic Movement in America," Washburn Gallery exhibition pamphlet, (New York, 1980).
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