Liberty & Co., British, founded London, 1875. Chalice, ca. 1890. Pewter and glass. 6 x 5 x 5 inches. Gift of Janis and William Wetsman, 2016.23

Useful and Beautiful: Decorative Arts Highlights

November 16, 2019 - July 26, 2020

Ann K. Walch-Chan Gallery

Referring to the aesthetic movement, with its emphasis on beauty over substance, Oscar Wilde wrote in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, “All art is quite useless.” This exhibition demonstrates that art can be both beautiful and useful, highlighting decorative arts from the FIA collection. Decorative arts as a category was created in Europe after the Renaissance in distinction from the “fine arts” of painting and sculpture, designating objects that are utilitarian but also artfully crafted. During the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement in England and the United States, there was a greater appreciation for the decorative arts, with many championing the idea that there was no meaningful difference between fine and decorative. In other cultures, such as in Chinese art, this distinction would not have been relevant, as the most valued works include those that could be categorized as “decorative.”

Decorative arts includes objects such as vases, teapots, dinnerware, candlesticks, and musical instruments. These objects were made with a wide variety of materials, including glass, ceramics, metal, and wood. Styles reflect the period in which they were made, and designs are often derived from the natural world, including plant forms and animals, but also geometric designs and abstract shapes. This exhibition features highlights from the FIA collection, including recent acquisitions that have never been on view, demonstrating the broad variety of objects both useful and beautiful.

From the Exhibition

  • Artist Unknown, German. Flagon, n.d. Pewter. 12 9/16 x 4 5/16 x 6 ¼ inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Keith Davis, 1972.7

  • Paul de Lamerie, English, 1688–1751. "George II Oval Cake Basket," 1742. Silver. 14 7/8 x 11 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William L. Richards through the Viola E. Bray Charitable Trust, 1984.23

  • Artist Unknown, German. Fullstock High Art Wheelock Pistol, ca. 1680. Wood, steel, ivory, and mother of pearl. 16 7/16 x 4 13/16 x 1 7/8 inches. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George H. Greidinger, 1976.19

  • Liberty & Co., British, founded London, 1875. Bowl, ca. 1900. 3 1/2 x 7 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches. Gift of Janis and William Wetsman, 2016.25