Collection Highlights

Object of the Month: Lincrusta Wall Covering, the Nickerson Mansion, 1883

Lincrusta-Walton was a popular wallcovering developed by English inventor Frederick Walton (1834-1928) in 1877 and was first manufactured in the United States in 1883, the same year the Nickerson Mansion was constructed. 

Considered to be functional, durable, modern, and beautiful, Lincrusta was an ideal material to use as a wallcovering. Because it was possible to clean Lincrusta with soap and water, it was successfully marketed as a “sanitary” material—an important selling feature in the late-19th century. In fact, the new material was awarded a gold medal during the International Health Exposition in London in 1884.

Lincrusta is a mixture of oxidized linseed oil and wood pulp. Once the material is manufactured, it is machine-pressed and embossed to create a textured design. The final product is hung on the wall and the decorative painted details are finished by hand. The wallcovering imitates the look of painted plaster, tooled leather, or other artistic finishes.

Lincrusta is featured prominently in the Nickerson Mansion, including the Smoking Room, the Dining Room (pictured), and the third-floor Sewing Room.

Lincrusta wall covering in the Nickerson Mansion Dining Room. Photograph by John Faier, © Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2013.

Collection Highlights

Chickering and Sons Grand Piano

This grand piano made of satinwood veneer and Macassar ebony today is featured in the Drawing Room and was designed by Chickering & Sons (founded by Jonas Chickering and James Stewart). Established in Boston in 1823, Chickering & Sons was the first significant piano manufacturer in the United States. The firm was known for using steam power in the manufacturing process and for implementing groundbreaking designs, such as the one-piece cast iron frame.

Chickering & Sons (American, 1823-1908). Grand piano with satinwood veneer and painted floral decorations, ca. 1895. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Tiffany Eighteen-Light Lily Table Lamp

The introduction of Tiffany’s Lily lamps was a turning point in lighting design, showcasing not only the naturalism and sinuous curves of modern Art Nouveau design but also the capabilities of electric lights. The Lily lamp became popular after its first feature in 1902, and was available in tabletop and floor length forms. The lamp’s design was altered to hold anywhere from 6 and 18 individual lights. The Lily lamp highlighted Tiffany’s signature Favrile glass, a method of combining various colors in the molten state in a furnace to create delicate textures and gradations.

Tiffany Studios (American, 1902-1932). Eighteen-light Lily table lamp, ca. 1910. Favrile glass and gilt bronze. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. 

Ebonized Library Table and Side Chair

George Schastey founded one of the most prominent cabinetmaking and decorative interiors firms of the Gilded Age. Born in Merseburg, Prussia, Schastey immigrated to New York in 1849 and worked his way through New York’s developing furniture trade before starting his own firm in 1873. Schastey was known for graceful interpretations of the Aesthetic Movement, an eclectic design movement prevalent of the period. His superior designs were highly influenced by the Renaissance, aspects of Islamic art, and the contemporary British Aesthetic Movement.   

George A. Schastey (American, 1839-1894). Ebonized library table and side chair, c. 1880. Original to the Samuel M. Nickerson House. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Gem-set Inkstand

This piece was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria for the royal physician Dr. Ignatz von Zauber in recognition of his twenty-five years of service in the city of Munich’s government. Fritz von Miller, was a second-generation bronze-caster, as well as a goldsmith and designer. In 1864, he began his plans for the Zauber inkwell in partnership with Adam Hausinger, who was also a jeweler to the House of Bavaria. The inkwell is ornamented with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds and includes mythical and allegorical figures such as Hercules and the Hydra, Time, and Victory.

Fritz von Miller (German, 1840-1921) and Adam Hausinger (1820-1908). Jewel- and gem-set inkstand, 1864. Silver, gilt-bronze, and enamel. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Ceramic Clock

Founded in 1877 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the Low Art Tile Works was one of the foremost decorative tile firms in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. John Gardner Low and his father John Low began their decorative tile business after being inspired by the European tiles at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. While the majority of their tiles were used as architectural wall decorations, the company also created self-supporting pieces like this ceramic clock. Low Art Tiles are featured throughout the Driehaus Museum, including as a decorative feature on the walls of the Reception Room and the Smoking Room.

J. & J. G. Low Art Tile Works (American, 1877-1907). Clock, 1884. Glazed tile and gilt bronze. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Curtain Border Floor Lamp

The curtain border design on this lamp is one of the most popular patterns created by Tiffany Studios. It was one of the firm’s first designs, and it remained in continuous production for many years. The floor lamp is constructed with the trademark Favrile glass in red, yellow, orange, and green hues and is topped with a pigtail finial. This lamp is unique to Tiffany’s other pieces in that the shade cannot be detached from its base.

Tiffany Studios (American, 1902-1932). Curtain trim floor lamp, c. 1900. Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

A Wanderer in the Elysian Fields

Charlotte Major Wyllie exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, a progressive institution that featured Aesthetic Movement art and supported female artists.  Wyllie actively painted for a relatively brief period, and A Wanderer in the Elysian Fields was the last of the ten pieces she exhibited at the gallery.  In classical mythology, the Elysian fields were the final resting place of heroes and others favored by the gods. This work indicates Wyllie’s enthusiasm for symbolism, specifically through the use of flowers. White lilies symbolize the restored innocence of a departed soul after death, while light pink roses symbolize gratitude and peace. Wyllie was influenced by many of her fellow artists at Grosvenor, including Edward Burne-Jones and other members of the avant-garde Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Charlotte Major Wyllie (English, 1864-1950). A Wanderer in the Elysian Fields. Oil on canvas. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Patinated Cast Bronze Vessel & Bronze Phoenix Candelabras

The West’s fascination with Japanese art expanded rapidly when trade routes with Japan opened in 1854. The Nickersons were connoisseurs of Japanese art, and these pieces from the Meiji period have held a prominent spot in the mansion since at least 1888. The style of the Meiji period sought to provoke dramatic effects with symbolic themes from Japanese history and folklore that were invigorated with a hyper-detailed realism.

Artist unknown, Japanese, Meiji period. Patinated cast bronze vessel (center) and two phoenix-form candelabra (at sides), c. 1893. Original to the Nickerson Mansion. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Twenty-Four Light Chandelier

This twenty-four light chandelier, now seen in the Dining Room of the Driehaus Museum, was originally housed in the billiards room of Governor Milton Latham’s Thurlow Lodge in Menlo Park, California. The chandelier was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by the Herter Brothers, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms of the Gilded Age.  The firm’s clients were prominent members of the Gilded Age elite, including the Vanderbilts and the Palmers.  Herter Brothers remains one of the most celebrated cabinetmakers of the period.

Herter Brothers (American, 1864-1906), attributed. Chandelier, ca. 1872-73. Originally of Thurlow Lodge, Menlo Park, California. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Neo-Empire Sphinx Chairs

Designed by George A. Schastey to complement the interiors of the Drawing Room, these satinwood sphinx chairs were made in the Neo-Empire style and are original to the Nickerson Mansion. The Neo-Empire style derived from Napoleon’s victorious return from his Egyptian campaign in 1798. His success led to intense research and archaeological findings in Egypt. The fascination of Egyptian culture spread when Egyptian elements and themes such as sphinxes, scarabs, and winged lions, emerged in all aspects of fashion and the applied arts world.

George A. Schastey (American, 1839-1894). Neo-empire style armchair, ca. 1883. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Gothic Style Memorial Chandelier

This Gothic Revival chandelier was designed by Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century. Currently hanging in the Smoking Room, the crown-like fixture is made of gilt bronze and blown glass. The wide central band of the chandelier features “drapery” glass, which is a cloudy, opalescent type of glass invented by Tiffany Studios to recreate the appearance of folds and ripples seen in draped fabric. The chandelier was purchased or commissioned from Tiffany Studios by the children of Mary Bliss Hodges Clark, a fact known by the Gothic-lettered inscription around the interior of the shade: “A memorial by her children to Mary Bliss Hodges Clark, who died January 16, 1899 in the seventy-second year of her age.”

Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company (American, active 1892-1902). Gothic Style Chandelier. Blown glass, gilt bronze. Dimensions: H: 36 x Diam.: 24 in. (91.4 x 61 cm). Photograph by Steve Hall of Hedrich Blessing.

Agnes Northrop Landscape

This landscape watercolor displayed in the Drawing Room was painted by Agnes Northrop (1857-1953), one of the original six workers of the Tiffany Studio Women’s Glass Cutting Department. Largely ignored and uncredited during her lifetime, Northrop was an accomplished stained-glass designer, photographer, and painter, as evidenced by this gouache and oil landscape. Although it is unknown where she received her artistic training, she most likely met Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late 1880s. By the 1890s, she had forged an independent role for herself within the studio, using her artistic abilities to pioneer landscape stained-glass windows. The landscape painting within the Driehaus Museum’s collection is most likely of a scene in Flushing, New York, where Northrop grew up. She stayed with Tiffany Studios until it closed and remained active as a designer of leaded windows until age 94.

Agnes Northrop (1857-1953). Landscape, c. 1890-1925. Gouache and oil on board. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

James Pradier Sappho Sculpture

This Neoclassical bronze sculpture of the archaic Greek poet Sappho, on display in the Smoking Room, is by the French artist James Pradier (1790-1852). Sappho is known for her poetry that was written to be sung and accompanied by a lyre. Most of her poetry is now lost, and what remains has survived only in fragmentary form. The original life-sized marble version of this sculpture—currently in the collection of the Museé D’Orsay in Paris—was exhibited during the Salon of 1852 in Paris, France. Pradier died unexpectedly in June of that year, and a black veil was draped over the statue for the duration of the Salon in memoriam to the much-admired sculptor. Pradier was posthumously awarded the Salon’s Medal of Honor for Sappho. The French foundry Susse Frères gained the rights to reproduce smaller bronze replicas of the sculpture—it was replicated as both a standalone bronze sculpture, as seen in the Smoking Room, and as a mantel clock.

James Pradier (1790-1852), cast by Susse Frères foundry. Sappho, c. 1852. Patinated bronze. Photo by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Louis Comfort Tiffany Candelabrum

In 1893, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed a richly extravagant Byzantine-inspired chapel interior for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that brought him international acclaim few American artists achieved at the time. The chapel interior was installed adjacent to the Tiffany & Co.’s pavilion in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building. In the 1880s, there was a boom in the building of religious structures, and the Tiffany & Co., followed by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, positioned themselves as the preferred designers for liturgical objects and decor within those newly erected buildings.

At least two of these Benedictine candelabra were created for the World’s Fair exhibit and according to A Synopsis of the Exhibit of the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, published in 1893 in conjunction with the fair, they were displayed in an adjacent ecclesiastical gallery “external to and at one side of the chapel.” At about four feet tall, the candelabrum has two tiers of candle cups—seven above and five below, raised on slender, curved arms—that are each decorated with coiled bronze wire and inset with four opalescent glass cabochons. The intricate workmanship of this candelabrum demonstrates the virtuosity of Tiffany’s firm in ecclesiastical designs.

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (American, 1892-1900). Benedictine Candelabrum, 1893. Bronze, molded glass. Gift of Richard H. Driehaus, Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, RHDM.2017.2.88. Photograph by John Faier, © Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2013.