from The Wolfsonian reveal how people living from 1850 to 1950 viewed the world
and their place in it—how art and design both reflected and contributed to
momentous changes in the human experience.
Selections from the Wolfsonian Collection
The Wolfsonian's collection of more than 200,000 objects documents the profound social and technological changes over a century that spans 1850 to 1950, from the height of the Industrial Revolution to the aftermath of the Second World War. This selection of works represents a small percentage of the overall collection of decorative and fine arts, design, propaganda, and material culture, but it helps to reveal how people living in this period viewed the world and their place in it—how art and design both reflected and contributed to momentous changes in the human experience.
model no. 106 (c. 1896) by Gino Coppedè (Italian, 1866–1927) and Officine MichelucciThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
This electric lighting fixture exemplifies the taste for historical revival styles that predominated in Europe in the late 19th century. Created for use as a post lamp at Florentine architect Gino Coppedè’s Castello Mackenzie in Genoa, its form reproduces the standard-bearing chimera that appears on the façade of the fifteenth-century Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. As with other modern elements in the castle, the electrical mechanism is hidden from view, emphasizing historical precedent rather than technological innovation.
Castello Mackenzie, Genoa, 1893–1905
The Castello Mackenzie is the first work and masterpiece of the Florentine architect Gino Coppedè (1866–1927). Commissioned by the Scottish insurance agent Evan Mackenzie to restore a 17th-century Genovese villa, Coppedè created a phantasmagoric castle that combined the Tuscan Quattrocento with references to modern artistic production.
Armchair (c. 1899) by Lars Trondsen Kinsarvik (Norwegian, 1846-1925)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Norwegian designers embraced ancient Viking myths at a time when Norway was trying to establish its political independence from Sweden (achieved in 1905). This richly decorated chair epitomizes the Viking revival style, also known as the "dragon style." Carved dragon heads peer over the back stiles, and intricate, colorful patterns adorn the chair's arms, back, and legs. Inspired by finds made at archaeological sites, Lars Trondsen Kinsarvik’s chair evokes the power of Norway's Viking past.
Theater chairs (1897-1901) by Hector Guimard (French, 1867-1942)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
French architect Hector Guimard’s design for the Humbert de Romans Concert Hall in Paris was inspired by sinuous forms found in nature, such as plant stems and roots. Completed in 1901 and accommodating as many as 2,000 persons, it was considered the largest such venue in Paris. The building was demolished around 1905, and only a few chairs and the organ survive. Guimard is best known for his similarly elaborate cast iron entrances to the subterranean stations of the Paris Metro.
Wintermorgen im Gußstahlwerk [Winter Morning in the Cast Steel Works] (1912) by Fritz Gärtner (German, 1882-1958)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The late 19th century saw the German landscape rapidly transformed by an extensive network of railroads, mines, and factories. Artist Fritz Gärtner’s painting of a steel works in the Ruhr region updates the Romantic tradition in its presentation of this changing scenery, only the radiance of heavy machinery supplants nature as a source of the sublime.
La Vittoria del Piave [The Victory of Piave] (1917) by Arrigo Minerbi (Italian, 1881–1960)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Arrigo Minerbi named the statue La Vittoria del Piave to commemorate an important Italian victory during the First World War. It was at the Piave River that Italian troops stopped two major Austro-Hungarian and German offensives in 1917 and from which Italy launched its own offensive in 1918. This bust is one of several sculptures by Minerbi bearing this title that depict Nike, the goddess of Victory, including a full figure in bronze struggling to take flight from a bridge spanning the Piave.
Chest (c. 1925) by Carl Malmsten (Swedish, 1888–1972)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Joining modern design principles with historical awareness, designer Carl Malmsten advocated for the creation of furniture marked by quality craftsmanship and materials, both of which are evident in the exotic wood inlays of this chest. The form itself is highly functional, while the intricate pattern pays deference to 18th-century Swedish decorative traditions.
Height and Weight Meter, model S (1927) by Joseph Sinel (American, b. New Zealand, 1889-1975) and International Ticket Scale CorporationThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cities around the world experienced a building boom as their populations and economies grew at astounding rates. In the United States, a new building type—the skyscraper—emerged, with a striking silhouette that became an inspiration to industrial designers. This scale, by pioneering industrial designer Joseph Sinel, borrows its telescoped shape from the skyscraper form. It was designed in 1927, eleven years after enactment of a New York City building ordinance requiring all buildings over a certain height to be set back at the top to let in light at the street level.
Smenili loshadei stal’nye koni [They Swapped Horses for Steel Steeds] (1928) by Trifon Podriabinnikov (Russian, 1887-1974) and Lomonosov Porcelain FactoryThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Porcelain joined other mediums of propaganda in promoting the Soviet industrialization drive of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The plate shown here celebrates one of the focal points of Soviet industrial policy: production of tractors, which were supposed to modernize the country’s agricultural sector almost overnight.
Dressing table (c. 1929) by Kem (Karl Emanuel Martin) Weber (American, b. Germany, 1889–1963)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Architect Kem Weber dispensed with traditional forms and historical references to develop styles that expressed the spirit of the times. Like other designers of his period, Weber embraced the machine as both a means of production and a fitting symbol of modernity itself. This vanity for a luxury apartment in San Francisco is characterized by horizontal lines and rounded corners, recalling the skyscrapers that had come to define the skylines of many American cities.
Leicester Square (c. 1930) by Edward Johnston (British, 1872-1944)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
One of the iconic graphic symbols developed in the 20th century is the London Transport roundel made up of a bar and circle—literally the car and tube. In 1915 Frank Pick commissioned typographer Edward Johnston to design the Underground's clean sans serif typeface which over time was incorporated within the design.
For the waiting room of Crane-Bennett, Ltd. London (1931) by Edwin L. Lutyens (British, 1869-1944)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In 1911 Sir Edwin L. Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, both British, were commissioned to design the new capital of British India, New Delhi. Among other projects Lutyens developed designs for the British governor’s residence, where he developed what would be called the “Delhi order,” a hybrid style combining classical European design features with Mughal architecture and symbols of Buddhist and Hindu worship. This chair, also designed by Lutyens for a showroom in London, similarly marries an 18th–century neoclassical chair form with the Delhi order bell motif.
model 301 (1932-34) by Marcel Breuer (American, b. Hungary, 1902-1981) and Embru-Werk A.G.The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In 1933 the Swiss manufacturer Embru-Werk A.G. began producing furniture designed by Marcel Breur, a student and later an instructor at the Bauhaus school in Germany. Breuer pioneered the use of tubular steel for home furnishings beginning in the 1920s. Originally conceived as a cantilevered form in tubular steel with no rear supports, a secondary support strut (patented in 1933) was added because the bands of aluminum were too weak to support the weight of a sitter. Marketed for interiors, this non-traditional furniture line was not a commercial success until the manufacturer began promoting it for outdoor use.
Audiola (1933) by Piero Bottoni (Italian, 1903–1973) and Compagnia Generale di ElettricitàThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Compagnia Generale di Elettricità, a subsidiary of General Electric, became a leading producer of radios in Italy in the late 1920s. The Milanese Rationalist architect Piero Bottoni’s case for this radio included features, such as simple, clean lines and sliding panels (that could cover the speaker and dials when not in use), that recalled his architecture. Bottoni originally named the radio Baby, but the Fascist regime banned the use of foreign words as product names.
Radio Broadcasting (1933) by Donald R. Dohner (American, 1892-1943) and Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing CompanyThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Displayed by Westinghouse at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, this panel was one of six illustrating the company’s achievements, including establishing the world’s first commercial radio station, KDKA. The triptych uses a map motif to show how KDKA “has made the world a neighborhood,” as radio waves emanating from the station’s Pittsburgh headquarters carry news, music, sports, and religious services to distant (often exoticized) regions. The panels were made with Micarta, a new laminate the company hoped to promote for such varied uses as interior decoration and mass merchandising.
Le Chasse [The Hunt] (1935) by Jean Dunand (Swiss, 1877–1942)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The SS Normandie was considered the world’s largest, fastest, and most luxurious ocean liner when launched in 1935. It featured works by highly respected French artists and designers, including Jean Dunand, who created a mural for the first-class smoking- room showing scenes of masculine recreation such as hunting. Dunand’s choice of materials and techniques—carved, lacquered, and gilded plaster—was inspired by Japanese lacquer work and Egyptian gold-leaf bas-relief (found in King Tutankhamen’s recently excavated tomb). After the Normandie commission, Dunand created these panels, based on his designs for the mural, for a house in Palm Beach, Florida.
Normandie (1935-1941) by Peter Müller-Munk (American, b. Germany, 1904-1967) and Revere Copper and Brass, Inc.The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In the design of this pitcher, named after the
SS Normandie, German émigré Peter Müller-Munk was inspired by the aerodynamic shape of the hull of the renowned French ship.
Sintesi Fascista [Fascist Synthesis] (1935) by Alessandro Bruschetti (Italian, 1910-1980)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Futurist painter Alessandro Bruschetti’s triptych offers a vision of Italian identity shaped by two revolutionary and belligerent movements: Futurism and Fascism. Bruschetti employs the avant-garde aesthetics of Futurism to convey dynamism, speed, and mechanization, celebrating the modernity and might of Fascist Italy, while also referring to the regime’s veneration of ancient Rome.
The fasces—a bundle of rods bound to an axe—symbolized power in ancient times. Here, Bruschetti portrayed a series of highly abstracted fasces on the façade of 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, which celebrated a decade of Fascist power.
The monumental obelisk, inscribed with the word Dux [leader], is another invocation of the glory of the Roman Empire.
The multiple portrait of Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini is at the literal center of Bruschetti’s vision of modern Italy—seemingly looking to the past, the present, and the future at once.
Magic Chef (c. 1935) by American Stove CompanyThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
This model of the Magic Chef gas range from the mid-1930s has many features that make it hygienic and practical. Enameled and chromium-plated steel are non-porous and easy to clean, and the placement of the range above a supporting tubular-steel structure makes the floor under the range accessible for cleaning. Safety attributes include the rounded corners, flush doors, and burner covers.
Thermos, model no. 549 (1935) by Henry Dreyfuss (American, 1904–1972) and The American Thermos Bottle CompanyThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Metal vacuum-flasks, like this one designed by Henry Dreyfuss and manufactured by the American Thermos Bottle Company, effectively maintain the temperature of their contents. Made of enameled metal, it has a hard surface that serves as a barrier against bacteria and is easily sanitized in hot water. These qualities, combined with attractive streamlined styling, made housewares like this pitcher appealing to hygiene-concerned homemakers.
Subway (c. 1935) by Daniel Ralph Celentano (American, 1902–1980)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Daniel Ralph Celentano’s painting of a New York City subway scene captures a novel aspect of the modern urban experience—the feeling of being alone in a crowd. The city’s advanced transportation system allowed for greater mobility, but it also forced strangers into close quarters. Celentano’s figures do not make eye contact, but instead retreat into their own worlds by reading, sleeping, or just staring into space. The scene presents a broad cross-section of city dwellers—young and old, male and female, black and white. The range of figures suggests that the artist worked from life sketches, giving to each an individual identity against a backdrop of anonymity.
VI Triennale (c. 1936) by Gio Ponti (Italian, 1891–1979) and Krupp, MilanThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Presented by the Krupp silver company at the 1936 Triennial in Milan, Gio Ponti’s tea service typifies the changing outlook of Italian design in the 1930s, which increasingly was defined by the unornamented geometry and functional concerns of the Rationalist movement.
Figurines and Medal (1938) by Richard Klein (German, 1890–1967) and Richard Förster (German, 1873–1956)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In Nazi Germany, propaganda that celebrated a “pure” German nation went hand-in-hand with campaigns of extermination against people deemed racially inferior. The figurines, representing members of the League of German Girls and the Hitler Youth, exploit the pure whiteness of unpainted porcelain in order to convey the Nazi ideal of racial purity. The medallion shows a young couple dancing around a pagan-inspired maypole—an agrarian tradition that supposedly expressed the true spirit of the nation. It commemorates a May 1 “Holiday of the German People.”
Radio Nurse (1937) by Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904–1988) and Zenith Radio Co.The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The Radio Nurse was the world’s first electronic baby monitor. In its design, Isamu Noguchi transposed the biomorphic shapes characteristic of his sculpture onto the form of the appliance. Its development originated as a response by Zenith’s president to the notorious 1932 kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s
Trylon and Perisphere (c. 1938) by Wallace K. Harrison (American, 1895-1981) and Jacques André Fouilhoux (French, 1879-1945)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
During the Great Depression, United States world’s fairs offered visions of a brighter future. The 1939 New York World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, a former refuse dump rechristened the World of Tomorrow. Expressing the Fair's visionary outlook in monumental geometric form, the structures were reproduced widely on posters, pamphlets, and merchandise—as well as 49 models mounted on the roofs of limousines that traveled the country on a promotional tour. Futuristic appearance notwithstanding, their design (by architect Wallace K. Harrison) was partly inspired by the domes and campaniles of Venice.
Kubus [Cube] (1938) by Wilhelm Wagenfeld (German, 1900–1990) and Vereinigte Lausitzer Glaswerke AGThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The form of a product contributes to its efficient use of space and ease of cleaning. Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s iconic Kubus storage set is easy to clean, stacks efficiently in a cupboard or a refrigerator, and perfectly captured the Bauhaus commitment to well-designed and mass-produced objects.
Suicide with Skyscrapers (Man on the Ledge) (1940) by Stuyvesant Van Veen (American, 1901-1988)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
For people all over the world, the American skyscraper was an icon of progress and modernity in the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, images of the skyscraper metropolis often evoked social isolation, even despair. Artist Stuyvesant Van Veen was a lifelong New Yorker who saw the city undergo massive demographic, economic, and architectural changes over his lifetime. Though present-day viewers might think first of the rash of suicides at the start of the Great Depression, this painting was produced more than ten years later. It might instead reflect the sense of anonymity and loneliness felt by many city workers.
New York’s World Fair (1940-41) by Robert Knight Ryland (American, 1873–1951)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In this painting of the fairgrounds at the 1939 New York World’s Fair Robert Knight Ryland captures the scale of the event—the curved shadow in the lower left corner is cast by the Trylon and Perisphere, the fair’s theme center, and the shadow on the right is cast by people lining up on the Heliclene, or ramp, waiting to enter the enormous structure.
A Better Home (1941) by Lester Beall (American, 1903-1969)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Well into the 20th century, huge parts of rural America were not wired for electricity. Through agencies like the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration, the United States government in the 1930s set out to provide electricity to communities bypassed by private power companies. This poster by Lester Beall suggests that electricity would transform farm women’s daily work of providing food for the family from an onerous burden into a comfortable, efficient process. Clear, visually engaging, and utilizing newer techniques of photomontage and color-blocking, Beall’s poster was part of a series that he created for the Rural Electrification Administration.
Sláva Rudé Armádĕ / Privet Krasnoi Armii [Glory to the Red Army / Welcome Red Army] (1945) by Karel Šourek (Czech, 1909-1950), designer and Tibor Honty (Czech, 1907-1968), photographerThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Tibor Honty captured this moment on May 9, 1945, when Soviet troops entered Prague, ending more than six years of German occupation. Karel Šourek’s poster, produced later that year by the central organ of Czechoslovakia's labor movement, employs Honty’s photo and text in both Czech and Russian to express goodwill towards the Soviet Union.
Excellence 301 (c. 1947) by Sonora Radio S.A.The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Sonora Radio S.A., founded near Paris in 1932, was a subsidiary of a United States company and emphasized the American connection in both its advertising and product design. One of their successful products was the Excellence 301, which has a Bakelite case that mimics the front grill of a 1940s American car.
The Wolfsonian receives ongoing support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; and the City of Miami Beach, Cultural Affairs Program, Cultural Arts Council.