Toward Modernism — Upcoming Talk about Charles Rohlfs at Cooper-Hewitt

What: Lecture: The Interiors of Charles Rohlfs
When: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 6:30 p.m
Where: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, NY

Tombstone of Charles Rohlfs in Buffalo, NY
Tombstone of Charles Rohlfs in Buffalo, NY

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936) had quite a career in his life. He was an actor, artist and designer. As a furniture maker, he rode along the high trends that included the Aesthetic Movement, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and proto-modernism.

Joseph Cunningham, curator of American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation and author of The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs will give a lecture on Charles Rohlfs’s unknown interiors created during the period 1904 to 1909.  I have seen some of the furniture he made during that period. The narrow and tall character has a tint of Gothic Revival, but its inventive design with more simplified straight lines epitomized Arts and Crafts style. It is also intriguing to me because some of the chairs indicate a strong influence of  traditional Asian style.

Charles was a native Brooklynite and went to Cooper-Union. It is not surprising that his furniture has become sought-after for the past few years. It has a more modern looking that can please both the boomers and yuppies yet with an exquisite complexity that Ikea could not match. Furthermore, another feature probably contributes his ever-growing fame: signature. Collectors love signed furniture; even a soap-hollow painted chest could reach 5 digits a few years ago simply because it was signed and dated. Rohlfs did something better: He marked most of his works with a hard-to-copy incised little drawing of a bow saw around an “R” and filled the incisions with red wax.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 – 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that “his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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