About the Exhibition

In 1884 the American industrialist Henry Gurdon Marquand (1819–1902) commissioned noted British artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) to design a Greco-Pompeiian music room for his new Madison Avenue mansion. It was an era when designing luxurious rooms in different styles—Renaissance, Moorish, Japanese, French—was popular among the affluent, and this trend was well represented in other mansions being built along the fashionable avenues in New York. Although Alma-Tadema was most famous as a painter of scenes set in antiquity, he was also known for the imaginative interiors of his own residences. The Marquand music room commission resulted in one of the most evocative interiors of late nineteenth-century New York, featuring a suite of elaborately inlaid furniture alongside textiles, paintings, sculptures, and ancient ceramics in a room that showed off Marquand’s collections while serving as a center for social events and musical performances. It was an unusual project for Alma-Tadema and showcased his abilities as a designer.

After Marquand’s death in 1902, his family sold the contents of the house at a highly publicized auction, and the mansion was torn down in 1912. The contents of the music room were dispersed and can now be found in various museums and private collections. Orchestrating Elegance looks at the history of this exceptional moment in Alma-Tadema’s career and reunites many of the extraordinary components of this lost room for the first time in more than a century.

Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design is organized by the Clark Art Institute. Generous contributors include Sylvia and Leonard Marx and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Coby Foundation, Ltd., Jeannene Booher, Carmela and Paul Haklisch, and Robert D. Kraus. The exhibition catalogue has been published with the generous support of the Gerry Charitable Trust, with additional support from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.