About This Artwork

Louis H. Sullivan
American, 1856-1924

Schlesinger and Mayer Store: Circular Medallion from a First Floor Elevator Grille, 1903/04

Bronze plated cast iron
Diam. 56 cm (23 5/8 in.)

Restricted gift of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1971.450

Louis Sullivan's vision of architecture was largely independent of historical precedent. His philosophy of architecture and ornament was based on a highly individualistic interpretation that saw the perfect building as one whose physical characteristics expressed factors unique to the building such as materials, structures, site, and function. When Sullivan applied this philosophy to the design of architectural ornament, he developed an organic style, which derived its forms from nature and geometry. This circular medallion is composed of a central cross from which four flat shields radiate, employing the sinuous geometry of his previous period as a background against which more fluid shield-shaped and organic motifs are seen. The Schlesinger and Mayer Store was Sullivan's last large commercial commission. The department store, known since 1904 as Carson Pirie Scott and Company, attests to Sullivan's design virtuosity. The facade's unbroken cellular wall, composed of plate-glass windows in neat rows, rises above two floors of ornamental cast-iron work. Surrounding the street-level windows and encrusting the entrance pavilion at the corner are design motifs derived from geometry and natural forms. Sullivan carried these motifs into the interior, which richly detailed balusters contain stylized seed forms and interlaced ribbons on a background of geometric shapes. The elevator medallion was installed at the hand height on the original cage elevators, which were removed for fire safety reasons.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Art Institute of Chicago, Fragments of Chicago's Past, 1988-ongoing, Gallery 200, cat. no. 72.

Publication History

Art Institute of Chicago. 1990. Fragments of Chicago's Past: The Collection of Architectural Fragments at The Art Institute of Chicago. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago, cover and cat. no. 72.

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