Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Furness Sublimation in Tile

Ceramic tiles rescued by pioneer Philadelphia preservationist Penelope Batcherer in the 1960s, when the wrecking ball reduced two Frank Furness banks to dust to make room for the colonial fantasy of Independence National Historical Park in the late 1950s. Provident Life and Trust Co, once on 409 Chestnut St., featured interior tiles depicting naturalistic flowers budding out of a pot. The three green shades create a sense of lightness and abstraction very different from Furness more typical brights. There is an element of japonism and a delicateness more akin to Oscar Wilde's aesthetic movement rather than the Furnessian machismo.

The second tile was in the exterior of the Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Co., also on bank row at 310-320 Chestnut Street. More geometric and bright, this tile illustrates the psycho-sexual sublimation in Furness's work.

Both tiles belong to the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Athenaeum, where they are currently on display for only two more weeks. They are well worth the visit to" Face and Form: The Art and Caricature of Frank Furness."

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States