“To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain ecstasy, is success in life,” wrote Walter Pater, the English literary and art critic, in 1873. Concerned about industry’s negative affects on nature, Pater argued for a return to an artistic tradition that privileged aesthetic beauty over social realism: “While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion.” His writings, and the changing environment, led many artists and writers, in his own century and the next, to idealize the natural world. This virtual exhibition shows how turn-of-the-century designs—delicate vases, brooches, watches, and the like from Louis Comfort Tiffany to Emile Gallé—reflect not only the advanced botanical and technological knowledge of the age, but also a desire to keep the “hard gemlike flame” of nature’s beauty alive amid urbanization and industrialization. —C.J.F.
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum 2 E 91st St, New York, NY 10128, United States Get Directions »