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Tall Back Chair, 1904

Artist: Frank Lloyd Wright, American, 1867 - 1959

Medium: Oak

52 x 16 1/4 x 19 1/4 in. (132.1 x 41.3 x 48.9 cm)

Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided through exchange by Mary Ann Robinson and the Decorative Arts Trust

Object Number: 86.21

On View

Frank Lloyd Wright was perhaps the best-known figure in the emergence in the 20th century of the first distinctly American architecture and design. After working in the office of the architect Louis Sullivan, Wright opened his own studio in Chicago in 1893, and soon developed his Prairie School style. He designed low, horizontally oriented houses with open, uncluttered interior spaces to mirror the flat midwestern countryside, and created complementary interior fittings and furniture for many of them that reinforced the feeling of openness and simplicity.

 

This high-back chair was designed by Wright for the dining room of the Prairie School style house built in Peoria, Illinois, for Francis W. Little in 1903. Its strong vertical orientation was intended to balance the horizontal lines of the room, as well as the table at which it stood. The chair is a powerful combination of rectilinear elements, making no concessions to the contours of the human body. The solid back panel between two substantial posts begins at the back stretcher near the floor, rises above the seat, and terminates in a horizontal panel forming a crest capped with a simulated cornice. Moldings at the base of the back posts heighten the architectural effect of the chair. Flat surfaces are broken and softened by narrow intersecting strips of wood applied to the crest, posts, and base of the seat rail and by the stretchers. Wright’s characteristic commitment to simplicity is evident in the form of the piece and the plain, solid fabric covering its seat.

 

The construction of the chair reflects Wright’s preference for the use of natural materials and modern technological innovations. Indigenous white oak was cut and planed to an even, uniform surface by machine, revealing the wood’s distinctive rays. New industrial technology also made possible the use of more precisely cut, hidden joints than those found in handcrafted work. The materials, construction methods, and dark-stained finish matched those used on the walls of the dining room. Though carefully designed and fabricated to integrate into the architectural context of the Little House, this chair, when viewed alone, is a striking piece of sculpture.