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Window of the Month
Detroit Institute of Arts

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Featured Windows, August-September 2013

Detroit Institute of Arts

Building: Detroit Institute of Arts

City: Detroit

State: Michigan

This essay will discuss, in general, the expansive collection of medieval stained glass from before 1700 and located in The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan. The close to 70 pieces of all configurations rival the Cloisters in New York City, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Currently, and unfortunately or perhaps fortunately in the end, much discussion abounds in Michigan concerning the entire DIA collection due to the total assets of the Museum, in regards to the recent declaration of bankruptcy by the city of Detroit.

A sampling of this medieval collection can be seen on the DIA web sitei includes several roundels (5 or 6 total), a heraldic panel (ca 20 total), two figural panels (12 single lancets and several large multiple persons total), the chapel which contains a series of 11 Prophets and Palmists after the “Biblia Pauperum,” and, other significant pieces.ii

St. Wenselas of Bohemia

The representative piece featured here as the Window of the Month is St. Wenceslas (1510/1525) (70 7/8” x 23 7/16”), Accession # 58.111. What is noteworthy about this piece (and many of the other medieval pieces) is the investigation into replacement pieces which are documented in Stained Glass Before 1700 in the Midwest States,iii p 208. As you look at the photo the replacements are the triangular pieces of white cloak below the waist, and a few smaller pieces at both side of the panel.http://www.dia.org/object-info/653886fd-b92c-4f37-ad02-de1b56852d7c.aspx

There is a chart in the bookiv which documents the restoration symbols used in regard to all the stained glass pieces, ranging from “original pieces”, “pieces re-leaded in the most recent restoration”, “pieces replaced prior to the 19th century”, “stopgaps which were old glass used to fill missing parts of a panel”, “repainted original glass”, “and pieces that are reversed/flipped.”

In the Corpus publication, most of the DIA panels and pieces have, superimposed on the photos, several of the above mentioned restoration symbols which reveal the current condition, and in some cases, there are several symbols which indicate very close observation by those who examined the entire collection of stained glass.

Some may wonder how all these stained glass pieces came to The Detroit Institute of Arts? When museums first developed, it was popular for them to cater to significant patrons/donors/collectors that (1) traveled extensively to Europe, (2) were acquainted with art dealers here and abroad, (3) shared a passion for the art and (4) had a willingness to share their largess with the general public.

In the Detroit area were several patron/donor families that fell into this category: Edsel Ford (1893-1943) the only child of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company and his wife Eleanor Ford (1896-1976) had many medieval heraldic panels set into leaded windows at their own home in Grosse Pointe, in addition to their donations to the DIA; Ralph Harman Booth, first president of the Detroit Arts Commission and subsequent ambassador to Denmark; and his brother George Booth (1864-1949) who married Ellen Scripps, daughter of James Scripps owner of the local Detroit News and thru their travels purchased pieces for their home designed by Albert Kahnv; and K.T. Keller a significant 30 year employee with Chrysler Corporation, who with guidance from the DIA provided a great majority of the stained glass items in the late 1950s.vi

None of these people could have made the choices they did without assistance and direction from William Valentiner, the 1924-1945 Director of the DIA,vii and….. by the intensive collecting of William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951).

Now, one may ask what did William Randolph Hearst have to do with The Detroit Institute of Arts as he didn’t even live in Michigan? And, one may ask what Hearst’s involvement was in a significant number of medieval panels available for purchase in the late 1950’s?

There needs to be an understanding of the life of William Randolph Hearst who made a fortune in the newspaper business in San Francisco, Chicago and the publication of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and House Beautiful. Over the years, Hearst purchased huge amounts of antiques and art (perhaps as many as 20,000 pieces) to be used for his several residences, the most famous being Hearst Castle on the central California coast. However, these purchases, for the most part, were kept in several warehouses in New York until Hearst began to worry about inheritance taxes and the decline of his numerous businesses after the Depression.

At this point, mid 1930s, utilizing dealers in New York, the warehouse collections were put up for sale, and apparently sales were very slow….due to the pending war in Europe, the economy not yet recovered from the Depression, and just who/where wanted such large panels to be put on display? Gimbel Brothers department store in New York helped organize the sale, and by the early 1940s’ offered an 80 percent reduction on the unsold pieces. Fortunately most of the lots had been photographed and recorded which was very beneficial to researchers.viii

Some of the stained glass in the Hearst collections passed thru collectors to churches, one example being the Cathedral of St. Paul in Detroit as discussed in Stained Glass Before 1700 in the Midwest States, pp. 65-89. Recent research has determined the medieval windows came to the church via a church member, also a known contributor to the DIA, and the provenance shows the windows were purchased from a well-known antique dealer. These windows were first mentioned in an Autumn 1943 article in Stained Glassis.

Hearst died in 1951, and it was left to his estate and foundation to begin another dispersal of the collection, still in storage. Hence, many museums around the country benefited by this “dispersal”, as did The Detroit Institute of Arts, thanks to K.T. Keller (St. Wenceslas, Accession # 58.111) and many pieces of artwork.

So, the next time any readers of this essay are within driving distance of Detroit, please seriously consider spending a day, yes it will take that long, to view not only the medieval stained glass, but the entire collection of art…… http://www.dia.org/ yes, there are pieces of more contemporary stained glass at the DIA, two by Frank Lloyd Wright , the John La Farge ensemblexi and a Matissexii but when I was taking art history in the early 1990’s, I was amazed to realize many of the subjects of study discussed and pictured in the text book were here in Detroit. And yes all the art will still be here, regardless of the current bankruptcy situation.xiii


Bibliography: Show Bibliography

(MSGC 1994.0039)

Text by Barbara Krueger, Michigan Stained Glass Census, August , 2013.