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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms At The Art Institute Of Chicago (Hudson Hills Press) Miniature Rooms begins with a brief history of Mrs. Thorne and how the rooms came to be. The rest of the book is a complete catalog of the Rooms, divided into two sections - the European rooms and the American rooms. Every room is beautifully photographed from at least two angles, using the existing lighting in the rooms so that each has the same realistic quality enjoyed in the Institute. Along with each photograph is a description of the room and its furnishings.

Generations of visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago have been entranced by the Thorne Rooms. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these intriguing models offer intricately detailed views of European interiors from the 16th century through the 1930s and of American furnishings front the 17th century to 1940. The sixty-eight miniature rooms were conceived by Chicago socialite Mrs. James Ward Thorne and made between 1934 and 1940 by a number of skilled craftsmen according to her exacting specifications. Many of the rooms were inspired by specific interiors in historic houses or by museum installations or period rooms. Others combine features copied from various houses, palaces, and sites Mrs. Thorne visited during her extensive travels.

In this handsome, newly designed and revised edition of one of the Art Institute's most popular books, each room is shown in full view, including eight two-page spreads that immerse the reader in several of the interiors. Full-color details provide a closer view of specific objects mentioned in the text, and a number of Mrs. Thorne's original drawings are reproduced to actual scale. The introductory essay chronicles Mrs. Thorne's creation of the rooms, while individual commentaries provide information about each interior. This is a volume that will prove irresistible to collectors, miniaturists, architects, historians, interior designers, and the general public alike.

More than twenty years have passed since the first edition of this book, a period in which the Art Institute of Chicago's Thorne Miniature Rooms have been reinstalled and their gallery redecorated. It therefore seemed an opportune time to revisit the text and illustrations of this publication. The painstaking, original color transparencies by Chicago photographers Kathleen Culbert-Aguilar and Michael Abramson have been augmented with new photographs by the museum's Department of Imaging. The introductory text by Bruce Hatton Boyer has been amended where necessary, as have the late Fannia Weingartner's entries on the individual rooms. We believe these changes provide an enhanced treatment of the Thorne Miniature Rooms for a twenty-first century audience.

Now more than ever, Mrs. Thorne's miniature rooms can be seen as a representation of the social history of art as it was understood in the first half of the twentieth century. Scattered through the introductory text and entries are Mrs. Thorne's comments on the sources for and construction of the individual rooms. These testify to an acute, creative intelligence; her references indicate that she was familiar with the latest studies on English, French, and American furniture. Mrs. Thorne's interest in fashioning such rooms was no doubt stimulated by the example of Chicago-based architect David Adler (188z-1949)• A trustee of the Art Institute, Adler drew from many of the same historical periods as Mrs. Thorne when purchasing decorative arts for his clients and the museum. Like Mrs. Thorne, Adler collected images of furniture and fabrics that inspired the residences he designed, and the uncanny sense of proportion and scale of his interiors invites comparison with hers.

The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of period rooms, which can still be viewed in some American and European museums. Their purpose was twofold: on the one hand, they constituted a kind of surrogate travel for those unable to afford the real thing; on the other, they conjured up the past in a three-dimensional form, bringing it to life through the interior design, furnishings, and utensils of bygone eras. Today, these reconstructions are sometimes criticized as problematic or even inauthentic; yet there is no denying that Mrs. Thorne's rooms were grounded in real models. She and her staff produced over five hundred drawings that record the ornate detail of specific pieces in each room. For several of the entries, we have included a related drawing to show the actual scale of an object as it appears in the gallery.


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