Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘An Important Window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, Illinois’, circa 1912, Sotheby's: Important Design
Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘An Important Window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, Illinois’, circa 1912, Sotheby's: Important Design
Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘An Important Window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, Illinois’, circa 1912, Sotheby's: Important Design

Dimensions: 17 5/8 x 33 5/8 in. (44.8 x 85.4 cm) excluding frame

From the Catalogue:

Wright’s Kinder-Symphony

Among Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important designs in glass are the windows he designed for the Avery Coonley Playhouse. Wright designed the main Coonley house, in the Chicago suburb of Riverside, Illinois, in 1908, and the playhouse was added in 1912. Unlike the Coonley house with its hipped roof and rambling, asymmetrical, multilevel plan, the playhouse had a flat roof and formal cruciform plan. Wright called it a playhouse because it had a stage at one end and could be used as a small theater; it was, however, a school for Queene Ferry Coonley’s daughter, Elizabeth, and her friends, based on the progressive education ideas advocated by John Dewey.

According to Wright, the design of the Coonley Playhouse windows was inspired by a parade, with motifs he felt were suitable for a kindergarten. A preliminary study for the clerestory windows carries the inscription, “Balloons and Confetti.” Wright’s oldest son recalled that his father “bought colored gas balloons by the dozen—released them in the playroom [in his own house]—arranged and played with them by the hour.” This window is one of the most complex and elaborate of the clerestory windows executed for the project. Its asymmetrical composition includes a conventionalized American flag, a partial circle for a balloon, and small colored squares for confetti. The clerestory windows as a group contributed to Wright’s intention to integrate his decorative designs with his architecture.

Between the two Coonley projects, Wright spent most of a year in Europe, where he was preparing the publication of the Wasmuth portfolio in Germany, which brought his work to the attention of European architects. While abroad, Wright also saw modern European architecture firsthand, including modern works in Vienna by Adolph Loos and Otto Wagner, among others. The abstract window designs in the playhouse are related to nonobjective painting and design that Wright saw abroad, such as paintings by Francis Picabia and Frank Kupka. The windows represent a transition in his stained glass from symmetrical compositions in earth tones to abstract designs in primary colors. Although each window is a unique variation on a basic theme, they are unified by a strong horizontal leading near the top. The band of windows, placed end to end, encircled the room to form a continuous line, which Wright called a “kinder-symphony,” seen in the interior view.

The three tall windows in the front of the Coonley Playhouse were acquired in 1967 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the same year, the clerestory windows were removed from the house and sold; replicas of all the windows were later installed in the playhouse. Many of the original windows are now in museum collections. —David A. Hanks, Curator, The Liliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design

—Courtesy of Sotheby's

David Hanks, Frank Lloyd Wright, Preserving an Architectural Heritage, Decorative Designs from The Domino's Pizza Collection, exh. cat., Seattle Art Museum, Chicago Historical Society, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Denver Art Museum, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Dallas Museum of Art, New York, 1989, pp. 74-79 (for the commission and illustrations), 81 (for the present lot in context in the Avery Coonley Playhouse)
Terence Riley, ed., Frank Lloyd Wright: Architect, exh. cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 165 (for the present lot in context)
Thomas A. Heinz, Frank Lloyd Wright: Glass Art, Berlin, 1994, pp. 149-153 (for the commission and illustrations)
Julie L. Sloan, Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, 2001, pp. 112-122 (for the commission, illustrations, period photographs including with the present lot in context and artist sketches)
Judith A. Barter, Apostles of Beauty: Arts and Crafts from Britain to Chicago, Chicago, 2009, p. 184 (for an illustration of a related window from the same commission)

Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, Illinois
Domino's Center for Architecture and Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Christie's, New York, June 11, 1999, lot 13
Christie's, New York, December 14, 2012, lot 47
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Frank Lloyd Wright

During his 70-year career, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright championed a personal belief that architecture should address the physical, social, and spiritual needs of the inhabitant while remaining in harmony with the landscape. Wright, who punctuated nature with a capital “N”, placed great importance on the unity of man and nature and strived to compose environments where the architecture and land formed a unified whole, as in Fallingwater (1935), the house he built atop a waterfall. Throughout his career, Wright continually embraced the social and technological advancements of the 20th century and successfully aligned new opportunities with his values. In 1991, the American Institute of Architects named Wright “the greatest American architect of all time,” and in the same year, his Fallingwater home was voted “the best all time work of American architecture.”

American , 1867-1959, Richland Center, Wisconsin, based in Chicago, Illinois

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