Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

September 19, 2015–January 4, 2016

 

The world’s most important collection of wrought iron objects—door knockers, garden implements, jewelry, keyhole escutcheons, locks, bas reliefs, signs, strongboxes, surgical tools—from the Musée le Secq des Tournelles, complemented one of the most intriguing collections at the Barnes Foundation: the 887 pieces of European and American ironwork that punctuate the Foundation’s signature wall arrangements of old master and modern paintings. 

Albert C. Barnes underscored the formal affinities that these objects shared with the “motives and arabesques” in the paintings in his Gallery, neither identifying individual objects nor explaining their use. Often, he combined disparate objects—shoe buckles and door hinges, ladles and hasps—to create new forms. In a 1942 letter to the American artist Stuart Davis, Barnes noted that the anonymous craftsman of such functional items was “just as authentic an artist as a Titian, Renoir, or Cézanne.”

This exhibition explored the fabrication, function, and intricate ornamentation of approximately 150 masterworks from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen. They ranged in date from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, and they showed that iron is unexpectedly versatile, with its capacity to convey both masculine heft and an impossibly fragile delicacy that is hard to square with its industrial image. Objects ennobled with silver and gold inlays elevate iron—it's more than base metal. Some are deadly serious in their efficacy; others delight as much by their wit as by their exquisite intricacy—locks that represent their own function, for example, one with a built-in faithful guard dog or one with spring-loaded manacles ready to catch a lock-pick—an 18th-century sign in the shape of a greyhound that looks like something Calder might have made two centuries later, an early electrified bat-shaped night-light.

Assembled in the 19th century by Jean-Louis-Henri Le Secq Destournelles (1818–1882), the celebrated photographer of French architectural monuments, and his son Henri (1854–1925), the Le Secq collection was shown to great acclaim at the Exposition Universelle in 1900 and installed until the 1920s at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris. In the early 1920s, Le Secq acquired the deconsecrated church of Saint-Laurent in Rouen, where he lived and arranged his extensive collection of European and Middle Eastern objects by type, in distinctive, often symmetrical, wall arrangements and in custom-made vitrines. Barnes, who traveled frequently to France as he built his collection, is believed to have visited Rouen to see this impressive holding. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue containing an essay on Barnes’s collecting of metalwork, one on the collection at Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, and short essays on groups of works, and an illustrated glossary of technical terms.


PAST Exhibition programs

Circles exhibition preview
Friday, September 10
9 am–noon

Member preview lecture 
Friday, September 18 
11 am–noon

Strength and Splendor and Ellen Harvey: Metal Painting member preview 
Friday, September 18
11 am–5 pm

Opening party for Strength and Splendor and Ellen Harvey: Metal Painting 
Friday, September 18
6–9 pm 

First Friday! Double the Heat with Dos y Mas
Friday, October 2 
6–9 pm

VIP young professionals night reception 
Friday, October 23 
6:30–7:30 pm

Young professionals night: Haute Metal 
Friday, October 23 
7–10 pm

Premieres at the Barnes: Concert by the Aizuri Quartet 
Wednesday, October 28 
6–9 pm

Ironwork in the Barnes: Judith F. Dolkart in Conversation with Ellen Harvey 
Sunday, November 8 
2–3:30 pm 

Artful Tastings: A Curated Wine Tasting
Friday, November 20 
6–9 pm

Barnes’s Ironwork in Context 
Saturday, December 5 
11 am–noon


 

Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen was sponsored by

 

Morgan Stanley

The contributing sponsor was

Comcast

With generous funding from the William Penn Foundation.

This project was supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

NEA

Additional support for Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen was provided by the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund.

Support for Ellen Harvey: Metal Painting was provided by John H. McFadden and Lisa D. Kabnick.

 


Image: Sign “The Moor’s Head, 18th century. France, Alsace. Rolled iron, cut, polychromed, and gilded; fastened with rivets, 24 13/16 × 22 1/16 × 2 in. (63 × 56 × 5 cm). Inv. LS 3644. © Musées de la ville de Rouen—Agence La Belle Vie

Images from the exhibition

Locksmith’s Sign, The Dog

Launch Slideshow

Viking Key, 8th–10th centuries. Scandinavia.
Bronze inlaid with cordierite, 2 3/4 × 1 3/4 × 3/8 in. (7 × 4.5 × 1 cm). Inv. LS 447. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Shears, 17th century. France. Wrought iron, chisel-finished, 4 5/16 × 1 11/16 × 9/16 in. (11 × 4.3 × 1.4 cm).
Inv. LS 1403. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Pair of Hand-shaped Wall Lights, 16th century. Germany. Rolled sheet iron, cut, repoussé, and curled; wrought iron; the whole fastened with rivets, each: 8 7/16 × 6 1/8 × 7 1/16 in. (21.5 × 15.5 × 18 cm). Inv. LS 2013.3.1 and LS 2013.3.2. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Necklace from Suite of Jewelry of “Berlin Iron,” early 19th century. Germany. Cast iron with black lacquer, called “Berlin iron,” 16 1/16 × 2 3/4 × 3/16 in. (40.8 × 7 × 0.4 cm). Inv. LS 2003.1.418. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Necklace from Suite of Jewelry of “Berlin Iron,” early 19th century. Germany. Cast iron with black lacquer, called “Berlin iron,” 16 1/16 × 2 3/4 × 3/16 in. (40.8 × 7 × 0.4 cm). Inv. LS 2003.1.418. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen.

Locksmith’s Sign, “The Dog,” 19th century. France. Rolled iron and wrought iron, polychromed, 22 1/2 × 35 13/16 × 1 3/16 in. (57.2 × 91 × 3 cm). Inv. LS 4138. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Key of the Legion of Honor, c. 1815–1830. France. Wrought steel, finished with file and chisel, damascened with gold, gilded and enameled, 4 1/2 × 1 9/16 × 3/4 in. (11.4 × 4 × 1.9 cm). Inv. LS 993. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Escutcheon, 18th century. France. Wrought iron and rolled iron, stamped and with openwork, 7 5/8 × 6 7/16 × 5/16 in. (19.3 × 16.4 × 0.8 cm). Inv. LS S.N.3. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Draper’s Sign, “The Dry Tree,” first quarter of the 17th century. France, Paris. Wrought iron, stamped and polychromed, 43 5/16 × 31 1/8 × 5 15/16 in. (110 × 79 × 15 cm). Inv. LS 4030. Musée de la ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen

Cabaret Sign “Bat,” late 18th century–early 19th century. France. Wrought iron and rolled iron, repoussé, fastened with rivets; glass, 24 13/16 × 24 3/16 × 2 3/8 in. (63 × 61.5 × 6 cm). Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, inv. LS 2003.4.1