At the Carnegie, A Bradley and Hubbard Sconce that Time Travels

THE DAILY PIC: This Victorian object looks more like 1980s postmodernism.

sconce 2011.9-1

THE DAILY PIC (#1431): I’d be the first person to acknowledge the holes in my art-historical knowledge, but when I first glanced at this object in the permanent collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, I was surprised by my utter inability to imagine where it might have been made, or when. Second and third glances didn’t help much. A label filled me in: It’s a mirror with two candlesticks, meant to be hung on the wall as a sconce, and it was made (wait for it) in America in the Victorian era, circa 1885, by the Bradley and Hubbard Mfg Co.

That really brought me up short, since it turns out that five years ago almost to the day – and about 1,400 Pics ago as well – I Daily Pic’d another piece of weirdness by B. and H., although that earlier plant-stand now seems almost genteel compared to today’s sconce. I just can’t figure out how its crude, industrial decorativeness fits into the aesthetic world of 19th-century America. Or was this precisely the kind of object that someone like William Morris was inveighing against?

If you’d asked me, cold, to i.d. today’s Pic, I’d have guessed that it was a Memphis-inspired piece from the 1980s. Same guess I made about that other piece in 2010, I now realize. (Carnegie Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Purchase Fund)

Both times, I’d only have been off by 100 years.

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