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Huntington and LACMA go shopping for a chair

November 24, 2009 | 11:00 am

Mackmurdo1 Can a chair be a ravishingly beautiful, fascinating and revolutionary object as well as a place to sit?

That’s what art specialists at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art say about a recent joint acquisition. The elaborately carved mahogany chair, unveiled in 1885 at the “Inventions Exhibition” in Liverpool and subsequently known as a precursor to the Art Nouveau movement, is the work of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, an English architect, graphic artist and craftsman.

The last of five known chairs in a set to come on the market, it will go on view in December at the Huntington in a suite of galleries devoted to the British Design Reform movement. Two years later, it will move to LACMA and join a new display of international Arts and Crafts furniture.  Acquired in a 50-50 ownership arrangement, the chair is expected to continue traveling across town every two years.

Sharing a desirable object may be a sign of the times, when few museums can buy what they want without passing the hat. But it’s also a way of avoiding local competition.

A “sensible” move, said John Murdoch, director of the Huntington’s art collections, in a statement released by the San Marino institution. “It simply seems the smartest way to build strength in depth when neighboring institutions collect in the same area.” 

Three other Mackmurdo chairs from the same set are in London, one at the Victoria and Albert Museum and two at the William Morris Collection. The fourth belongs to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: Art Nouveau chair by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo. Credit: Huntington and LACMA