The paper interprets a previously ignored document within the context of Sullivan's earlier and later theoretical writings. The document, a version of "Inspiration," in French, handwritten, and dated 1893, exists in the Sullivania archives at the Burnham Library of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago. It is not a translation of the earlier, 1886 version of "Inspiration," as it was previously thought, but an extensive revision intended to clarify a philosophy and theory of art which is at the basis of Sullivan's writings between 1885-1901. This document is also important because it amplifies our knowledge of Sullivan's ornament in the Union's exhibition headquarters, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. By placing this document within a French context, two issues can be clarified regarding Sullivan's relation to the French avant-garde and his pride at the international recognition of his ornament: 1) Although the French appreciated Sullivan's ornament because of its stylistic affinity with Art Nouveau design, they understood it to be based on a theory of art which corresponded closely to their own. Art Nouveau designers, and especially Symbolist painters, regarded the roles of the artist, art, and nature in terms similar to those expressed by Sullivan. 2) Regarding the more didactic quality of the 1893 version of "Inspiration," Sullivan changed the tenor of the earlier, romantic rhapsody to emphasize his relationship with avant-garde artists in France. In this respect, he considered himself an artist, not "merely" an architect. He believed that by beautifying construction he could cause building masses to transcend their materialistic conditions and thereby communicate spiritual ideas. He sought to achieve this through his ornament.
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Research Article| December 01 1980
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Lauren S. Weingarden; Louis H. Sullivan: Investigation of a Second French Connection. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 December 1980; 39 (4): 297–303. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/989527
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