The Magic of Murano Glass at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

A man looks at painting hanging in a gallery
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Above: Installation photography of Sargent, Whistler and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2021, Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum; Photo by Albert Ting.

Washington DC_The Smithsonian American Art Museum revisits Venice at the turn of the 20th-century in Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano. The exhibition explores how the revival of Murano glassmaking coincided with a surge of American tourists flocking to the city. Among them were John Singer Sergant, James McNeil Whistler, and other artists who came to explore and capture their impressions of the city and the people who worked in the trade. Sargent’s A Venetian Woman represents a beadworker carrying a bundle of light blue glass canes that will be cut down and polished to make beads, an important export product.

A young woman smiles at us while carrying light blue glass tubes.
John Singer Sargent, A Venetian Woman, 1882, oil on canvas, 93 3/4 x 52 3/8 in., Cincinnati Art Museum, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, 1972.37
A painting of a sunny view of Venice
Thomas Moran, A View of Venice, 1891, oil on canvas, 35 1/8 x 25 1/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, 1968.120.1

The revival was launched around 1860 by lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Antonio Salviati who assembled a team of top-notch glassmakers to make tiles for the restoration of mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica. Salviati soon branched out into other luxury goods and opened up his factory to visitors. Glassmaking had been a secretive business for centuries, so allowing visitors to witness this almost magical process helped drive on-the-spot sales and made these tours a must-see. 

Società Anonima per Azioni Salviati & C., manufacturer, Fenicio Goblet with Swans and Initial “S” Stem, ca. 1870, blown and applied glass hot-worked glass, 12 5/8 x 5 1/8 in. diam., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.469.6

Wealthy American collectors brought back stunning glassworks purchased after these visits. The final gallery shows how these objects would have been displayed in their homes and in museums. By donating some of their finest pieces to museums, these collectors helped spread the popularity of Venetian glass and turned these works into symbols of sophisticated elegance. 

Attributed to Vittorio Zanetti, Fish and Eel Vase, ca. 1890, blown and applied hot-worked glass, 12 x 4 1/4 x 5 1/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.469.2
Attributed to Giuseppe Barovier or Benvenuto Barovier, Conical Goblet with Entwined Serpents Stem, ca. 1880s, blown and applied hot-worked glass, 12 3/8 x 6 3/8 in. diam., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.469.7

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano is on view until May 8, 2022 and will travel to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas and the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut.

Below is an introductory video by Crawford Alexander Mann III, who organized the exhibition. An in-person public talk based on the exhibition will be held May 5 at the museum.

The Embassy of Italy in Washington D.C. is one of the many generous sponsors that have provided support for the exhibition. TWITTER | FACEBOOK

WHERE AND WHEN

Smithsonian American Art Museum closing May 8, 2022

Amon Carter Museum of American Art Fort Worth, TX  June 25, 2022 – September 11, 2022

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT  October 15, 2022 – February 27, 2023 

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