Greene & Greene Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene - Design Masters New York Tuesday, December 15, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Robert Roe and Nellie Celeste Canfield Blacker, Pasadena
    L. Morgan Yost, acquired from the Blacker House lawn sale, circa 1947
    Thence by descent
    Ivey-Selkirk, St. Louis, “Twentieth Century Design,” April 19, 2002, lot 60
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    L. Morgan Yost, “Greene & Green of Pasadena,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians,” vol. 9, no. 1-2, March-May 1950, illustrated p. 17
    Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: Furniture and Related Designs, Salt Lake City, 1979, illustrated p. 63
    Thomas A. Heinz and Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: the Blacker House, Salt Lake City, 2000, illustrated p. 82
    Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek, A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene, exh. cat., The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, 2008, illustrated p. 10

  • Catalogue Essay

    Greene & Greene designed the present lot for Mr. and Mrs. Blacker’s dressing room along with a matching vanity, also formerly in the collection of architect L. Morgan Yost. Although the second floor of the Blacker House was not known to have been photographed in the period, the chiffonier is listed on the house inventory from the 1940s and an original drawing survives in Charles Sumner Greene’s papers at the University of California, Berkeley. Yost, an early admirer of Greene & Greene, acquired both companion pieces—the chiffonier and the vanity—at the Blacker House yard sale following Mrs. Blacker’s death in 1946.

    In December 1909, Mrs. J.W. Beswick-Purchas wrote to her brother and sister-in-law about a recent visit to the relatively new home of Robert and Nellie Blacker in Pasadena, California: “I find the outside of the house and the grounds very pretty and attractive – but my impressions after moving through the various rooms was that this architect has let his fancy run riot in wood! There is so much wood about the outside that when one finds oneself encased in wooden rooms, wooden, wall, wood ceilings, wood floors, wood fixtures for light – well, one has a little bit the feeling of a spider scrambling from one cigar box to another.”

    “This architect” was not one, but two, the brothers Charles and Henry Greene, who had designed the Blackers’ 12,000 square-foot house two years before. What Mrs. Purchas had criticized as a “riot in wood,” however, was later reformulated by architect Ralph Adams Cram as praise for the honest nature of the Greenes’ design, “a wooden style built woodenly.” In its honesty, and in its detail, the Blacker house represents a high-water mark in the Greenes’ oeuvre, both for its architecture and its furnishings. It is the largest and most elaborate of their masterworks, replete with all of the classic features of their mature design vocabulary.

    The Greenes had arrived in Pasadena in 1894 as recent graduates of the certificate program in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While the growth and success of their architectural practice in southern California hinged on the Greenes’ academic training and creative abilities, it also stemmed from the fortuitous combination of highly competent local craftsmen and wealthy, sympathetic clients. By the end of their first decade in practice, these factors had cultivated in the brothers the freedom to create increasingly progressive and artistic designs with few if any budgetary constraints. Changes in fashion and the limited number of clients, however, also meant that the Greenes most complete works—like the Blacker, Gamble, Thorsen, Culbertson, and Pratt houses—were realized over an all-too-brief period of only five or six years.

    The Blacker commission in particular was an ideal synthesis of client and timing in the Greenes’ career. It was the first estate they would design complete with landscape, and the first of what have been called their “ultimate bungalows.” These were (mostly) wooden houses, much larger in scale and more refined than the popular California bungalows. They were carefully sited and sensitively built to suit the climate, geography, and lifestyle of southern California.

    Robert Blacker, who had made his fortune in the Michigan lumber industry, had retired with his second wife, Nellie Celeste Canfield Blacker, to Pasadena in 1906. There they purchased one of the larger and more prominent sites in the exclusive Oak Knoll tract, an area relatively undeveloped, lending the Blackers’ five-and-a-half acres the feel of a country estate. The couple initially hired the nationally known firm of Hunt and Grey to design their new residence. By the end of 1906, however, architects Greene & Greene had replaced them.

    In 1907, Charles and Henry Greene were 38 and 37, respectively. They had been working with contractor Peter Hall and his brother John Hall, a cabinetmaker, since 1904. The two sets of brothers had developed a symbiotic relationship, and their combined work for the Blacker house is testament to their near-perfect union of art and craft. Additionally, Robert Blacker’s connection with the lumber business made it possible for the Greenes to have access to the finest quality woods – from high-quality redwood and Douglas fir for exteriors, to Honduras mahogany, Burmese teak, ebony, vermilion and ironwood for interiors and furnishings.

    In the Blacker house interiors, the Greenes were able to more fully explore the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” wherein the details and furnishings of each room were in perfect harmony with one another. The living room of the house is perhaps the best example of this philosophy. French doors on the east side of the room lead to a broad terrace that overlooked a lotus pond. The lotus motif is carried through in the living room’s plaster relief frieze, completely covered in gold leaf, which glowed in the soft light from six pendant leaded art-glass light fixtures, mosaics of green and yellow glass, in basket-like mahogany frames, picturing clusters of lotus blossoms.

    In all, the Greenes designed more than fifty light fixtures for the Blackers, in metal and wood with delicate inlay; numerous leaded-glass panels set into door and window sashes; and more than fifty pieces of furniture—many with intricate inlay and joinery. Together they would represent a coordinated work of art, one designed for modern, democratic, western living, while remaining true to the Arts and Crafts movement’s cherished principles of honesty and beauty. Englishman Charles Robert Ashbee, founder of the Guild of Handicraft and self-styled successor to William Morris, visited Charles Greene in 1909, afterwards writing in his diary:

    “Charles Greene then took us to his workshop where they were making without exception the best and most characteristic furniture I have seen in this country.... Here things are really alive-and the arts and crafts that all the others were screaming and hustling about, are here actually being produced.”

    The Greenes’ designs for the Blacker and Gamble houses were thus seen in their own time as representative of the highest ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the southern California and national chapters of the American Institute of Architects would rediscover the Greenes’ by-then long-neglected work, celebrating their “new and native architecture,” and “contributions to the design of the American home.” The designs of Greene & Greene ultimately became a model for the American response to the new International Style in architecture – as architect L. Morgan Yost would later write, “These are the most perfect houses, I believe, that have ever been built.”

    Anne E. Mallek, Former curator of The Gamble House, University of Southern California, Pasadena and co-author of The Gamble House: Building Paradise in California, 2015

Property of an Important American Collector


Chiffonier, from the dressing room of the master bedroom, the Robert R. Blacker House, Pasadena, California

circa 1908
Honduran mahogany, ebony, mirrored glass, patinated brass hardware, copper, pewter, mother-of-pearl and ash inlays.
69 5/8 x 55 x 27 3/4 in. (176.8 x 139.7 x 70.5 cm)
Produced in the workshop of John and Peter Hall, Pasadena, California.

$300,000 - 500,000 

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Design Masters

New York Auction 15 December 2015 5pm