Historic Art Glass Window by George Maher, Louis Millet Sells for Record $120,000 at Treadway-Toomey A relic of Chicago’s Prairie School art glass circa 1901, the thistle window was designed for the James A. Patten house and implemented in vermilion, olive, opalescent and gold-foiled glass.
News-Antique.com - Nov 30,-0001 - OAK PARK, Ill. –- A Prairie School art glass window with an elaborate thistle design by architect George W. Maher fetched a record $120,000 at Treadway-Toomey Galleries’ 20th Century Art & Design Auction on May 7. Executed by stained glass master Louis J. Millet circa 1901, the triptych window was reclaimed from the James A. Patten house in Evanston, Ill. prior to its demolition in 1938. It had a presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.
“It’s a spectacular window,” said Rolf Achilles, curator of Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows in Chicago. “Maher was a highly regarded Midwestern architect who was not nationally known. He should have been. He was a very important regionalist.”
Millet was a creative genius whose considerable influence in Chicago’s Arts and Crafts movement has slowly been emerging to the fore. Educated at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Millet and his friend, George Healy, established an award-winning interior design firm in Chicago that produced some of the most innovative windows of the late 19th Century. In 1885, an INLAND ARCHITECT article described Healy & Millet’s work as so visionary that “after thousands of years of stained glass making, to be but a beginning.”
Maher was known for his rhythm motif theory in which he focused on an organic element and used it as the theme throughout the home in everything from textiles, furniture, millwork and ironwork to lighting and windows. The thistle pattern was one of the most complex of Maher’s designs.
“Maher used the thistle rather freely,” Achilles said. “He was playing on Louis Sullivan's use of acanthus leaves. Maher used the thistle like you might use acanthus, but he was updating a classical motif.”
Rich in symbolism, Maher chose the thistle for the Patten house to represent not only his client’s Scottish ancestry but also his conservative Presbyterian lifestyle. In ancient heraldry, the thistle was the royal badge of Scotland and remains its national symbol. The thistle also represents the suffering of Christ.
“It’s a grand window. It’s very Art Nouveau with a spider-like and web-like composition,” Achilles added. “The octagon is the web, and the flower becomes the spider. It's a wonderful composition. It looks like a spider coming down from one web to another -- a spider as seen against a window. The 19th Century loved the spider. Louis Comfort Tiffany and all sorts of artists did spiders. They’re such wonderful and strange geometric forms.”
The spider and its web were appropriate, prophetic symbols for Patten as well as the house. The spider is symbolic of wisdom, labor and prudence, while the spider's web represents human frailty and the temporary nature of earthly existence and riches.
A major force in the development of the Chicago Board of Trade, Patten was a speculator in wheat and other commodities who amassed a fortune worth $20 million by the time of his death in 1928. He served as Board President at Northwestern University and donated $2 million in gifts to the university in his lifetime.