Denman Ross and American Design Theory
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In this masterful intellectual and cultural biography of Denman Ross (1853–1935), the American design theorist, educator, art collector, and painter who taught at Harvard for over 25 years, Marie Frank has produced a significant artistic resurrection. An important regional figure in Boston’s fine arts scene (he remains one of the largest single donors to the collections of the MFA to this day), Ross was a friend and colleague of Arthur Wesley Dow, Bernard Berenson, Jay Hambidge, and others. He gained national and international renown with his design theory, which ushered in a shift from John Ruskin’s romantic naturalism to the formalist aesthetic that characterizes modern art and architecture. Ross’s theory attracted artists, Arts and Crafts artisans, and architects, and helped shape architectural education, scholarship, and museum practices. This biography of an important intellectual figure is also a fascinating and illuminating guide to a pivotal point in American cultural history and a reminder of the days when Boston was America’s salon.
Ross’s papers, diaries, and teaching materials— and cheerful support made the time I spent at the archives one of discovery and pleasure. The staff at Harvard University Archives similarly always responded promptly and professionally. Jeanne Solensky brought a welcome sense of humor during my research at the Winterthur Museum and Library, and Helena Richardson graciously oversaw my requests for images from rare books and periodicals. Paul Dobbs and Richard McElroy of the Massachusetts College of
is cooled by it in the same measure, there is a harmony between them.’’ He also began to think of various experiments that demonstrated the effect of color: ‘‘Experiment I: Spread some rose madder on a small piece of paper. Then put discs of different values and see how the rose color becomes pale and brilliant accordingly as you put a light or a dark disc against it.’’ And he accompanied his entry with a drawing of two inset 48 : Denman Ross & American Design Theory figure 1.6 Joseph Lindon
relationship with the MFA and its school. In 1892 he donated $100 to the school for illustrations of decorative design and gave a lecture on ironwork (he gave additional lectures in 1894). He continued his habit of loaning or giving the museum objects he collected on his travels (his ﬁrst loan was in 1883, his ﬁrst gift in 1887); in 1895 the museum appointed him a trustee, a position he retained until his death. In 1897 he helped found the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, and in 1898 he
enthralled him: ‘‘The results of painting in the impressionist way were unprecedented and wonderful. The correspondence between the facts of vision and the terms of painting (lines and spots of paint) was, possibly, perfect; the subject and the canvas being seen in the same light. I began to buy impressionist paintings and began to produce them myself; not without success.’’≤∞ In 1891 he purchased Monet’s Valley of the Creuse (Gray Day) (1889) from the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. In his own
of his writings may indeed have tempered Berenson’s interest in purely scientiﬁc explanations of perception. When looking at a work of art, Berenson always came back to the ecstasy of appreciation: ‘‘I can be uplifted, transported, and enraptured, I can sing and dance within myself.’’∏∫ This awareness of German theories and later ambivalence may have served as one source of the friendly quarrels between Ross and Berenson. Berenson’s Pateresque response to a work of art could have checked Ross’s