Friday, July 15, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's Dinnerware

If one comes across a place setting of porcelain dinnerware by Frank Lloyd Wright, sorting out which edition it comes from is a little complex.  But first the hotel; Wright was commissioned in 1913 to design a Western-style hotel in Tokyo. Construction began on the Imperial Hotel (it was owned by the family of the Emperor) in 1917 and completed in 1922.  Wright designed every detail of the hotel's interior including the dinnerware that was produced by the Noritake Company.  

Frank Lloyd Wright "Cabaret" dinner service, 1962-1968.  Four, six-piece place settings, porcelain.  Manufactured for the Imperial Hotel.

 The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo 1923.

There were two designs. The first was printed with 22 carat gold and was produced from 1923 to 1933. This proved extremely expensive and so the so-called Cabaret service was introduced and in the opinion of some, including this writer, was the better service, a playful asymmetrical design of colored bubbles tumbling towards the center of the plate. The set looks particularly effective when stacked. The four settings on auction were acquired by a couple on regular trips to Japan. All were made for the hotel between 1962 and 1968 and the dates are part of the mark.  This work should not be confused with a limited edition from Heinz and Company that was issued in 1984, nor the second edition produced by Tiffany and Company. The works on this auction are not reproductions but the real thing.

The hotel, a masterpiece that combined Prairie and traditional Japanese architectural styles with a strong dash of arts and crafts, was unfortunately demolished in 1968 after weathering several earthquakes unharmed (due to its advanced engineering) to make way for a new rather anonymous high-rise building. It was a highly controversial move and one that is deeply regretted today.  At least the dinnerware survived!    

Garth Clark

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