The evocative blossoms of the Wisteria vine have captured the minds of artists spanning continents, centuries and artistic movements, ranging from the famed 18th century paintings of Japanese artist Ogata Kōrin to a series of leaded glass windows and lamps in the Art Nouveau style designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Clara Driscoll for Tiffany Studios in the early 1900s.
Yet Tiffany was not the only American designer at the turn of the twentieth century who translated these evocative cascading blooms into leaded glass.
Between 1903-05, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a series of leaded glass windows which transformed the Wisteria into the rectilinear forms of the Prairie Style for the residence of Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family.
We are thrilled to offer this rare and important example of Wright's leaded glass for sale.
Martin, a prominent businessman in Buffalo, first encountered Wright around 1902 when he was tasked with finding an architect to design the corporate headquarters of his employer, the Larkin Soap Company, resulting in Wright’s earliest large-scale commercial architectural commission. Wright and Martin struck up a friendship, and Martin asked the architect to design a series of structures for his family, including a residence for himself, his wife and daughter and a separate home for his sister, in 1903.
Wright designed a sprawling residential complex for Martin comprising multiple structures including the main house, a dramatic pergola, secondary residence, conservatory, and a carriage house.
He designed every aspect of the home, from the architecture itself to the furniture, interior ornament, and the grounds; records from the Martin family indicate that Wright even designed the clotheslines that hung in the property's back yard.
Throughout his long career Wright frequently referred to the Martin Complex as one of his best works, calling it "a well-nigh perfect composition" and allegedly keeping a copy of the Martin plan tacked above his working space.
“... the most perfect thing of its kind in the world – a domestic symphony, true, vital, comfortable.”
- Frank Lloyd Wright describing the Martin House in his letters, 1904
In each area of the Martin residence, Wright designed a distinct program of leaded glass “light screens” or windows depicting stylized geometric abstractions of floral and foliate motifs.
On the first floor, Wisteria blossoms are woven throughout the ornamentation in an area known as the “Unit Room,” a central space in the main residence formed by a series of interconnected rooms: the Living Room, Dining Room and Library.
Windows depicting stylized wisteria blossoms were located on the outer walls of both the Dining Room and Library. These rooms were centered around a monumental four-sided fireplace adorned with a mosaic depicting twining branches and yellow blossoms of wisteria against a golden background. Trellises laden with Wisteria were planted on either side of the dramatic pergola extending from the main home to the Conservatory, which would have been visible through the windows of the Dining Room.
Based on the dimensions and configuration of the elements in this window, it was likely originally located in either the Dining Room or the Library.
Like many of the prominent businessman of that era, Martin suffered great financial losses as a result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Shortly after Darwin D. Martin's death in 1935, the family abandoned the property which sat vacant for many years before it eventually reverted ownership to the City of Buffalo for owed taxes. The complex changed hands numerous times, during which time much of the interior ornament, including the "light screens," was removed and sold off. The main house was purchased in the 1960s by the State University of New York at Buffalo for use as its president’s residence before it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and listed as designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
In the 1990s, after a lengthy campaign to raise awareness and funds, ownership of the complex was transferred to a committe dedicated to its restoration.
The reconstructed and restored Martin Complex is now open and available for tours.
Original plans and drawings for the Darwin D. Martin residence are held by the Library of Congress.
A related window with Wisteria motif is in on view in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (449.1970).