The Hartwell Memorial Window by Agnes Northrop – Dazzling & Monumental

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm, installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Introduction

It has been over a century since Mary Hartwell commissioned Agnes F. Northrop to design the Hartwell memorial window to honor Frederick Hartwell, her husband.

The artwork was given to the Community Church of Providence, Rhode Island. It was kept in the church sanctuary until 2018, when a unanimous decision by the congregation saw it handed over to the Art Institute of Chicago.

It was strongly felt that the Hartwell memorial window by Agnes Northrop would be well conserved there. Furthermore, the congregation wanted the general public to have a view of it as well.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Attributes of the Hartwell Memorial Window

To come up with this artwork, Northrop must have looked at the world from the Frederick Hartwell’s family home. Located near Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire, the view captures majestic scenery that is a demonstration of the beauty of nature’s transitory.

The window is comprised of 48 panels, each of which is made using different types of glass and glass combinations. The view from the glass shows an image that will forever be captured in space.

The sun can be seen setting over a mountain; there is water flowing along the course of a river as dappled light dances through the. The entire picture appears to be seated upon an intricately arranged grass carpet.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Analysis

Standing at a height of 26 feet and a width of 18 feet, the 48-panel window is both a pathway and a destination. Its massive size makes it as tall even, or even taller, than many two-story houses in the United States.

All the items depicted on the art exist to add on the valor of another. Perhaps the most outstanding feature is Mount Chocorua. It is, in actual sense, one of the most popular peaks sitting at the top of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Many famous American landscape painters have epitomized the White Mountains as a power symbol when it comes to landscape paintings of America. If you combine the aspects of scale, design intricacy and the complexity of working with glass, there is no doubt that Tiffany Studios is yet to undertake another such ambitious project.

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Rachel Sabino, the objects conservator, said in the Chicago Tribune1:

It’s really staggering, from a technical point of view, seeing a craftsperson push the absolute boundaries of a material and a technique.

Speaking to the Chicago Suntimes, Sabino said2:

The whole thing is a pretty remarkable feat of engineering, all of which was super-collaborative.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tiffany Studios

The idea of the window was conceptualized by Agnes F. Northrop and actualized by Tiffany Studios in 1917. Tiffany Studios was applauded for its commitment to growing the American glass art scene. Northrop was one of the Tiffany Girls3, a group of exceptional women who were essential for the success of the studio.

The Hartwell memorial window is, however, not the only epic creation out of the Tiffany Studios. A large proportion of their work resonates with the promotion of radiant materials employed under technical brilliance. The window is unparalleled in its radiation of universality, ingenuity, and beauty.

Sarah Kelly Oehler (chairperson) and Field McCormick (Curator), both of American Art at the museum, are impressed by the magnificence that Tiffany Studios made out of window art. Tiffany Studios does not major in landscape windows and there is no telling whether they will ever be involved in similar artwork again.

Oehler commented in a blog post4:

Situated high above the altar, the landscape invited peaceful contemplation. I could absolutely see how Tiffany Studios suggested the connection between the spiritual and earthly realms through this extraordinary landscape design.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Acquisition by the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago recently announced that it had been granted acquisition rights for the extraordinary memorial window. Currently, it is a permanent installation in the Henry Crown Gallery. If you are visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and wondering where the magnificent window is, look up to the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase and you will not miss it at the top. For visitors, this is a piece that radiates beauty and is hard to ignore.

Chicago has a rich architectural history and bringing the memorial window here echoes the city’s backdrop. The leadership of the Art Institute is optimistic that this single piece of art will not only offer inspiration to visitors but also grow to be an identifying icon for the museum. It is an honor for the Art Institute to now own the Hartwell memorial window, particularly for its creative use of stained glass.

The president of the Art Institute, Eloise W. Martin, along with institute director James Rondeau, shared their excitement over this transformative piece of art. The pride with which they accepted their latest collection item was evident as they heaped praises not only on the artist, the original custodians and the progress made in the entire art scene in America.

Rondeau says5 that the window demonstrates “the highest level of achievement in American glass production”.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

The consent of the church

According to Pastor Evan Howard of the Community Church of Providence, the Hartwell memorial window has been in the church sanctuary where it was deemed to be safe. Speaking on behalf of his congregation, the pastor delivered the message of transfer of the art piece. When the church members agreed it would be wise to find a new home for the art piece, the leadership considered various art institutions.

Since one of its purposes of giving out the art was to expose it to a massive public audience, the Art Institute of Chicago was selected. Pastor Howard reported that his congregation was quite pleased to have finally entered their exceptional piece into one of the country’s renowned collections.

Sarah Kelly Oehler commented6:

I really credit the church with this foresight and thinking about their role as stewards for the window. They have a very community focused mission, and they’re not a museum, and they’re not in the business of protecting works of art.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Acid-etched glass, glass treated with hydrofluoric acid in order to achieve different textures and dimensional effects in Agnes F. Northrop’s Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

Promoting female artists

As a way to encourage many more females to explore their creative potential, the Art Institute is dedicated to showcasing art by women. It is this strong commitment to growing audiences around artwork by female artists that excites the Art Institute’s management. This acquisition speaks of the capability of Tiffany Studios to the world and communicates the relevance of glass as a medium of art.

The Hartwell memorial window has joined other stained glass works, making a vibrant collection that visitors cannot dare miss. Top artists in this genre include Marc Chagall, whose iconic America Windows has thrilled art lovers for years. Chagall is also known for creating 12 large stained glass windows7 for the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centers in Jerusalem.

Keeping the memorial window at a museum for display allows the rest of the world to appreciate the creation in the same way as the person who commissioned it appreciated its preservation of memory. In the summer of 2021, the window display was pulled out from public exhibit to undergo conservation treatment at the museum.

The plan was to have it installed back on display before the end of the year. The current location of the window, close to the entrance on Michigan Avenue, is well suited to pull in visitors, even those who had not intended to tour the museum.

Elizabeth McGoey, member of the museum’s curatorial team, describes the window as follows8:

Dazzling. Luminous. Monumental. Unparalleled. Transformative. These are some of the superlatives I’ve heard used to describe this window. But we are confident there are plenty more to come.

Agnes F. Northrop - Hartwell Memorial Window, 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago
Agnes F. Northrop – Hartwell Memorial Window (detail), 1917, leaded glass, 798.7 x 554.7 x 42.5 cm (314 7/16 x 218 3/8 x 16 3/4 in.), installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago

All images: Art Institute of Chicago unless otherwise noted.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/museums/ct-ent-art-institute-acquires-tiffany-church-window-0213-20200212-fuwgkrxd2fhlznqgilrclxx4vm-story.html
  2. https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/5/25/22453083/art-institute-chicago-tiffany-hartwell-window-stained-glass
  3. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/stories/articles/2015/01/12/who-were-tiffany-girls
  4. https://www.artic.edu/articles/800/tiffany-to-shine-at-the-art-institute
  5. https://www.artic.edu/press/press-releases/286/art-institute-of-chicago-acquires-monumental-tiffany-stained-glass-window
  6. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/museums/ct-ent-art-institute-acquires-tiffany-church-window-0213-20200212-fuwgkrxd2fhlznqgilrclxx4vm-story.html
  7. https://publicdelivery.org/chagall-jerusalem-windows/
  8. https://www.artic.edu/articles/800/tiffany-to-shine-at-the-art-institute

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