What Does Samuel Marx Tell Us About Art Collecting?

Over the course of his life, Samuel Abraham Marx (1885-1964), an American architect, furniture designer, interior decorator and art collector was highly in demand for his skill in using art to transform public and private spaces. An enduring influence on luxury interior design, his body of work spans department stores, hotel rooms, including The Pump Room (1938) in the Conrad Hilton Hotel and art galleries, such as one designed for Edward G. Robinson’s home in Beverly Hills.

Initially known for his contributions to hotel interior designs, Marx was also widely acclaimed as an architect, creating houses inspired by Mies van der Rohe, the leading German-American avant-garde architect. His practice as an interior designer celebrated an intentional blending of diverse styles and cultural references. Home to unique fine art collections, Marx’s interiors juxtaposed the minimalism of mid-century furniture with ornaments and structures evoking orders of the past. The restless diversity of Marx’s legacy invites us to consider the role of art collecting in creating environments that transcend the boundaries of time. 

 

Marx’s Approach to Art and Design

Art, design and architecture remained interconnected across the diverse areas of Marx’s practice. When he received his first recognition as an architect in 1909, it was for a project that helped establish New Orleans’ oldest and most prominent fine arts institution –  the Delgado Museum of Art, currently known as NOMA. As a designer of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial, one of his many iconic contributions to Chicago’s public space, Marx set the British artist John Angel’s gilded bronze sculpture against a towering monolith of polished granite. A sense of bold juxtaposition in this early work anticipates how his approach to art and interior design would seek to engage with disparate styles, references and, most importantly, contrasts. In his projects as an interior designer, Marx often incorporated paintings and sculptures as focal points within a room, using art forms to create environments that defy the constraints of a singular period.

Marx’s approach to art, furniture and materials in his interior design projects reveals his commitment to the idea of creating spaces that stand the test of time. Hired to rearrange The Harold E. Foreman House, Marx was appraised for the timeless appeal of his interior design, described by critics as ‘the direct, straightforward spirit of today’s design which will years from now still be attractive and in good taste’ 1. Marx’s success in this project and many later ones lies in his way of reimagining the role of art in interior design. 

The Foreman House captures how architectural, design and art forms can work together to blend the classic and the modern, establish multiple intertwining narratives within a room and, ultimately, contribute to the timeless appeal of the space. In the living room of the Foreman House, a painting by Renoir was placed against violet walls, creating a dialogue with the baroque design of the marble fireplace and the surrounding oyster-white upholstery. 

Brought together, mid-century furniture, antique pieces and an Impressionist painting represent different time contexts, turning the living room into a hybrid space that celebrates the diversity of cultural outputs and traditions across time. Referencing the tradition of classical sculpture and its later revival in the Renaissance by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci or Donatello, the presence of marble next to Renoir’s painting and Marx’s furniture designs, such as the parchment coffee table, captures the unique blend of the traditional and the modern. 

Marx and Private Collections

Over the last four decades, many of the private art collections belonging to Marx’s clients have been distributed to prominent museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago. An art collector himself, Marx continuously maintained connections with galleries, dealers, and collectors specialising in twentieth-century art. Among the noteworthy collections he engaged with was that of a Romanian-American actor Edward G. Robinson who was also a dedicated art collector.

To Marx, architecture and interiors were intertwined components of a unified whole. He often declined projects where clients sought solely his architectural design services. Commissioned to design a gallery attached to Robinson’s house in Beverly Hills, Marx struck a careful balance between the contrast of individual elements and the overall integrity of the space. The gallery features paintings in neoclassical frames alongside mid-century coffee tables, seamlessly blending clean modern design with elements of tradition.

Timeless Legacies

Marx's enduring legacy prompts us to recognise the significance of integrating diverse elements within a space, evident in his designs’ interplay between classic and modern. This fusion, as exemplified through curated art collections, contributes to a timeless and culturally rich spatial experience. Similar to the curated placement of artworks and furnishings that enhance the appeal of a space, a well-assembled art collection embodies cultural significance, evolving to become a valuable narrative that transcends the transient nature of trends.

At Artscapy, we craft curated collections rooted in our clients' preferences, where quality and longevity are our guiding principles. We believe curated collections are like an equity fund, except here at Artscapy, instead of acquiring a set of shares, you’re building and owning your personal art collection – either displayed in the comfort of your home or securely stored with us.

 

1) Liz O'Brien, Ultramodern: Samuel Marx, Architect, Designer, Art Collector (Pointed Leaf Press, 2007), p. 46.

 

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