Kat Murrell

Special selections from the Charles Allis art collection

"Treasures from the Allis Collection" seeks to highlight the aesthetic tastes showcased in the Charles Allis Art Museum.

By - Aug 5th, 2013 04:00 am
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Treasures from the Allis Collection opens with a charmingly eclectic display. Photo by the author.

Treasures from the Allis Collection opens with a charmingly eclectic display. Photo by the author.

The stately Charles Allis Art Museum was built as a private residence designed with housing an art collection in mind. The couple for whom the home was built, Charles and Sarah Allis, amassed a refined collection of paintings, sculptures and other art objects. Their choices reflected their interests, while blending with works that bore the influence of the family patriarch, Edward Allis, founder of E.P. Allis Company, a forerunner to Allis-Chalmers.

After Sarah’s death in 1945, the home became the Charles Allis Art Library. In 1979, it was refashioned as a museum. The current exhibition, Treasures from the Allis Collection, seeks to highlight the aesthetic tastes of the eponymous couple and offer alternate facets of their life through some unusual, non-art objects.

The museum as a whole offers a lovely opportunity to stroll through gracious rooms and admire numerous paintings, old books, and other objets d’art without the formalities of a special feature exhibition. One of the strengths of the permanent collection’s manner of display is the art is beautifully set in context, shown among the furniture, rugs, and damask wallpaper. A visitor may be pleasantly lost in contemplation of these rich details.

Perhaps ironically, the special exhibition of collection highlights feels sparser for being installed in the temporary exhibition galleries, upstairs bedrooms devoid of furniture but retaining their architectural character. The works are arranged in only a couple of rooms and hallways. The opening note of the show is struck with a display combining antique bowling pins and ball with bronze sculptures by the renowned French artist Antoine-Louis Barye plus delicate Korean ceramics. As a visual moment, it is charmingly diverse and aided by the explanatory text.

This eclectic nature carries throughout the exhibition, though it is divided into particular areas detailing the professional life of the Allis family, or works grouped according to materials or subjects. Text panels outline the historical context of the Allis’ collecting, but the experience of the exhibition essentially seems to flow continuously from the rest of the house. Though this is a special exhibition, there’s little except the location to distinguish it as a stand-alone show, or to describe the selection of the chosen works as representing special highlights from the Museum’s holdings.

Felix-Hilaire Buhot's etching of Westminster Palace is one of the more unusual works in the exhibition. Photo by the author.

Felix-Hilaire Buhot’s etching of Westminster Palace is one of the more unusual works in the exhibition. Photo by the author.

One work that stands out is the rather unusual etching by Felix-Hilaire Buhot of Westminster Palace. The center of the picture follows conventional compositional forms, but the margins are where things get interesting. There are figures, animals and birds which are not part of the main picture or even a single composition, but each is like a curious, individualistic doodle.

As an overview of the Allis’s collecting interests, Treasures from the Allis Collection paints with broad brushes, adding to the many works on view throughout the house. As a special exhibition, there are lovely pieces to look at, though one may certainly wish to learn even more.

Treasures from the Allis Collection continues through October 6, 2013, at the Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N. Prospect Ave.

0 thoughts on “Special selections from the Charles Allis art collection”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always liked the Charles Allis (Mary and Charles having left the artwork culled from their travels and even the mansion they lived in to the community rather than to their family members). Thanks for alerting me to the exhibit showing their treasures.

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