The Wasmuth Portfolio

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The Archives of the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio contains more than the drawings, photographs, job files, personal papers and other items documenting Mr. Dow’s life and architectural legacy. It also houses his remarkable collection of books and other publications by and about Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the first of a series of posts highlighting some of these items.

Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the Wasmuth Portfolio, the two-volume folio of 100 lithographs of Wright’s work published in Germany in 1910 by Ernest Wasmuth, the Berlin publisher of expensive art books. The actual title of the monograph, translated from the German, is Studies and Executed Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was the first publication of Wright’s work to appear anywhere in the world, as he had not published any of his work in his 20 previous years of activity. The portfolio is significant as a link between Wright’s pioneering American architecture, and the first generation of modernist architects in Europe.

The portfolio consists of 100 loose plates illustrating 70 of Wright’s buildings and projects from 1893-1909. There are 72 lithographs on heavy laminated paper and 28 captioned tissue overlays. The plates are line drawings of buildings, while the tissues show the floorplans. The giant plates, 16 by 25 inches in size, were printed in brown or gray ink on gray or eggshell paper.

The portfolio’s very first image is that of the 1893 William Winslow house in River Forest, Illinois, Wright’s first independent commission. He showed pride in the work by presenting it in a subtle gold metallic ink on gray/green paper. From the leaded glass windows to every leaf on the trees, the detail is exquisite. A separate booklet contains a list of the plates and Wright’s preface setting forth his architectural philosophy.

Also in the Archives is a copy of the "Little Wasmuth." In 1911, the publisher issued a popular paperback volume of plans and photographs with a preface by Charles Ashbee to supplement the more elaborate folio of plans and drawings. The vivid photographs in the paperback and the splendid drawings of the portfolio supplied Europeans with a stunning introduction to Wright’s work.

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