leaded glass, with original oak window frame
24 x 38 3/8 in. (61 x 97 cm.)
Christie's, New York, 11 June 1999, lot 13.
D. Hanks, Frank Lloyd Wright, Preserving an Architectural Heritage, Decorative Designs from The Domino's Pizza Collection, exhibition catalogue, New York, Seattle Art Museum and elsewhere, 1989, p. 81 for an image of this window in situ at the Coonley Playhouse;
T. Riley, ed., Frank Lloyd Wright: Architect, exhibition catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 165 for an image of this window in situ at the Coonley Playhouse;
J. L. Sloan, Light Screens: The Complete Leaded-Glass Windows of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, 2001, pp. 288-289 for images of this window in situ at the Coonley Playhouse, pp. 290-291, no. 387, for another image of this window.

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Lot Essay

Widely considered Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece in glass, the Avery Coonley Playhouse windows, with their buoyant circles and patriotic flags, stand out for their distinct composition and vibrant color. For the bright red, green, blue, orange and black glass windows - colors he had not used before - Wright was inspired by a passing parade, complete with confetti, balloons and American flags.

Wright designed the playhouse for one of his wealthiest clients, Avery Coonley and his wife Queenie Ferrie Coonley. A small structure that served as a school for Queenie to educate local children in the Froebel kindergarten method, the playhouse was located a few blocks from the Coonley's urban estate in Riverside, IL which Wright had previously completed for them in 1908. The playhouse's forty or more windows created a continuous whimsical pattern around the buildings main room, through the clerestory and side triptychs, all leading to the focal point, a large triptych at the front. Each window is a unique composition made up of a few select geometric elements and together, ringing the room, they created a lively, joyous composition with a spontaneous, playful air which Wright referred to as a 'Kinder-symphony.' Wright, like Queenie Coonley, was a proponent of the German educator Friedrich Froebel's teaching methods, which centered on sets of blocks, or 'gifts,' and Wright credited the system, given to him as a child, with significantly influencing his work. For the spirited colors of the playhouse windows, he may have been inspired by the bright primary colors of the circles and squares in the paper version of Froebel's seventh "gift" which included circles of paper in the same shades.

In addition to Wright's own account of the parade as inspiration, Elizabeth Coonley Falkner, Avery and Queenie's daughter, recalls Wright seeing a passing balloon vendor, buying all he had to offer, and then letting the lot loose to watch them, "bob up and down in front of his windows." John Wright, the architect's son, tells a similar story of his father observing balloons in the playroom of their Oak Park house. There were, most likely, additional influences at play. The Coonley playhouse windows are strikingly different from any that came before and marked a departure from his previous 'Prairie' motifs. It has been speculated that the European abstract art movement, including the paintings of Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky and Frantisek Kupka, which Wright may have seen in Paris on his European sojourn in 1909-1910, had a significant impact on his designs. The work of Austrians such as Koloman Moser and Peter Behrens who were employing circles in similar ways, is also considered a significant influence.

The present window, when facing the front of the main room, was located in the center of the left wall clerestory and boasts one of the American flags, a motif not present in all the windows. The Coonley Playhouse windows have all been removed and replaced with replicas. Several of the originals can be found in museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Art Institute, Chicago.

cf. T. A. Heinz, Frank Lloyd Wright: Glass Art, London, 1994, pp. 149-153 for images of other Coonley Playhouse windows and interior images;
D. Hanks, The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, exhibition catalogue, Renwick gallery of the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1979, cover and pp. 112-113 for images of other Coonley Playhouse windows and interior images.

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