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Friday, January 16, 2009

Art vs. Use in the Decorative Arts

Appraisers often make the distinction between the fine and decorative arts. When appraisers evaluate a decorative art object they are examining not only how the item is visually appealing they are also examining its usefulness. Sometimes appraisers come across items that once served a purpose but have since become an outdated technology. This can sometimes increase the objects value because it has historical worth; however sometimes it can also work against the value of the item. For example, pitchers & bowls, as explained by Nicholas Dawes on the April 23, 2007 episode of Antiques Roadshow, were once very useful items that could be very beautifully made. However, they were almost too useful, because nearly every household owned a pitcher & bowl. Meaning that when indoor plumbing overtook the pitcher & bowl as the newest technology these items flooded the market. Pitchers & bowls have little monetary value because there are so many in the market and they now have little purpose other than decorative. This example demonstrates the delicate balance between the use and visual appeal is in the decorative arts.

Although this balance is delicate it can spawn the creation of truly beautiful art objects. An example of this are lamp shades. Not every lamp shade is of value. Some artisans took the need for lamp shades and created art objects that not only served a purpose but were also a piece of artwork in their own right, and in some cases even enhanced the purpose that they served. At the end of the 19th century electricity was the newest technology. However, with electricity came unattractive industrial light bulbs and fixtures as well as a light much harsher then the soft light of a candle, oil lamp, or gas lamp. To counter balance this, lamp shades were created, some of which were art glass shades made by such companies as Tiffany, Carder, and Quezal.

The shades created by the Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company are expertly crafted iridescent creations. Quezal was formed in 1902 by two former employees of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Martin Bach, Sr., Tiffany’s first batch mixer / chemist, and Thomas Johnson, a master glassblower. The other founding member was Maurice Kelly who was only with the company for about two years before he took a job at Tiffany's. The company was short lived, it survived until about 1924, but in that short time span, they created shades that were vibrantly colored opaque compositions of inlaid glass with patterns that twist and weave in and out. As Malcolm Neil MacNeil describes in his April 2003 article for The Journal of Antiques & Collectibles: “Compared with Tiffany’s Favrile glass, the crisp, vivid, and colorful decoration of Quezal art glass is distinctively precise, symmetrical, and restrained.”

At MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., we are fortunate to have a Quezal chandelier paired with a wall sconce set for sale on consignment. The art glass shades in the set are a fine example of how Quezal craftsmen were able to cover unsightly light bulbs and diminish the harsh light produced by electricity. The electrical light is softened by the opaque and iridescent hue of these shades, and the interweaving design would have been illuminated from within producing a glow that only enhanced the use of the light bulb. This Quezal chandelier and wall sconce set demonstrates how the best decorative arts are the items that cannot only walk the line between usefulness and visual appeal but can also be crafted in such a manner that there artistic elements only enhance the purpose for which they were created.
  • For more information and pricing on this particular Quezal chandelier and wall sconce set please call MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. at 312-814-8510

Works Cited:

MacNeil, Malcolm Neil. "Quezal Art Glass." Journal of Antiques & Collectibles April (2003),

Dawes, Nicholas. "1880s Keeling & Co. Pottery Jug & Bowl." Antiques Roadshow, spoke on June 24, 2006, aired on April 23, 2007,

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.