Sheldon exhibit highlights Sturgis’ influence

University Archives items on display; runs through April 8

Russell Sturgis was one of the most influential critics and art historians of his day. He was a leading force behind the creative development of American art, architecture and culture in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Now, thanks to an exhibit by the Sheldon Art Galleries, the public can see just how influential Sturgis (1836-1909) was.

Using pieces of the collection housed in University Archives, the Sheldon Art Galleries is presenting Russell Sturgis: Critic, Historian and Collector from Jan. 21-April 8 in the Bernoudy Gallery of Architecture.

An opening reception was Jan. 20.

University Archives’ holdings exhibited include 26 vintage prints and a number of bound volumes by 19th-century architectural photographers Edouard Baldus, Charles Marville, William J. Stillman and Frank M. Good.

The exhibition also includes folio volumes from WUSTL and the Richardson Memorial Library of the Saint Louis Art Museum.

A free gallery talk will be held at 11 a.m. March 11 by David Hanlon, curator of the exhibition, photographer, photographic historian and chair of the art department at St. Louis Community College-Meramec.

Sturgis was born near Baltimore but grew up in New York, where he gained an early interest in architecture and modern design innovation in the projects of Jacob Wrey Mould, Leopold Eidlitz and Richard Morris Hunt.

He also was greatly influenced by the work of Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and the theories and writings of John Ruskin during this period, helping form a group known as”the American Pre-Raphaelites.” They championed the use of natural forms and realism and, above all, the interdisciplinary relationship between architecture and the fine arts.

After traveling in Europe for more than two years and studying at the Academie der Bildernden Kunste in Munich, Germany, Sturgis established his own practice in New York in 1863. He rose to prominence as one of the city’s most “fashionable” architects at the forefront of the High Victorian Gothic style and romantic rationalism.

His most recognized works are the four buildings he designed for Yale University: Farnam Hall (1869), Durfee Hall (1870), Battell Chapel (1876) and Lawrence Hall (1885).

Sturgis’ most lasting contribution, however, was in the field of art and architectural criticism, a profession that he helped initiate in the United States in the 1860s and 1870s.

As a popular lecturer and, especially, as a prolific writer of articles in leading newspapers, periodicals and professional journals (particularly the Architectural Record), Sturgis sought to lay the foundation for professional architectural criticism while also directing American architecture toward the optimum balance of technology and design, utility and beauty, and progressiveness combined with tradition.

He was also the author of many books on aspects of art and architectural history, as well as an editor and contributor to many important architectural dictionaries and encyclopedias.

The Sheldon actively supports the work of St. Louis artists in all mediums and features a dedicated gallery with museum-quality exhibits by St. Louis artists, past and present.

Financial assistance for this project has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council. Support is provided by the Regional Arts Commission, the Arts and Education Council and The Heartland Arts Fund.

The Sheldon Art Galleries are located in the Emerson Galleries building, 3648 Washington Blvd. Gallery hours are noon-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays; and one hour prior to Sheldon Concert Hall performances and during intermissions.

For more information, call 533-9900.