Nature by Design: Embroidered and Embellished

March 30, 2019 – October 27, 2019

Uncut Waistcoat Front (probably China, for French market), late 18th century; Previously owned by George Saville Seligman ; silk; H x W: 60.3 x 54.6 cm (23 3/4 x 21 1/2 in.); Bequest of Richard Cranch Greenleaf in memory of his mother, Adeline Emma Greenleaf; 1962-54-50

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY

2nd Floor

Throughout history, designers have observed nature, investigated its materials, and imitated and abstracted its patterns and shapes. A fanciful, romantic, and stylized interpretation of nature embellished men’s waistcoats in 18th-century France. Realistic and exaggerated flowers were the preferred form of decoration and displayed the exceptional skills of France’s embroidery professionals, who employed a painterly approach that required a sophisticated color sense and delicate rendering of light and shadow to amplify the brightness of the florals. A majority of the superb waistcoats and samples in this gallery were bequeathed to Cooper Hewitt by Richard C. Greenleaf, who in the early 20th century assembled one of the most important collections of European textiles and lace in the United States. The waistcoats, along with embroidery samples and their related designs on paper, illustrate the exquisite artistry and incomparable craftsmanship that made French design the standard for men’s dress across the royal courts of Europe.