Cover i
Foreword,  David Rosand   vii
Preface,  Jean Ashton ix
Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical vision of Joseph Urban,  Arnold Aronson 1
Assimilation and Eclecticism: The Architecture of Joseph Urban, Derek E. Ostergard 39
Joseph Urban and the Birth of American Film Design, Matthew Wilson Smith 48
The Joseph Urban Collection: An Overview, Gwynedd Cannan 56
Checklist of the Exhibition 59
See also: Urban Access and Stabilization Project

Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical vision of Joseph Urban


THEATER is by its very nature an ephemeral art. As a musical score requires performers for its realization, so a theatrical script requires the energies of many artists – actors and directors, scenic and costume designers, carpenters, painters, and tailors – to create the illusion of a life beyond the reality of the audience. That illusion ends with the final curtain, when the dramatis personae remove their masks and take their bows, revealing themselves as the actors they are. Going backstage and viewing the sets up close, discovering the carpentered trusses that support the facades of painted castles or dungeons, gardens or forests, we may experience a similar disillusion. But just as we admire the art of the actor, the professional's ability to become an other, so too we admire the art of the scenographer, the craft that must necessarily support the imagination if we are to believe in that other, staged world.

Joseph Urban was a designer and builder of such alternative worlds, for the opera stages of Boston and New York and for the Ziegfeld Follies. Columbia is the fortunate repository of the archives that document this very active theatrical imagination. The many hundred models, watercolors, drawings, and plans that constitute the Joseph Urban Collection permit a more direct access to an era of American stage life than any photo graphic record might. In these works we encounter the poetic projections of an architectural imagination, setting the stage for that "heightened sense of life" that Urban felt was the essential theatrical experience.

As the models and watercolors in this exhibition demonstrate, Urban's was a world of color. Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban offers an occasion to reimagine that world and to appreciate the art of a man who brought a transformative vision to Broadway.

The exhibition also offers an opportunity to make available to a largerpublic another important treasure of the collections of the Columbia University Libraries. Architect of Dreams was inspired by the commitment of Jean Ashton, the director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, to restore the glory of the Urban archival material and was made possible by the initial research of Gwynedd Cannan, now Curator of the Performing Arts Collections, who was assisted by Boni Joi Genser. The full realization of the project depended upon the enthusiastic engagement of Arnold Aronson, Professor of Theater Arts, who brought to the project his own scholarship in theater history – as well as his graduate student in the School of the Arts, Matthew Smith, whose catalogue essay addresses Urban's contribution to American film design.

Like every exhibition in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, Architect of Dreams and its accompanying catalogue became reality through the efforts of Sarah Elliston Weiner, the director of the gallery, and her staff: Jeanette Silverthorne, assistant director; Brooke Sperry, administrative assistant; and the essential Lawrence Soucy, technical coordinator.

The support of the Austrian Cultural Institute, New York, for this project is gratefully acknowledged. For her particular interest and assistance, I want to express a special note of gratitude to Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards, the chair of the Wallach Art Gallery Committee of the Advisory Council of the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Finally, on behalf of all my colleagues, I again thank Miriam and Ira D. Wallach, who continue to share our enthusiasm for the enterprise that they helped to launch.

David Rosand
Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History
Chairman, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery



COLLECTIONS relating to the development and history of the theater have been actively gathered at Columbia since the first decade of the twentieth century. James Brander Matthews, who had been appointed to the English faculty at the university in 1891 and was reportedly the first professor of drama in the United States, encouraged his students to involve themselves directly in the life of the stage. A successful playwright himself who would become a widely published critic, Matthews believed that the artifacts of theatrical history had a lively role to play in the education of budding playwrights and producers. He searched the world tirelessly for masks, puppets, photographs, posters, programs, and stage models to add to the dramatic museum that he founded in 1911 to house his growing collections. To teach Shakespeare, Renaissance morality plays, and ancient drama, he commissioned the creation of large plaster replicas of ancient stages; to introduce his students to the commercial stage of their own period, he solicited maquettes and working models from Broadway designers. An inveterate clubman with a wide acquaintance in the booming New York world of popular entertainment, he successfully exploited his social and professional connections to bring an increasingly diverse array of new materials to the Morningside campus.

After Matthews' death in 1929, the collections of the Dramatic Museum continued to grow, thanks to a small endowment, but the materials added were much more likely to be archival in nature: drawings, papers, scenic designs, architectural renderings. Mary Urban's gift of the complete archive of her late husband, Joseph Urban, came to Columbia in 1958, during this later period. The Urban papers represented at once a culmination of Matthews' ambition to capture a sense of the working theater in its fullest dimension and a rich addition to the more traditional research collections of the university. The nearly three hundred set models, bursting out of their brown paper wrappings, still tied with ribbon marked with the name of Urban's failed Wiener Werkstatte store in New York, were supplemented by hundreds of letters, drawings, photograph albums, and clipping books that documented the artist's personal history, his life in America, and his many careers. The collection was a scholar's dream, promising not only new information about theatrical design and production but a wealth of unique detail about turn–of-the-century Viennese art and architecture, American opera history, popular entertainment, interior design, and the motion picture business.

Sadly, the Urban collection arrived at time when the fortunes of the Dramatic Museum were on the decline and modern conservation techniques were in their infancy. All that could be done for many decades was to see that it was safely housed and minimally accessible to scholars who knew that it was on the campus. When the museum was formally closed in 1971, the Urban collection was transferred to the Columbia University Libraries where it was stored in the stacks, still in the artist's original containers, just as it had come from the workshop. Librarians were happy to provide what access they could to the papers, but the fragile condition of much of the art work and in particular of the models, which had been constructed from acidic paper and other ephemeral materials, limited use. Loans to exhibitions and the publication of a number of books referring to


the collection were instrumental in keeping Urban's accomplishments from being forgotten.

Thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and to the Preservation and Access Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the story has a happy end. Funds supplied by these agencies enabled the Rare Book and Manuscript Library to hire a project curator for the Joseph Urban archives, charged with the duty of processing, rehousing, and creating a research guide for paper collections. The approximately seven hundred drawings and watercolors in the archives were matted and boxed. The scrapbooks were microfilmed, and critical conservation work completed. An online finding aid, fully searchable, was mounted on the World Wide Web in 1 999. A consultant was retained to design storage boxes for the stage models that would allow them to be accessible for research while still offering adequate structural support. In the summer of 2000, a pilot project to rehouse the models was undertaken. Now, in the fall of the same year, plans are underway to create an image database of all the visual materials in the Joseph Urban archives, and initiatives are in progress to raise money for the physical restoration of the remaining models.

Jean Ashton, Director
Rare Book and Manuscript Library





The content of a dream is the representation of a fulfilled wish .... Adults ... have also grasped the uselessness of wishing, and after long practice know how to postpone their desire until they can find satisfaction by the long and roundabout path of altering the external world. Sigmund Freud1

The set should be a pure ornamental fiction which completes the illusion through the analogies of color and lines with the play .... The spectator will ... give himself fully to the will of the poet, and will see, in accordance with his soul, terrible and charming shapes and dream worlds which nobody but he will inhabit. And theater will be what it should be: a pretext for a dream. Pierre Quillard2

ALL STAGE DESIGN and all architecture, it might be argued, are the realizations of dreams: ideas that begin as images in the mind and are transformed by artists and artisans into tangible manifestations that are made visible to the eye and, in the case of architecture and interior design, made tactile and corporeal. Yet these metaphoric dreams, when realized, do not necessarily possess the qualities we mean when we describe something as "dreamlike." Buildings and rooms have practical functions that root us in the here and now; stage designs often work best when they do not call attention to themselves or when they serve as simulacra for the recognizable, quotidian world. But Joseph Urban – architect, scenographer, illustrator, designer – rarely limited himself to mere functionality. His works – whether department stores, hotels, castles, bridges, restaurants, theaters, art pavilions, book illustrations, or the lavish and often haunting settings for operas, musicals, pageants, and the Ziegfeld Follies – almost always seemed to be the consummation of fantastical visions and flights of fancy intended to take the spectator or occupant on a journey through the imaginary recesses of the soul.

As the title of this exhibition and its catalogue suggests, Urban straddled two worlds: architecture and theater. On the one hand, there was an innate theatricality to Urban's architecture – theatrical in the sense of being dramatic and playful, and theatrically conceived as virtual stage settings in which real people are characters moving through carefully designed spaces. A critic for the New Yorker in 1928, seeking what he thought to be an appropriately derisive term to describe Hearst's International Magazine Building (fig. 1), condemned it as "theatric architecture."3 On the other hand, there is an architectural quality to Urban's stage designs. Although he rarely created the sculptural environments of his scenographic contemporaries such as Adolph Appia, Edward Gordon Craig, or Robert Edmond Jones – Urban relied much more on painted and decorative elements – an underlying use of structural detail and a sense of fully


constructed spaces pervaded his designs. No matter how fanciful or fantastic the imagery he devised, whether onstage or in a book illustration, there was a palpable reality to the representation – as if one could physically enter into this imaginary world. But always, the worlds of architecture and theater intertwined: Joseph Urban built dreamscapes.

Carl Maria Georg Joseph Urban, born in Vienna on 26 May 1872, was one of the most significant stage designers of the early twentieth century. The statistics alone are impressive: from 1904 to 1914 more than fifty productions for theaters and opera houses in Vienna and throughout Europe; thirty productions for the short–lived but influential Boston Opera Company, as designer and stage director from 1912 to 1914; fifty–one productions for the Metropolitan Opera of New York between 1917 and his death on 10 July 1933 (some of which remained in the repertory until the mid–1960s); all of Florenz Ziegfeld's productions (Follies, Midnight Frolics, and eighteen musicals) from 1915 on; twenty–six musicals and sixteen plays for other Broadway producers; plus numerous films, mostly for William Randolph Hearst's production company. All this, of course, was in addition to his continued work as an architect, interior designer, and illustrator which had begun in the early 1890s. Urban's importance lay in his virtually unprecedented use of color, his introduction to American theater of many of the techniques and principles of the New Stagecraft, and his architectural sensibility at a time when most stage designers came from a background or training in visual art.

Despite his acknowledged importance and influence, he has remained surprisingly underrated, even forgotten. I will discuss possible reasons below, but perhaps it comes down to a few simple facts: He wrote no theoretical essays, nor did he set down his philosophy in a book; he was a practical man of the theater and while his ultimately more famous colleagues published portfolios of unrealized visionary designs, he turned out actual settings which inevitably had to fit the very real demands of production (even his unbuilt theaters were designed for actual projects that never came to fruition); and finally, his innovations were often in the service of popular entertainment and spectacle (or in the case of architecture, in the lavish homes of the rich and famous). Aesthetically, he was never willing – never saw a reason – to fully abandon ornament or the decorative, so his architecture was out of sync with the developing International Style, and his stage work was never as abstract as that of the most esteemed designers of the New Stagecraft. But as the composer Deems Taylor noted in a posthumous appreciation of Urban:

Fig. 1 International Magazine Building, New York, 1929 (cat. 17a)


His greatest misfortune, as well as his greatest glory, is the fact that his contributions to his art were so fundamental that they are taken for granted... He revolutionized the scene designer's position in the American theatrical world. He was the first to make clear that the designing of stage sets is an art, and that the man who designs them is an artist – or should be.4


Urban came of age in the Vienna of the 1890s, the Vienna of vibrant theater and opera, a brilliant explosion of fine and decorative arts, and, of course, of Sigmund Freud. It was a city where pleasure and intellect intersected, and where the exploration of the function of art and the structure of the mind were approached with equal passion. Like the Viennese Secessionist artists who influenced him, Urban had some affinities with the symbolist poets and painters, although his work did not derive from quite the same spiritual and aesthetic sources, nor did it necessarily have the same ends. But clearly, some aspect of symbolism struck a chord within him, perhaps (appropriately enough) subconsciously. The artist Hermann Barr may have been speaking for most of the young Viennese artists of the day when he proclaimed in 1894, "Art now wants to get away from naturalism and look for something new. What that may be, no one knows; the urge is confused and unsatisfied. .. . Only to get away, to get away at all costs from the clear light of reality into the dark, the unknown and the hidden."5 The dark, unknown, and hidden was precisely the realm of symbolism, whose driving force was the desire to explore the human psyche and uncover inner truths hidden beneath surface realities. The symbolist movement that emerged in Paris in the 1880s under the leadership of the poet Stephane Mallarme was heavily influenced by the writings of the composer Richard Wagner, particularly by the latter's quest for a mythological foundation for the creation of art which would then serve to unify society through a communal response to the art work. The symbolists also drew upon the mystical and sublime elements of the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire. All nineteenth–century art, literature, and theater, in fact, seemed to have been moving ineluctably from the replication of observable phenomena to the revelation of dream worlds and subconscious landscapes. When Pierre Quillard, a now little–known symbolist playwright and poet, described a theater as "a pretext for a dream" (see epigraph), he could easily have been characterizing the creations of Joseph Urban. The symbolist painters sought to move from an art of objective images, or even the suggestive work of the impressionists, to an art of subjective reality that would affect the senses directly, without the mediation of rational thought.

Whether or not Urban was directly influenced by the symbolists, he was certainly absorbing the symbolist–inflected Jugendstil art all around him. Moreover, he could not have been unaware of Freud's efforts to expose the workings of the mind through the agency of dreams. The world that Urban created on the stage – of vivid color, architectural detail, and visual fantasy – reflected these intertwined realms of art and psychology.

While the creation of dreamscapes may seem an appropriate aim of theater design, it perhaps seems less understandable with architecture. Yet architecture, too, is a surprisingly apt medium for dreams. In The Poetics of Space, his study of the human response to space and its relation to the subconscious, the modern French philosopher Gaston Bachelard described the house as both a locus and generator of dreams:

The house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. ...The places in which we have experienced daydreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling–places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling–places of the past remain in us for all time....the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.6

Urban began his career as an architect, and many of his early projects


were, in fact, dwellings – but not ordinary or bourgeois homes. His very first commission, received at the amazingly young age of nineteen, before he had even finished his studies, was to create a new wing for the Abdin Palace in Cairo for the young Khedive of Egypt. Later in the decade he would create the Esterhazy Castle in St. Abraham, Hungary (fig. 2) – a pleasure palace with its white marble facade decorated with gold medallions and floral patterns and its individual rooms that were riots of color, pattern, and geometric shapes. In the 1920s, in such creations as Mar–a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida (fig. 3), he was a major influence, along with many of his fellow Austrian architects, in developing the Spanish colonial revival style – with its fantastical and eclectic mix of Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese architectural elements – which came to define the extravagant homes, clubs, and resorts of the Florida land boom. But even his more conservative homes were carefully crafted visions that integrated the practical needs of domestic architecture with the fantasies, memories, and dreams of those who would dwell within.


The notion of gesamtkunstwerk – the total or unified art work – was the guiding principle of Richard Wagner's approach to artistic creation. Simply put (something Wagner rarely did in his major theoretical writings of the mid–nineteenth century), all the elements of operatic production –music, orchestration, stage design, costume, acting, singing, and even the architectural environment that shaped the audience experience – were to be unified under the vision of a single artist so as to create a single experience for the massed spectators. The impetus for Wagner's approach came not only from the belief that theater and opera were equivalent (perhaps even superior) to the other arts, but from the mundane aspects of contemporary production practice and the inherent pitfalls of the collaborative process, all of which often contrived to turn the typical dramatic spectacle of the mid–nineteenth century into a nearly incoherent pastiche. Writers customarily sold their plays to theaters which could produce them with no authorial input; composers had limited control over the performance of their music; actors chose their own costumes according to their personal tastes, budgets, and only rarely for appropriateness to the role; settings were, more often than not, composed of stock scenic units that indicated a generic castle, interior, forest, or the like as needed; rehearsals were minimal and performances, therefore, lacked cohesion; and the relation between the images onstage and the environment of the auditorium was never considered. If, as Wagner believed, the art work reflected a spiritual as well as aesthetic quest, then it was crucial that all elements of production be focused on the realization of the artist's vision.

While Urban never used the term gesamtkunstwerk (at least not in any interviews or in the few articles he wrote), he was clearly a proponent of the unified art work of the stage. That approach was largely unknown in the United States in 1912 when Urban did his first work for the Boston Opera, and it clearly struck the very perceptive critic of the Boston Evening Transcript, H.T. Parker, in his review of The Tales of Hoffmann (fig. 4): "Music, drama, and setting were wholly fused into the compassing of perfect atmosphere and illusion."7 In an interview in 1913 Urban described inszenierung – the German word for the total effect of the theatrical event, equivalent to the more prevalent French term mise en scene – in terms that reflect the influence of the Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk:

The new art of the theater is more than a matter of scenery; it concerns the entire production. The scenery is vain unless it fits the play or the playing or unless they fit it. The new art is a fusion of the pictorial with the dramatic. It demands not only new designers of scenery, but new stage managers who understand how to train actors in speech, gesture and movement, harmonizing with the scenery.8


Fig. 2 Esterhazy Castle, St. Abraham, Hungary, exterior, 1899, watercolor.
Collection Gerhard Trumler

Fig. 3 Mar–a-Lago, Palm Beach, 1926, photograph, 8 x 10 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Fig. 4 Contes d'Hoffmann, 1912 (cat. 29b)

While theater scholars and historians associate the idea of gesamtkunstwerk solely with Wagner and his theatrical heirs, the concept actually spread to other artistic disciplines as well. Inspired by that monumental Romantic work of urban planning, the Ringstrasse – the circular boulevard around central Vienna which was created as a unified work of civic architecture, private dwellings, and public and official space – the Viennese artists at the start of the twentieth century (particularly those of the Wiener Werkstatte) believed in "the integration of all the various design elements in a single aesthetic environment," as the art historian Jane Kallir stated.9 Large–scale public works were no longer an option by the end of the century,10 so young artists turned their energies to private homes which were designed as theatrical environments: the architectural space


Fig. 5 Goltz Villa, Vienna, plan and view of interior, 1902 (cat. 5a)

became a comprehensive milieu in which every element down to the smallest detail was designed, just as it would be in a theatrical setting. And just as the theater employed an ensemble of artisans from carpenters to electricians, so the architects employed an ensemble of craftsmen including painters, paperhangers, and plumbers, all working toward the realization of a single artistic vision.11 Urban, too, was a proponent of the unified approach. "If a building is to reflect the efforts of artistic planning," he declared, "it must be harmonious up to the minutest detail."12 One of the practices that frustrated Urban as he developed his architectural career in the United States was the custom of using jobbed–in contractors so that there was no unity of style nor singularity of purpose among the crafts workers. More important for Urban, however, was the need for the architecture to reflect the society and environment in which it existed.

Fig. 6 Goltz Villa, game and music rooms, 1902 (cat. 5b)

Architecture should be adapted to the climate, temperament, needs and the national characteristics of a people. A good architect should know his country from one end to the other, know its people and understand their ideals. Only then can he hope to build intelligently. Architecture should be as much a part of the time and of the place as the current news. It is about time that we outgrew ancient cultural styles and intermediate mushroom growths. To have a Colonial or a Renaissance house nestled in the heart of New York is as absurd as doing modern day jobs with Colonial or Renaissance tools.13

The analogy between theater and architecture, however, breaks down on at least one detail. In the theater, the actors are part of the design, as it were; their costumes and their movements are specifically integrated into the setting. But architects have no control over the look or specific movements of those who use their buildings. There is an undoubtedly apocryphal


anecdote about the designer Eduard Wimmer–Wisgrill who, on a visit to the Stoclet mansion in Brussels, which had been designed by Josef Hoffmann, was horrified at the way in which Madame Stoclet's Paris fashions clashed with the Werkstatte decor. Upon his return to Vienna he established a fashion workshop for the Werkstatte, presumably so that the home owners could be suitably costumed for their settings.14 Even if this were the true genesis of the costume workshop, clearly there is no way to control the total architectural environment once it is out of the architect's hands.

In all of Urban's architectural projects, the interiors were completely coordinated: tables, chairs, curtains, floor tiles, wallpaper and painted decor, lighting fixtures, utensils, and appliances were all designed for the space. Urban won numerous awards for his totally designed exhibition spaces, such as those for the Kunstlerhaus exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the Austrian pavilion at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904 (fig. 52). The space for presenting art was in itself a work of art: a fully integrated environment. That Urban saw his architectural creations as theatrical spaces, at least subconsciously, may be deduced by looking at the plan and two views of a room for the Goltz Villa (figs. 5–6). Each of the two depictions is presented as if it were a traditional box set (a stage setting of a room viewed as if one wall were removed) with the corner of the room forming an off–center apex. What is particularly revealing is that the perspective seems to be skewed if one compares the view to the plan. The viewer, however, is not standing on the section line as the plan indicates but rather is looking at the room as if it were a stage setting viewed from the auditorium. The rendering and plan of the Goltz room compares interestingly with Urban's stage sets, such as that for Apple Blossoms (fig. 7), a 1919 musical in which Fred and Adele Astaire made their debuts. The room depicted onstage is more elegant and the walls certainly taller than those in the Goltz Villa, but the ground plan – and the relation of the implied audience to the space – is remarkably similar.

Of course, much of Urban's work could be described as "theatrical." The prominent place of the performing arts in Viennese society and the general aim of many of the Secessionist artists to unify all aspects of art and society inevitably led to a theatricalization of the arts. But in Urban's work, the theater became an implicit metaphor. His design for the Kaiser Bridge, for example – a structure created to join the Kunstlerhaus and the Musikverein for the celebration of Franz Josef's fiftieth anniversary as

Fig. 7 Apple Blossoms, 1919 (cat. 56)


emperor – creates what amounts to a proscenium arch through which the baroque Karlskirche could be seen (fig. 8). And while the decor of the bridge consisted of a strong interplay of linear and geometric forms layered with Art Nouveau filigree, the wooden structure recalled the triumphal arches and festival stages of medieval royal entries and Renaissance pageants. It was a decidedly theatrical space. The arch–as-proscenium recurs as a separator between rooms in the Esterhazy Castle (fig. 9) – it appears to be structural but is really a decorative element that frames the

Fig. 8 Kaiser Bridge, Vienna, 1898, watercolor, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

space behind it in a manner almost identical to the archway of the Kaiser Bridge. The proscenium motif was picked up in the Rathauskeller, the restaurant in the basement of the Vienna town hall. The structural arches that created the ceiling inevitably evoked the comparison, but Urban emphatically accentuated the theatrical parallel in his decorative scheme. One went down a flight of stairs through an arch as if entering into a theatrical world. Once in the restaurant, the repeated

Fig. 9 Esterhazy Castle, interior, 1899 (cat. 3)


Fig. 10 Rathauskeller, Vienna, large dining room, 1899 (cat. 4c)

arches of the ceiling created an illusion of infinite vistas (fig. 10). (Again, while the repeated Arches were a necessary by–product of the architecture, they could not help but recall the repeating proscenium motif of Wagner's Festspielhaus at Bayreuth.) The smaller private rooms off the main dining hall of the Rathauskeller were works of total design, with every surface and every piece of furniture part of the architectural scenography (fig. 11).

The proscenium motif even emerges in the fireplace of the Esterhazy Castle (fig. 12). The fireplace opening was a curved blue oval, itself framed by a rectangular mantle topped by a massive, vaguely Egyptian chimney breast within which was yet another rectangular Art Nouveau relief. Two high–backed benches at right angles to the fireplace provided further framing as well as "audience" seating, funneling all attention toward the "proscenium." The arrangement of the benches was repeated in

Fig. 11 Rathauskeller, Strauss–Lanner Room (cat. 4a)


Fig. 12 Esterhazy Castle, fireplace, 1899, watercolor,93/4 x 63/8 in.
Rare Book And Manuscript Library, Columbia University

several Urban interiors, notably in the entrance foyer to the Wiener Werkstatte shop that Urban opened on Fifth Avenue to sell the works of his Austrian colleagues in order to raise money for them following World War I (fig. 13). (The shop, unfortunately, was a financial failure.) Here the benches have been replaced by Urban's modernist take on Queen Anne chairs.

Fig. 13 Wiener Werkstatte shop, New York, 1922, photograph, 10x8 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University


Fig. 14 Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, facade, 1926–27 (cat. 9a)


The term "theatrical" – a dismissive and pejorative term when used by Urban's architectural critics – referred to the fact that his designs tended toward the flamboyant, decorative, and illusionistic. In an era when, increasingly, the credo was "form follows function," Urban's architecture often masked its structures; form followed fantasy. Urban believed that public space should be designed with the same sense of total environment and aesthetic pleasure with which one created a stage setting. He was creating dramatic worlds for real people. Following the metaphor to its logical end, his architectural projects could all be seen as "theaters," an impression reinforced by his frank assertion that a building facade was a form of advertising – a marquee.15 Just as Renaissance palaces advertised the power and culture of the Medicis, he explained, so too "a beautiful building is the sandwich board of its owner."16 This philosophy was his rationale for the billowing facade of the Ziegfeld Theatre, which opened on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street in 1927 (fig. 14).

The whole idea back of the Ziegfeld Theatre was the creation of an architectural design which should express in every detail the fact that here was a modern playhouse for modern musical shows. . . .The strong decorative elements of this part of the facade have nothing to do with usual architectonic proportions. They are meant as a poster for the theater.17

For theater buildings in New York, wedged into narrow spots on crowded streets, Urban felt there was a particular challenge that could be met through designing the public face of the building "around the electric light sign and incidentally the fire–escape and the marquee." The proposed Max Reinhardt Theatre (fig. 15), intended for the productions of the innovative German director but unfortunately never built, was perhaps the epitome of this philosophy. The facade was to be covered in a skin of Vitrolite, "a gleaming black glass." Cutting horizontally across


Fig. 15 Reinhardt Theatre (proposed), New York, facade, 1928 (cat. 14a)

this surface was to be a pyramid of six fire escapes outlined in gold metal–work with white panels that would contain advertising signs, while the center of the façade would be bisected by a tower of gold grillwork containing the emergency stairs and which was topped with a delicate, perforated late–gothic spire. The result, at least on paper, was a facade of dramatic contrasts which radiated like a gleaming beacon into the New York City night. "A decorative scheme of such force," he explained, becomes a necessity when the theater has to compete with the sheer bulk and height of surrounding skyscrapers. It is far too easy for a low fa9ade to be crushed and lost in the confusion of metropolitan building."18

The facade of the Bedell company store on 34th Street (fig. 16) of 1928 used the same gleaming black surface material. In place of the horizontal fire escapes – unnecessary for a department store – there was a massive

Fig. 16 Bedell Store, New York, facade, 1928 (cat. 12a)


Fig. 17 Metropolitan Opera House (proposed), New York, facade, 1926–27 (cat. 8a)

Fig. 18 Metropolitan Opera House, proscenium, 1926–27 (cat. 8d)

curved grillwork over the entrance which served, in essence, as a stunning scenographic device, similar to the crowns that sat above the royal boxes in baroque theaters. Furthermore, the plate glass shop windows along the street and the show windows along an interior arcade functioned not unlike theatrical prosceniums. Significantly, the architect Shepard Vogelge–sang, who wrote about the design, compared the lighted columns of the arcade to Hans Poelzig's design for the Grosses Schauspielhaus, Reinhardt's monumental theater in Berlin.19

For sheer theatricality, however, nothing in Urban's work surpasses his schemes for a new Metropolitan Opera House (figs. 17–18). It is the


embodiment of his belief that "a theater is more than a stage and auditorium. It is a place in which to experience a heightened sense of life."20 Otto Kahn, the chairman of the Metropolitan's board of directors, began planning for a new opera house in the mid–1920s. Of the several sites under consideration, one on West 57th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues seemed the most feasible. Urban sought an architecture that would be as radical as Wagner's theater at Bayreuth and yet one in which the social functions and spaces – foyers, smoking rooms, rest rooms, dining areas – were to be carefully considered. "The purpose back of the building of a new opera house today," declared Urban, "must be to find an architectural form so free that it can in turn set free every modern impulse which would tend to heighten and develop the form of grand opera, to make it not grandiose but grand, majestic, as large in spirit as in scale."21 Urban's several proposals do, in fact, possess breathtaking grandeur, theatricality, and splendor. The exterior was almost fortress like, the interior suggested a cathedral. But his plans may also be seen as excessive, even vulgar – at least one critic likened it to Albert Speer's creations for Hitler. Ultimately, it was a theatrical vision for a theatrical space. Yet, because of disagreements among board members, rivalries among architects, disputes over accommodations for patrons (Urban's plan to extend the stage the entire width of the theater would have eliminated the side boxes), and ultimately financial difficulties and the Depression, the project was never realized; the Metropolitan Opera had to wait until the mid–1960s and Lincoln Center for a new building. It is unlikely, however, that funds could ever have been raised for such a structure; nor is it clear that the opera company could have survived the debt and operating costs had it been built. But the future of New York culture, not to mention Manhattan's West Side, would have been permanently changed and it is intriguing to speculate whether Lincoln Center would then have been built.


In 1911 Urban was commissioned to design three productions for the new Boston Opera Company's spring 1912 season: Pelleas et Melisande, Hansel und Gretel, and Tristan und Isolde. These productions marked a turning point in American scenographic history. Urban was subsequently appointed stage director and designer for the company, and he moved to Boston later in 1912. Scene painting in America at that time was generally a poor version of easel painting. Pictures were painted on canvas and most often were illuminated under undifferentiated white light which flattened the image, destroyed any sense of illusion, and emphasized the wrinkles and flaws in the canvas. In the words of the producer and critic Kenneth Macgowan, this scenery was typified by "large–sized colored cut–outs such as ornament Christmas extravaganzas .. .[and] landscapes and elaborately paneled rooms after the manner of bad mid–century oil-paintings in spasmodic three dimensions."22 Even the most artistically painted versions of such scenery – and there were some notable scenic studios at the time – were nonetheless a kind of semiotic code; they suggested or pointed to the particular, often generic, environment in which the audience was to imagine the play or opera unfolding but which never could be mistaken for the real thing. Urban's Pelleas, however, was a startling revelation to Boston audiences. As described by Macgowan, "it was made of strange, shadowed, and sun–flecked glimpses of wood and fountain, tower, grotto, and castle, vivid in varied color, full of the soft unworldliness of Debussy's music."23 Summing up Urban's Boston work, Macgowan declared that "his scenery, costumes, and lights have given the productions of the opera–house a distinction which they could never have obtained through their singing and acting alone."24 This is a remarkable statement. For perhaps the first time anywhere, certainly for the first time in this country, a critic was acknowledging the role of the mise en scène or inszenierung in


Fig. 19 Louise, 1912 (cat. 30)


the theatrical event, placing it on the same artistic level as the music and singing and affirming its ability to shape audience response.

The new approach to scenography, known as the New Stagecraft, was a response to the increasingly crowded and overly detailed excesses of late nineteenth–century stage naturalism. In place of simulation, representation, and illusion, the New Stagecraft was typified by simplicity, suggestion, and impressionism. Unnecessary details and clutter were stripped away; locale was created through the spare use of a few emblematic elements; and the scene was made to suggest "an atmosphere of reality, not reality itself; the impression of things, not crude, literal representations."25 In 1915 for an article in Theatre Magazine, Urban was asked to define "modern" design. "Certain painters, weary of complex combinations

Fig. 20 Schwanda, der Dudelsakpfeifer, entrance to city, 1931 (cat. 45)
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of form and color, have sought to return to simple lines and a palette of primary colors," he replied. "Call it modern, if you must, it is in reality Middle Age and Orient mixed. It is Albrecht Durer, Memling, Watteau, Chardin . . . . A formula for modern art? It is this – I think - grace and simplicity."26

This grace and simplicity could be seen in several of his Boston productions. For Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, for instance, the usually detailed depiction of a ship was eliminated. In its place was Isolde's couch on a bare stage enclosed by towering, dimly lighted, yellow curtains. For Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffmann (fig. 4), Urban eliminated footlights, created a diffused lighting that seemed to bathe the singers' faces in a natural glow, and used raised platforms to distinguish the imaginary tales from the "real" world of the prologue and epilogue. His Montmartre set for Charpentier's (fig. 19) may strike us today as fairly conventional and painterly, yet in contrast to the contemporary fare Macgowan saw it as "pure impressionism." Instead of the usual "impossible pretense at a city of real mortar and a sky of true azure depths," he saw "simply a picture into which fitted music and personages, all in the same new world of interpreted emotion."27

One of the innovations of the New Stagecraft was the use of "portals," a device that Urban essentially introduced to American stage design. Portals were proscenium-like frames set within the, stage behind the actual proscenium. They had the practical effect of narrowing the sometimes massive openings of many opera house stages to more manageable proportions. Since the baroque era, designers had employed "sky borders" or foliage borders – parallel strips of canvas painted (and sometimes shaped) to resemble the sky or tree limbs – to hide the fly space and, later, lighting equipment. It was an accepted convention, but as an illusion it had long lost its effectiveness. The portal functioned to restrict sight lines without pretending to be something it was not. Like the "prosceniums" that Urban


Fig. 21 Jonny spieltauf, set model, 1929 (cat. 44)

introduced into his various architectural projects, the portals had the effect of re–emphasizing the theatricality of the production: they blended the architectural quality of the actual proscenium with the artifice of the setting and were thus both scenic and architectural. Most often the portals were constructed of canvas stretched on wood frames, but Urban also employed gauze. By framing a scene in graduated thicknesses of gauze, he could create an aesthetic distance or a sense of unreality. This technique is particularly notable in the rainbow-like triangular arch for Jaromir Weinberger's Schwanda at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931 (fig. 20) or, less obviously, in Ernst Krenek's Jonny spielt auf of 1929 (fig. 21), but can even be seen in the Broadway production Flying High (fig. 22).

Fig. 22 Flying High, set model, 1930 (cat. 69)


Fig. 23 Don Giovanni, Giovanni's garden, 1913 (cat. 33)

Urban also employed what could be described as mini-prosceniums within his settings, as he had within his architecture, to frame scenic vistas. Examples abound but might be noted particularly in the garden scene of the Boston production of Don Giovanni, whose Turkish arches framed an Art Nouveau garden and a brilliant Urban–blue sky (fig. 23), or in Gasparo Spontini's La Vestale at the Metropolitan Opera in 1925 (fig. 24), in which a Roman triumphal arch framed the Roman city beyond. These portals not only served as focusing devices but, by allowing the spectator only a limited view of a vista, suggested a much larger expanse and far greater detail. The scenes glimpsed through these arches were, like Shakespeare 's poetic evocations of scenery, suggestive and thereby allowed the spectator's imagination to complete the image in far greater detail than possible with the scene painter's creation.

Urban was not merely the designer, he was also the stage director for many of the operas that he worked on – something that may surprise us. The rising prominence of the director and increasing specialization of the designer through the twentieth century has encouraged a separation of these roles. Contemporary audiences now associate the combined director–


Fig. 24 La Vestale, 1925, watercolor, 8% x 13 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
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designer either with avant–garde artists, such as Robert Wilson, or the creators of spectacle, such as Franco Zeffirelli. But early in the twentieth century, Urban was exercising a significant artistic control and as such he was able to bring innovations to the staging and acting while fusing the visual and performative elements of the opera into a unified whole. The Boston critic H.T. Parker, an early advocate of the New Stagecraft, was rapturous in his praise, writing that in The Tales of Hoffmann, Urban "freed the singing–players from the outworn conventions of operatic acting, persuaded them to sink themselves into their parts and to adjust their parts to the play."28 Parker went on to prophesy that "some day, the records may say that a revolution in the setting and lighting of the American stage dates from the innovations at the Boston Opera House."29

Two of the primary sources for the New Stagecraft were the Swiss designer Adolphe Appia (ten years older than Urban) and the English designer and director Edward Gordon Craig (born the same year as Urban). Appia set out to resolve the false dichotomy between two–dimensional scenery and the three–dimensional plasticity of the actor. He abandoned illusionistic decor for the sculptural space of the stage and took advantage


Fig. 25 Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, inside Saint Katherine's Church, 1908 (cat. 24)

of the new technology of electric light to revolutionize stage illumination, literally sculpting space with light. He did not reject decor altogether, and particularly in his designs for Wagnerian opera he created a suggestive and impressionistic style of scenery that evoked mood more than specific locale. Craig similarly rejected the trompe–l'oeil stage of the nineteenth century. His signature contribution was a system of moving screens that could constantly transform the space of the stage. His designs often involved towering pillars and walls that gave his settings a sense of grandeur.

Craig and Appia clearly had an impact on Urban. As early as 1908 a Craig–like massing of strong vertical, angular columns and steps can be seen in Urban's design for Wagner's Die Meistersinger at the Vienna Opera (fig. 25). But unlike the soaring, almost gravity–defying semi-gothic creations of Craig, Urban's early attempt seems earthbound and heavy. A

Fig. 26 Parsifal, Klingsor's magic castle, 1914 (cat. 36)

few years later, a similar approach was used in his Boston Parsifal (fig. 26). Notably, Urban the colorist comes through even amidst the shadowy gray tones inspired by Craig and Appia. A fiery orange sky is visible through two angular gray columns. Whereas these designs show a presumed influence of Craig, his sacred forest for Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera (fig. 27), produced in 1920, seems to be a virtual copy of Appia's 1896 rendering of the same scene (fig. 28). This Appian approach to the forest makes a telling contrast with the forest from act 5 of Liszt's St. Elizabeth from 1918 (fig. 29) The treatment of the individual trees is similar, but the massing of them and the use of color in the latter created something more akin to Urban's fairytale illustrations.

Several members of the new generation of American designers at the start of the twentieth century studied with Appia, Craig, and others in Europe. Notable among the young Americans were Robert Edmond Jones


Fig. 27 Parsifal, sacred grove, 1920 (cat. 41 a)
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Fig. 28 Adolphe Appia, Parsifal, sacred grove, 1896. Collection Suisse du Theatre, Bern

Fig. 29 St. Elizabeth, woods, 1918 (cat. 39)
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and Lee Simonson. According to the now accepted history, the first example of the New Stagecraft to be produced in America was Jones's design for Anatole France's Man Who Married a Dumb Wife at New York's Wallack Theatre in 1915 (fig. 30). The play served as a curtain–raiser for the English director Harley Granville–Barker's production of George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion. Jones's setting, done in shades of black, white, and gray – like much of the work of Appia and Craig – used simple geometric shapes, creating the impression of a wood–block print, vaguely Japanese in feeling but also medieval. Because it was done on Broadway and was unlike the standard Broadway fare, the set received significant press (both positive and negative), which helped to establish the apparently new movement and lent credence to the appealing story of a single production giving birth to a new aesthetic. The fact is that more than six months earlier, the designer Samuel J. Hume had mounted a highly touted exhibition of new European stage design at his studio in Cambridge,


Fig. 30 Robert Edmond Jones, The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife, revised sketch, 1915.
Whereabouts Unknown

Massachusetts, which was subsequently mounted in a Fifth Avenue gallery in New York City. More important, of course, were the three seasons of Urban's Boston Opera productions. His setting for act 2 of Puccini's Madama Butterfly (fig. 31), in particular, is remarkably similar to Robert Edmond Jones's supposedly groundbreaking design three years later.

Urban's Madama Butterfly was composed almost entirely of rectangles surrounded by a decorative geometrical frame. The arrangement of shapes was, in essence, a blueprint for Jones's later version. Urban was strongly influenced by the Wiener Werkstatte – the Viennese arts and crafts movement with its reliance on geometric detail and decorative line – and this production and many others reflect that aesthetic. Werkstatte–like decor also informs many of Urban's Broadway interiors. It is instructive to compare the Madama Butterfly to his fundamentally similar elevation for the Werkstatte–inspired bedroom in the Redlich Villa in Vienna (fig. 32) with its surface carved into rectangular blocks offset by geometric

Fig. 31 Madama Butterfly, inside Butterfly's house (detail), 1912 (cat. 310)

Fig. 32 Redlich Villa, Elsa Redlich's bedroom, 1907 (cat. 6)


Fig. 33 Djamileh, elevation and ground plan, Haroun's palace, 1913 (cat. 32)

decorative motifs. The pattern can be seen again in the 1913 design for Bizet's Djamileh (fig. 33) in Boston. One significant difference between the Urban and Jones designs is the use of color. The bold black–and-white checkerboard patterns of the stage left window unit of Butterfly are surrounded by a palette drawn from the blue–violet end of the spectrum, with exclamatory red highlights along the bottom. Jones introduced color to his setting only through the costumes.

But in 1915, any theater or art done outside of New York City remained essentially invisible (and in theater, at least, the situation has not changed all that much). Urban attracted the attention of the cognoscenti, but the real recognition ultimately went to Jones because he was the first to be seen in New York.


Joseph Urban, first and foremost, was a colorist. All of his innovations –on the stage, in architecture, and in decoration – can be tied to his unprecedented use of color, which was virtually unmatched in the twentieth century. His appreciation of color was heightened by his eight–month stay in Egypt when he was nineteen.

Fig. 34 Fairytale illustration, n.d. (cat. 23)

[MISSING TEXT] er, Vuillard, Maillol, and others) valorized color as a tool for emotional communication. "We can no longer reproduce nature and life by more or less improvised trompe 1'oeil," declared Maurice Denis, "but on the contrary, must reproduce our emotions and our dreams by representing them, using forms and harmonious colors."32 The bold, expressive use of color came to dominate a wide range of arts across Europe at the turn of the century. It is especially evident in the work of two artists who had a strong influence on Viennese developments, Edward Burne–Jones and Ferdinand Hodler. In Vienna, the symbolist approach to color was most pronounced in the paintings and decor of Gustav Klimt, whose use of line, form, and


Fig. 35 Otello, Desdemona's garden, 1914 (cat. 35)

Fig. 36 Parsifal, Klingsor's garden, 1920 (cat. 41b)
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color seems to anticipate or parallel Urban's scenic style.

But the artist whose work most clearly correlates to Urban's in its use of color and technique is Georges Seurat. The shimmering colors that Urban achieved on the stage were created through a variation of Seurat's pointillist technique, which broke up color into its component parts and juxtaposed complementary colors in a seemingly abstract mosaic pattern that, when seen in toto, created a unified image. Urban can be seen using this technique early on, in one of his book illustrations (fig. 34) in which the "points" of color are quite pronounced. Urban painted scenery not as an illusionist imitation of nature but, as one writer put it, "as a medium for the reception of colored light."33 Urban understood that color on the stage (as opposed to on an artist's canvas) is a result of the particular combination of paint pigments and stage lighting – red pigment, for instance, becomes visible only under red light or the red part of the spectrum within "white" light. Thus, instead of covering a canvas with flat expanses of paint as had been the practice of most scene painters, Urban took a semi–dry brush and spattered it. For his skies, for example, he used several shades of blue spattered over each other, then further spattered the canvas


Fig. 37 The Garden of Paradise, queen's bower, 1914 (cat. 47)
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with red, green, and silver.34 In the scene shop, under work lights, the resultant painting looked gray, but on the stage colored light employed with subtlety picked up and reflected the differing flecks – Urban could create anything from dawn to moonlight. The effect was "as suggestive of reality," claimed Macgowan, "as is any painting by Monet."35 The fragmented palette created a luminous, shimmering effect that repeatedly evoked the word "magical" from critics and observers.36


Urban's palette was not limited to blue, nor was his technique limited to pointillage. As with his Jugendstil or Art Nouveau colleagues, he drew upon the brilliant colors and undulating forms of exotic flowers and foliage, the mysteriously patterned world seen through the microscope, and other enigmatic examples of nature; there was also a distinct influence of Japanese prints and other Asian forms. This could be seen over and over in his repeated use of dripping foliage, as in the garden viewed through the portals of Verdi's Otello at Boston in 1914 (fig. 35); the ultimately unused garden for the Met's 1920 Parsifal (fig. 36); and The Garden of Paradise designs (fig. 37); as well as the murals of the Ziegfeld Theatre (fig. 38) and the murals and ceilings of many restaurants and hotels, such as the


Fig. 38 Ziegfeld Theatre, mural for balcony ceiling, 1926–27 (cat. 9c)

St. Regis Hotel roof garden (fig. 39), the Central Park Casino, or the elevators of Bedell's department store (fig. 40). These designs used a dizzying array of pastels and drew heavily from the red and violet end of the spectrum. Such a palette was alien to the turn–of-the-century naturalists and literalists, and was seemingly anathema to the Jones–Simonson school of New Stagecraft with its monochrome palette.

Related to Urban's use of color was his sensuous treatment of line. With precedents in the arts and crafts movement and symbolism, and with a conscious nod toward medieval art and orientalism, Art Nouveau was

Fig. 39 St. Regis Hotel, New York, murals for roof garden dining room, 1927–28 (cat 10)

typified by a provocative and decorative use of line – "line determinative, line emphatic, line delicate, line expressive, line controlling and uniting" as Walter Crane, an artist influenced by William Morris, put it in 188937 – which functioned visually much as sound had in symbolist poetry. Line, as the art historian Peter Selz explained, "became melodious, agitated, undulating, flowing, flaming."38 Such adjectives well describe the sinuous lines of many of Urban's illustrations from the 1890s, most done in collaboration with his brother–in-law Heinrich Lefler, as in the underwater castle image in Chronika der drei Schwestern (Chronicle of the Three Sisters)


Fig. 40 Bedell Store, elevator doors and interior of cars, 1928 (cat. 12b)

from 1899 (fig. 41). This use of line is a crucial element in his drooping foliage patterns and murals, recurs constantly in various Follies productions, and emerges rather startlingly in the Aubrey Beardsley–like tableau curtain of "Tinturel's Vision" for the Met's Parsifal (fig. 42) or the Erte–like curtain for Lohengrin (fig. 43). With the exception of some Ballets Russes designs, such use of line was rare on the stage throughout this period except in the work of Urban. It was particularly striking when juxtaposed, as it sometimes was, against the geometric forms of the Werkstatte–inspired designs.

The complete marriage of line and color, not surprisingly, found its most triumphant form in Urban's architecture; and nowhere was this more brilliantly demonstrated than in the Ziegfeld Theatre. As Urban himself characterized it, it was to be a place where "people coming out of crowded hours and through crowded streets, may find life carefree, bright and leisured."39 The interior was designed with no moldings so that everything would flow together smoothly, "like the inside of an egg," and the

Fig. 41 Chronika der drei Schwestem, 1899 (cat. 2)


Fig. 42 Parsifal, tableau curtain showing "Tinturel's Vision," 1920, watercolor, 12 x 16 3/8 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
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decor was envisioned as a single, unifying, encompassing mural. "The carpet and seats," explained Urban, "are in tones of gold, continued up the walls to form the base of the mural decoration where heroes of old romance form the detail in flowering masses of color interspersed with gold." For Urban this was not merely decoration, however, but a carefully thought–out scheme for enhancing the experience of the spectators – focusing them on the stage during the performance and bathing them in warmth during intermissions. "The aim . . . was to create a covering that would be a warm texture surrounding the audience during the performance. In the intermission this design serves to maintain an atmosphere of colorful gaiety and furnish the diversion of following the incidents of an unobtrusive pattern." This design scheme was as much an example of architectural gesamtkunstwerk as Wagner's opera house at Bayreuth, perhaps even more so. Because it was now employed in the service of popular

Fig. 43 Lohengrin, curtain, 1909–11 (cat. 25)


entertainment, however, it was never accorded the same status or respect. (Interestingly, just as Wagner hid the orchestra from view so as not to detract from the idealist vision created on the stage, Urban hid his equivalent of the orchestra: the lighting equipment. Light was crucial in bringing his creations to life and in giving movement to the architectural forms, but in both interiors and exteriors, the sources of illumination remained hidden so as not to seem like afterthoughts or to interfere with the desired effects.)

By contrast, Urban's Paramount Theatre, a movie house in Palm Beach, Florida, was simple in its lines and employed a subdued palette of silver and green, "cool and comfortable" (fig. 55). The rationale was simple: the rhythms of Palm Beach were "leisured and sunny" as opposed to those of New York City. "The theatre," explained Urban, "is not an escape from the life around, but a part of it, fitting into the rhythm of the community. The architecture of the Paramount Theatre ... is accordingly simple, spacious, Southern."

Urban was a forceful advocate for the use of color in architecture – to

Fig. 44 Atlantic Beach Club, Long Island, terraced apartments, 1929-31 (cat. 20)

shape the mood and enhance the functions of interiors, and to transform entire cities through the application of color to exterior surfaces. Urban, in fact, saw cities as virtual stage settings, which needed color to bring them to life. "When the morning sun gilds the city and casts blue shadows," Urban wrote in 1927,
even the buildings of neutral coloring are often very beautiful, but there are many hours when these effects are not seen and there are gray days. Then our buildings need positive colors to enliven them. When we look at the city at night, we see light in many tones. Some are dazzling white, others are soft and warm. A building can have the same distinctiveness in the daytime. Its color can express its personality. These colorful structures will have charm on gloomy days as well as when the sunlight tints them, and at night all degrees of the lights and shadows of artificial illumination will have their part in modifying and enhancing them.40

The Atlantic Beach Club (1929–31) on Long Island was an example of this approach (fig. 44). The walls and decks were composed of surfaces of red, yellow, blue, and white stucco which served as a background for brilliantly colored awnings and umbrellas. By the 1930s Urban was moving into bolder experiments with architectural color. The interior of the New School for Social Research's new home on West 12th Street in New York City (fig. 45), which opened in 1930, provided a particular challenge – a large number of rooms and auditoriums in a relatively small space with each room having a specific function. Urban used large masses of bright color on plaster surfaces to establish relationships among the spaces while distinguishing them as necessary. "The color is in fact the form, the volume," observed the architect Otto Teegen. "One does not feel that certain architectural surfaces have been painted, but that these architectural planes and volumes are actually color planes and color volumes which have been composed to make a room or a library, as the case may be."41According to Urban, warm colors were located


where they receive the most light, cold where there is most shadow, a change of plane is generally emphasized by a change of color, thus the walls have one set of colors, the ceiling another. By thus modeling the wall surfaces of a room the boxlike property of four walls is given an expression of contrasting filled spaces and void space; the monotony of the enclosing areas is transformed to an imaginative statement of the space enclosed and given a character by the emotional statement of color.42

It was the critic Edmund Wilson who this time criticized the building for its theatricality. "When he tries to produce a functional lecture building," complained Wilson, "he merely turns out a set of fancy Ziegfeld settings which charmingly mimic offices and factories where we keep expecting to see pretty girls in blue, yellow and cinnamon dresses to match the gaiety of the ceilings and walls."43

Building on the New School experience, Urban saved his boldest architectural color work for what was to become the last project of his life, the International 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago, for which he was appointed director of exterior color and consultant on lighting. His plan seemingly amalgamated the Nabis approach of saturated, emotion–charged colors with Bauhaus-like surfaces of geometric planes (fig. 46). He aimed to create a unified approach to color for the entire fair – color as an architectural medium, not decoration. He set out six guiding principles:

  1. Color to be used in an entirely new way.
  2. Color used to co–ordinate and bring together all these vastly different buildings.
  3. Color to unify and give vitality.
  4. Color to give brightness and life to material not beautiful in itself.
  5. Color to give the spirit of carnival and gaiety – to supply atmosphere lacking in our daily life.
  6. Color that should transport you from your everyday life when you enter the fairgrounds.44

He created a palette of twenty–four colors, all of the "brightest intensity": 1 green, 2 blue–greens, 6 blues, 2 yellows, 3 reds, 4 oranges, 2 grays, white, black, silver, and gold. The plan was for approximately 20% of all surfaces to be white, 20% blue, 20% orange, 15% black, and the remaining 25% to be spread among the yellows, grays, greens, and silver.45 It is one thing, of course, to create such a bright and vibrant color scheme for a world's fair, quite another to transform a functioning city.

Fig. 45 The New School for Social Research, New York, dance studio, 1930 (cat. 19c)



Despite his numerous brilliant productions for the Metropolitan and Boston operas and despite his major architectural works, Urban became – and remains - best known for his work with Florenz Ziegfeld.

Following the closing of the Boston Opera, Urban went to Paris with the company in July 1914 to direct Wagner's Tristan und Isolde – the first German opera presented there in thirty years – but the outbreak of the war stranded him in Europe. The producer George Tyler, however, managed to bring him back to New York to design a production of Edward Sheldon's Garden of Paradise, which became Urban's first Broadway show. The production itself was a failure, but Urban's sets and new aesthetic attracted attention. The nine fantastical scenes included a castle, a storm at sea, a fairy bower, and a sequence under the ocean. In a contemporary article on the production, the writer Louis DeFoe seemed to understand that the New Stagecraft had arrived:

Fig. 46 Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933, watercolor, 13 x 33 in. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

But the scene changes were unwieldy and necessitated close to an hour's worth of intermissions, which contributed to the demise of the show. With the Follies, at least, Urban would never make that mistake again. He learned how to make scenery move as if it were music.

Among the few people who saw The Garden of Paradise was Florenz Ziegfeld, who was looking for a designer to give the annual Follies (which had premiered in 1907) a more sophisticated look. He hired Urban – who had never seen the Follies – and took him out to Indianapolis to catch up with the 1914 edition on tour. Urban's first – and accurate - impression was that the show was little more than a series of disconnected sketches which were equivalent, in his words, to "advertising posters." He was going to bring his gesamtkunstwerk approach to Ziegfeld. "I hope most of all to unify the impression of all these short scenes, to give the entire evening a kind of keynote," he declared.47 The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, Urban's first, astounded audiences, in part because of the lavish settings for its twenty–one scenes, but just as important for the way in which those scenes flowed from one to the next so that the entire revue seemed to be a single, unified entity. One of the techniques that Urban had to master was the basic vaudeville device of the "in one" scene – an interlude played in front of a downstage drop curtain that allowed large set changes to occur behind it. Some critics bemoaned the fact that a great opera designer was descending into the lower depths of crass commercial and mass entertainment,


Fig. 47 The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, bath scene (cat. 49c)
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Fig. 48 The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, zeppelin over London (cat. 49b)
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Fig. 49 Macbeth, outside the castle, 1916 (cat. 53)
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forgetting that opera had evolved in large part from baroque intermezzi – the lavish, allegorical spectacles created by leading architects and painters of the seventeenth century using fundamentally the same staging techniques as modern revues and extravaganzas. History had merely come full circle. (One wonders about the potential effect on twentieth–century theater if Appia, Jones, or Bakst had been forced to master and absorb the ancient crafts and techniques of popular scenography.)

The 1915 Follies included one of the most spectacular Ziegfeld scenes to that time – the bath scene (fig. 47), in which two smiling, golden elephants spouted water from their raised trunks into a pool of water surrounded by Jugendstil–like shrubbery. Kay Laurell as Aphrodite rose out of the pool to signal the start of a mermaid ballet. The staircase behind the pool was also the first hint of the soon–to-be-famous Ziegfeld staircase that would showcase the chorus of Ziegfeld girls. The staircase became


central element in The Century Girl, produced by Ziegfeld and Charles Dillingham and designed by Urban at the Century Theatre the next year, and then appeared regularly in the Follies thereafter. The 1915 Follies was also to contain the stunning drop of a zeppelin hovering over London (seemingly, though impossibly, viewed from St. Paul's Cathedral) (fig. 48) for a skit with the comedians Bert Williams and Leon Errol. The skit was originally to be in a submarine, but after more than a dozen rewrites, which was typical of the Ziegfeld process, the setting was changed to a zeppelin, and finally the whole thing was cut during out–of-town tryouts.48 Although Urban provided the Follies with a sense of visual style and lavishness that was unsurpassed, as well as an all–important artistic unity, his designs were capable of overwhelming the whole production, even with its enormous star power. A review of the 1917 Follies praises Urban's sumptuous settings and notes that in his "Oriental setting, [he] has outdone himself in his employment of colors and seemingly massive structures," but goes on to protest that

while in richness of tone and in suggestion of distance the setting is superb, it, nevertheless, obtrudes upon the players in the foreground. There is no personality definite and dominant enough to stand against it successfully, and therefore most of the fun and satire that had been contrived for the scene went for naught.49

The significance of Urban's work with Ziegfeld was in bringing artistic excellence, visual wit, and a sense of opulence to popular entertainments. Moreover – and quite astonishingly - he introduced the aesthetics of Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk and the scenic innovations of the New Stagecraft to Broadway. The New Stagecraft as presented by Robert Edmond Jones, Lee Simonson, Sam Hume, and others was spare, dark, serious, and pregnant with meaning and import; Urban presented scenographic inspiration as frothy dessert for audience consumption, perhaps never fully realizing its significance. But it laid the groundwork for Broadway musicals for the rest of the century and for the Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and the extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley. Urban created, in other words, a new scenic and visual vocabulary that permeated popular consciousness.

Urban, as an outsider in American culture, saw the puritan streak that ran through the culture, particularly its attempt to separate high and low art. But he also understood that the two were not necessarily separate.

I believe you can make your fun and your pleasure and your diversion artistic as well as your more serious plays. In America you have seemed to feel that you must do serious things seriously, but that you can do things meant for pastime very carelessly. That ought not to be so. You ought to take just as much care in providing your fun as you do your education.50


Urban made a very conscious decision to stay in the United States, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1917. Unabashedly pragmatic, he declared that the economic situation in the United States was far more conducive to the development of the scenic art than that of war–torn Europe, and he believed that New York was about to become the center of the design world.51 While his American colleagues looked to Europe for inspiration and artistic leadership, Urban absorbed the democratic American spirit that valorized popular culture and freely mixed so–called high and low art. At least one historian has wondered if Urban's place in history might have been greater had he remained in Europe.

Urban's pragmatism included his belief that the theater could be an arbiter of taste, that like architecture, interior design, and crafts, it could shape the cultural sensibility of the spectators. "If only one person each night sees something in my stage settings which quickens his or her interest in beauty, I shall be supremely happy."52 But this Werkstatte–inspired aestheticism was not in keeping with seriousness of the "art theater." The cutting edge was to be found in the so–called Little or Art Theaters of the


day, such as the Provincetown Playhouse where the plays of Eugene O'Neill were first produced. The monochromatic, sculptural, expressionist settings created by Jones, Simonson, Cleon Throckmorton, Sam Hume, Norman Bel Geddes, and others were more appropriate for the neosymbolist, quasi–expressionist plays emerging from the hands of the new American playwrights of the teens and twenties – with their probings of the psyche and the dark inner workings of the soul – than were the colorful and often decorative creations of Joseph Urban. The dark, suggestive scenographic creations of Jones and his colleagues also lent themselves to the new psychological stagings of Shakespeare and other classics being mounted by Arthur Hopkins and later by Margaret Webster and Eva Le Gallienne. Again, Urban's often colorful fantasies seemed out of place. (His rather sunny 1916 Macbeth [fig. 49], for instance, provides a vivid contrast to the somber tone of most contemporary Shakespearean productions.) As a result, the work of designers such as Jones, Simonson, and Bel Geddes was seen as art, while that of Urban was categorized as decoration. And the Follies, providing a bourgeois and upper–class clientele with spectacle and pulchritude (tasteful and sophisticated though it may have been), were either ignored or denigrated by literary and art critics. Ironically, Urban may also have been harmed by his prodigious creations in such a wide area of endeavor. In 1930 an article on the designer drew a fanciful but theoretically feasible picture of Urban's range and interaction with his audience.

It is possible for a person to walk out of a house designed by Urban, to pack one's clothes in a trunk he designed, to go for a ride in an automobile of his design, to drive to a theater of his creation to see a show for which he did the sets, then to go to any one of a number of restaurants or nightclubs he decorated, and after dining to spend the night in a hotel, the furnishings and decorations of which again reflect Urban.53

As much as we might admire the range of this seemingly Renaissance individual, it made him, to some degree, suspect.  Many of the leading theater practitioners at the beginning of the twentieth century were attempting to establish theater as an art, as opposed to an entertainment.  Edward Gordon Craig entitled the major collection of his essays On the Art of the Theatre; Stanislavsky called his autobiography My Life in Art, and his company was the Moscow Art Theatre (just as Georg Fuchs had founded the Munich Art Theatre). A person who designed furniture, interiors, industrial products, restaurants, and nightclubs, however, was at best an artisan or a craftsman. Adolphe Appia, after all, did not design kitchenware, Robert Edmond Jones did not design luggage. (Norman Bel Geddes, it is true, actually made his mark as an industrial designer – he was largely responsible for the "streamlined" look –but had less impact as a stage designer.)

Joseph Urban's legacy is still felt on Broadway in the musical theater designs of Robin Wagner (and before him, in the work of his mentor Donald Oenslager) and in the Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganzas. Echoes of Urban, if not his direct influence, can be discerned in the rich blue tones of Robert Wilson productions, not to mention Wilson's mixing of modernist design and crafts with scenography. The theatricality of much postmodern architecture, notably that of Frank Gehry, has precedents in Urban's work. Urban's influence could be explicitly seen in the New York World's Fairs of 1939 and 1964–65 and of other similar expositions. It is seen in the developments of the new Times Square with its unabashed use of color and advertising marquees and in much contemporary theater in which art and entertainment dissolve into one another. And it exists wherever bold colors and undulating lines create a world of wonder and fantasy. Joseph Urban should hold a place as one of the most significant figures in the twentieth–century design and architecture. Perhaps the twenty–first century will correct the oversight.

Arnold Aronson is a professor of theater at Columbia University and former chair of the Theatre Division. He writes frequently about scenography.


  1. Sigmund Freud, On Dreams (New York: W. W. Norton, 1965; orig. pub. 1901) 97,99.
  2. Quoted in Frantisek Deak, Symbolist Theater: The Formation of an Avant–Garde (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) 145.
  3. Quoted in Randolph Carter and Robert Reed Cole, Joseph Urban: Architecture., Theatre, Opera, Film (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992) 183.
  4. Deems Taylor, "The Scenic Art of Joseph Urban: His Protean Work in the Theater," Architecture 69 (May 1934): 290.
  5. Quoted in Hans Bisanz, "The Visual Arts in Vienna from 1890 to 1920," Vienna 1890–1920, Robert Waissenberger, ed. (New York: Tabard Press, 1984) 116.
  6. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964) 6.
  7. H.T. Parker. "The Opera Outdoes Itself ... 'The Tales of Hoffmann' Produced as Never Before in America," Boston Evening Transcript (26 November 1912).
  8. From the Sunday Leader. Typed manuscript in the Joseph Urban Collection (box 34, file 5), Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University (hereafter JUC).
  9. Jane Kallir, Viennese Design and the Wiener Werkstatte (New York: Galerie St. Etienne/George Braziller, 1986) 22
  10. See Carl Schorske's "Introduction" to Kallir's Viennese Design, especially page 8; for a far more extensive investigation, see his book Fin–de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1981).
  11. Kallir, Viennese Design, 49.
  12. Frank Cadie, "Excels Because He Does Not Specialize," Brooklyn Eagle Magazine (30 March 1930).
  13. Ibid.
  14. Kallir (Viennese Design, 22) cites the factual refutation of this story but notes that it has persisted because of its plausibility.
  15. Joseph Urban, "Wedding Theater Beauty to Ballyhoo," American Architect (20 September 1928): 361.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Joseph Urban, Theatres (New York: Theatre Arts Press, 1929).
  18. Ibid.
  19. Shepard Vogelgesang, "Architecture and Trade Marks," Architectural Forum (1929): 900.
  20. Urban, Theatres.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Kenneth Macgowan, "The New Stage–Craft in America," Century Magazine 65 (January 1914): 418.
  23. Ibid., 416.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid., 418.
  26. Typescript, JUC (box 34, file 5).
  27. Macgowan, "New Stage–Craft in America," 418.
  28. H.T. Parker, "Opera Outdoes Itself."
  29. Ibid.
  30. Manuscript, JUC (box 34, file 5). See also Otto Teegen, "Joseph Urban's Philosophy of Color," Architecture 69 (May 1934): 257.
  31. John Corbin, "The Urban Scenery and Some Other Matters," New York Times (30 September 1917): III.8.
  32. Maurice Denis, "From Gauguin and van Gogh to Neo–Classicism," in Art and Theory 1900–1990, Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds. (Maiden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1993)51.
  33. Taylor, "Scenic Art of Joseph Urban," 276.
  34. Ibid. 279.
  35. Macgowan, "New Stage–Craft in America," 421.
  36. See, for example, Hiram Kelly Moderwell, The Theatre of To–day (New York: John Lane, 1914) 103.


  37. Quoted in Peter Selz, "Introduction," Art Nouveau: Art and Design at the Turn of the Century, Selz and Mildred Constantine, eds. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959) 10.
  38. Ibid. 39. Urban, Theatres. All subsequent quotes relating to the theaters are from the same source. 40. Quoted in Teegen, "Joseph Urban's Philosophy of Color," 262, 265.
  39. Ibid., 261.
  40. Quoted in Carter and Cole, Joseph Urban, 204.
  41. Ibid. Though generally well received, Urban's architectural design was particularly criticized by the architect Philip Johnson for the way in which it mimicked the International Style while failing to have form rigorously adhere to function – the design remained far too decorative for Johnson's taste.
  42. JUC (box 34, file 5).
  43. Ibid.
  44. Louis DeFoe, "A New Experiment with the Fairy Play," Greenbook Magazine (February 19 15): 277.
  45. Oliver M. Sayler, "Urban of the Opera, the Follies, and the Films" Shadowland (typescript, JUC [box 34, file 3]).
  46. See Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld, The Ziegfeld Touch: The Life and Times of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993) 73.
  47. Review of Ziegfeld Follies, in Dramatic Mirror (23 June 1917).
  48. Sayler, "Urban of the Opera."
  49. "Our Scenic Art Leads the World," Sunday World (18 January 1920).
  50. Ibid.
  51. Arthur Strawn, "Joseph Urban," Outlook and Independent 555 (18 June 1930): 275.





JOSEPH URBAN has been considered by some critics and historians to be one of the leading modernists working in the United States during the interwar period, yet an examination of his work as designer and architect reveals him to be less of a leader and more of a follower, albeit one possessing remarkable, chameleonlike gifts.1 Although these gifts are more difficult to discern in his early career, they become clearly evident following his emigration to the United States, especially in the final decade of his life, when he reached the pinnacle of his career. This extraordinary ability of Urban to satisfy his client base, oftentimes at the expense of originality, indicates, in so many respects, his true brilliance and reveals that he was the product of the complex world of his youth in late nineteenth–century Vienna.

By the time of Urban's birth in 1872, Vienna, as the capital of an enormous empire that had undergone seismic shifts throughout the nineteenth century, had embraced many of these changes while denying others. The century had begun with Vienna as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and ended with the empire irreparably compromised. In the course of that final century of its existence, through war, treaty, and general policy, Vienna saw the landmass of its empire erode in Western Europe while it sought to consolidate its position in the east, deeper into the Russian empire 's sphere of influence, a decision that would produce dangerous consequences by 1914.2

The Austrians were forced to contend with a wide array of socioeconomic and political shifts which were transforming the Continent throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, and specifically, they made numerous tactical errors in both their external military operations and their internal political directives. These situations would culminate in pronounced internal administrative tensions within the government, reflected in oftentimes unfortunate ethnic consequences that occurred between the ruling elite and non–German subjects of the empire, many of whom moved to Vienna to seek economic and social opportunities while protecting their own hard–earned achievements.

For Vienna this meant that, as capital of this empire, it was increasingly peopled by a wide array of ethnic and economic groups all jockeying for power and position in a variety of fields. The prevailing structure of power, however, was built upon the conservative imperial court and the reactionary Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, most of the artistic, economic, and political achievements of the era must be credited to the ascendant middle class to which Urban's family belonged and which was intent upon preserving the prerogatives it had won since the seminal revolution of 1848. The rise of various ethnic groups which emigrated to the capital city after the revolution, and the maneuvering of various economic and political factions as society moved from an overwhelmingly rural disposition to an increasingly industrial one, resulted in that remarkable


phenomenon later known as the grunderzeit, or the Time of the Founders.

It was during this period when imperial Vienna itself was transformed into the multistylistic metropolis whose architectural manifestations of historicism were far more complex than any in Paris, London, or Berlin.3 This was the intellectual and visual world that would define Joseph Urban and his career from its earliest years until his death in New York City in 1933. In many respects, the multistylistic tendencies of Vienna's conservative grunderzeit architects would provide him with a more adaptable professional and aesthetic template than would the work of Vienna's truly progressive architects such as Otto Wagner (1841–1918), Josef Maria Olbrich (1867–1908), and Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956). Urban's ability to work in a wide variety of architectural idioms would serve him well for more than a quarter of a century.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the artistic and design community in Vienna was basically defined by a growing rift between the academic and the avant–garde, a situation found in many other major European cultural centers. In Vienna, designers and architects joined painters in their revolt when the younger, more avant–garde Austrian artists seceded in May of 1897 from the conservative and discriminatory artists' association known as the Künstlerhaus, which had dominated the field of painting in Vienna through the exhibitions held in its halls. The new, rival group – thereafter known as the Secessionists – held its first exhibition in March of 1898 and then conducted its second in November of 1898 in the startling, purpose–built structure designed by Josef Maria Olbrich (fig. 50). Olbrich, only five years older than Urban, was already a leading figure in the progressive design world of Central Europe, second only to his mentor, Otto Wagner.4 Olbrich's formation of an innovative language of design in the final years of the 1890s would effectively clear the ground around him of all serious competition, with the exception of one contemporary, Josef Hoffmann.5

The slightly younger Hoffmann had won praise at the end of the 1890s for his own Jugendstil design with its sweeping curvilinear vocabulary imbued with symbolic meaning. Following his success with it at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, he quickly abandoned this manner of work, abruptly and adroitly shifting his design vocabulary to one that was markedly symmetrical and geometric, and initially free of ornamental elements. He would widely disseminate this revolutionary vocabulary through his inauguration of the Wiener Werkstatte, which executed a wide range of modernist decorative arts for an elitist audience until 1932.

Fig. 50 Josef Maria Olbrich, Secession Exhibition Hall, Vienna, 1897.
Photograph: Giorgio Pezzato



Joseph Urban must be seen in the context of his slightly older contemporaries. Like Hoffmann, Urban was not only forced to labor in the shadow of the exceptionally gifted Otto Wagner, but he was also at a disadvantage because he had not trained in Wagner's atelier. Having been born into one of the principal centers of modernism at the end of the nineteenth century, Urban was additionally hampered in that the field of endeavor for progressive architects and designers was already excessively crowded with talent by the time he began his practice.6

Between the turn of the century and his departure for Boston in 1912, Urban seems to have received relatively few commissions, especially when one compares his career during this period with those of Olbrich and Hoffmann. Nonetheless, Urban's early work, although for a limited clientele, was highly visible in that he worked for a prominent Hungarian family, the Esterhazys, and he was commissioned by the imperial family to produce two large–scale temporary installations for important court functions.

The first of these, a bridge connecting the Künstlerhaus and the Musikverein (fig. 8), was perhaps the most original work of his Viennese years. This powerful geometric endeavor of 1898, although temporary, was remarkable for the way it linked two massive, academic, historicist buildings with a form, ornament, and materials that did nothing to unite it aesthetically with the two extant structures. Certainly, the decorative vocabulary used for this passageway by the young Urban was indebted to the highly individual ornamental language that had been so brilliantly developed by Olbrich during the two previous years and which was well known to Urban by that time.

Throughout Urban's career, he would reveal an ability to garner high–profile clients. An early indication was the several commissions from Count Karl Esterhazy at the turn of the century (figs. 2, 9, 12). In addition

Fig. 51 Hagenbund exhibition hall, Vienna, remodeled by Urban, 1901 , watercolor, 11 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

To his interior designs which were executed for private clients, Urban also designed several other important public commissions, including the Strauss–Lanner Room (fig. 11) in the Rathauskeller in Vienna's City Hall on the Ringstrasse. Another important commission was the redesign of a market hall into the exhibition space for the Hagenbund (fig. 51), an artists' organization that sought to rival the Secessionist group. This building was completed in 1901; but with its four, squat towers, stuccoed surface, and ornamental decorations, it could not measure up to the consummate Secession building designed almost four years earlier by Olbrich.


Fig. 52 Austrian Pavilion, Saint Louis World's Fair, 1904, photograph, 8x10 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Urban's early international triumphs included the design of award–winning exhibitions for the Austrian installation at the 1900 Paris Exposition and at the Bavarian International Exposition of 1902. He achieved a major success with his design for the interiors of the Austrian Pavilion at the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904 (fig. 52),(where fairgoers could also see the German Pavilion, installed under the direction of Josef Maria Olbrich). These interiors were deeply indebted to the stringent, geometric design vocabulary developed by Hoffmann circa 1899–1900.7

Urban's last prominent Viennese commission was his Kaiserpavilion of 1908 (fig. 53) which Franz Josef II used as a viewing platform during the ceremonies in celebration of his sixty years as emperor. Again, Urban was indebted to an earlier work of Otto Wagner's, his well–known Hofpavillion, the rail station built at Schonbrunn palace in 1896–97.8 The considerable cost overruns of Urban's temporary structure, and the charges that he had favored his own friends in the construction of this project, unfortunately compromised his career in Vienna before the First World War.9


Although Urban moved to the United States in 1912, he spent his first decade there primarily working as a theatrical designer; his profile as an architect in the United States would not emerge until the early 1920s. Essentially, the field of modernist architecture in the United States was, at the end of the First World War, in a brief period of relative stagnation. Apart from the important earlier work of Frank Lloyd Wright, design in the United States and its overall global influence was focused in phenomena such as the process of standardization and mechanization seen in the great automobile factories of Detroit. These issues were also scientifically proposed in the highly influential publications of Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915), which were read by many European architects and engineers. A further contribution to international modernism by the American design community was revealed in the maturation of that engineering phenomenon most fully associated with American urbanism, the skyscraper.

Fig. 53 Kaiserpavilion, Vienna, 1908, photograph, 8 x 10 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University


Fig. 54 Bath and Tennis Club, Palm Beach, 1926, etching, 12 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Initially, and perhaps most importantly, in the United States Urban benefited from a situation completely opposite to what he had experienced in Vienna: in the United States there were too few progressive architects for the amount of work that was being commissioned. The field of indigenous, progressive designers was relatively uncrowded in the 1920s, and the number of European modernists who would emigrate to the United States would remain relatively small until the early 1930s.10 With little competition in Manhattan, Urban was able to purvey his work to the wealthiest group of Americans, many of whom would have seen his designs at the Metropolitan Opera and for the Ziegfeld Follies.

An examination of the architectural work of Joseph Urban in the 1920s reveals his deep understanding of client–architect relations and the prevailing eclecticist tastes in the design community. At the same time, it undermines the general perception among many of these clients and some critics that he was part of the architectural avant–garde. In little more than a decade, Urban would work for such prominent Americans as William Randolph Hearst, Otto Kahn, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and Anthony

Fig. 55 Paramount Theatre, Palm Beach, 1926, watercolor, 15x20 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Drexel Biddle, Jr. In addition to his remarkable talent for social interaction – an essential quality in serving the various needs of such clientele –Urban utilized a wealth of aesthetic expressions. Ranging from accomplished historicism to designs based on progressive contemporaneous European work, these projects were united by Urban's impressive understanding of the aesthetic components of each style.

When Urban employed avant–garde idioms, however, he often was little more than a copyist, and many of his designs lacked the complex and technically accomplished underpinnings that defined the groundbreaking modernist works. Nevertheless, Urban's awareness of contemporaneous European design concepts, and his brilliant recycling of many of their creative elements, explains his ability to appear as an innovator in a nation relatively unfamiliar with his prototypes. Even if not entirely original, Urban's work paved the way for the acceptance of many advanced architectural ideas in the United States.


The impressive body of work that Urban completed in Palm Beach in the second half of the 1920s was deeply within the idiom of revivalist work that was employed throughout the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. He designed private homes, shopping centers, private clubs, large commercial structures, and churches, commissions created for an affluent market. The internal plans, technical components, deployment and mixing of ornament, and even the massing of these buildings was often highly original and had little precedent elsewhere. The fact that Urban could enter into this world of architecture and design and produce such a remarkably accomplished oeuvre in such a short period of time is testimony to his talents and adaptability. His designs in Palm Beach for the Bath and Tennis Club (fig. 54), the Paramount Theatre (fig. 55), Anthony Biddle's residence (fig. 56), and additions to Mrs. Post's monumental seasonal home, Mar–a-Lago (fig. 3), and the Oasis Club bear

Fig. 56 Anthony Biddle residence, Palm Beach, 1927, photograph, 10x8 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Fig. 57 Bedell Store, showroom, 1928 (cat. 12c)

Fig. 58 Kaufmann Department Store, Pittsburgh, counter area, 1928 (cat. 13)


favorable comparison to the work of his contemporaries, such as Addison Mizner (1872–1933) and Marion Sims Wyeth (1889–1982), working in the same village.11 The deeply private world 'of Palm Beach in the interwar era, however, did not allow the public much exposure to Urban's work. But in the metropolitan New York area his work was far more visible. The International Magazine Building in New York (fig. 1), which Urban designed in 1927 for William Randolph Hearst, looked back in many ways to pre– World War I Vienna with its monumentality, towering columns, and oversized decorative embellishments. The Bedell Store in New York in 1928 (fig. 57) was a more obvious example of design borrowing by Urban. The towering, fluted lighting fixtures of the entryway of this women's fashion store are quite similar to the interior lighting fixtures used by Hans Poelzig in his

Fig. 59 The New School for Social Research, elevation, 1 930 (cat. 1 9a)

outstanding Berlin theater, the Grosses Schauspielhaus, completed in 1919 and refashioned from a market hall for the renowned stage director Max Reinhardt.12 Urban would also use a variation of these fixtures for his renovation plans for the Kaufmann Department Store in Pittsburgh (fig. 58).

Urban's most critically acclaimed building in New York was the New School for Social Research, completed in 1930 (fig. 59), and it typified his penchant for borrowing and eclecticism. His deployment of stylistic elements of the emerging International Style produced an elegant facade. But the result had little to do with this new movement's strong social purpose, which led to a formal design vocabulary and an eschewing of ornamental overlay. Urban was more eclectic in the aesthetic concepts that he utilized for the building's interior. Elements of the building's auditorium (fig. 60) were seemingly borrowed from Walter Gropius's ingenious Total Theatre designed for Erwin Piscator in 1927. Although never built, Gropius's designs were known to many in the theater world, as were the innovative concepts of Piscator, who advocated a closer unity between stage and audience, a situation reflected in Urban's egg–shaped plan which closely paralleled Gropius's design. The double staircase in the New School's library (fig. 61) is strongly reminiscent of the double staircase used in the main rotunda of the Stockholm Public Library, completed by Erik Gunnar Asplund in 1 927 and well known in the international architectural community.13 As much as it was praised, the New School also had its detractors who criticized Urban's lack of purity or originality.

By the time Urban emigrated to the United States in 1912, he was nearly forty, an age when few individuals dare to test their professional and social skills within entirely new environments. Within a decade of arriving opera, film, and stage, as well as freestanding buildings and interior designs for extant structures. Divorced from circumstances on the Continent and from those colleagues who might have challenged his originality


Urban seems to have become something of a professional sleuth, investigating the innovations of others. By the end of the 1920s when his office was at its peak, he was serving an enormous clientele with many different needs.

Ultimately it may be said that apart from his facility to design in a variety of idioms which often constituted antagonistic schools of thought, one of the great accomplishments of Urban's life was that he quickly came to understand the complexities of the American marketplace which, in many ways, reflected the diversity of the Vienna he had known in his early professional life. Those lessons would enable him to become one of the more successful and influential architect–designers in the United States from the early 1920s until his death in 1933.

Fig. 60 The New School for Social Research, auditorium, 1930 (cat. 19f)

Fig. 61 The New School for Social Research, stairs in library, 1930 (cat. 19d)

Derek E. Ostergard is a historian of twentieth–century decorative arts and design and is the associate director and founding dean of the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts.

  1. The most comprehensive work on Joseph Urban is Randolph Carter and Robert Reed Cole, Joseph Urban: Architecture, Theatre, Opera, Film (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992). This lavishly illustrated work accords far more significance to the architectural and design work of Urban than does the author of this essay. The detailed chronology and abundant illustrations have been used, with appreciation, in preparing this essay.
  2. In 1859, Austria's centuries–long participation in the governance of the Italian peninsula ended, and when the Austrians lost to the Prussians in 1866 at the battle of Sadowa, their pre–eminence in pan-German affairs evaporated. Between the 1840s and the 1860s, the Austrian government was forced to capitulate to the Hungarians on many important issues as well.
  3. The grunderzeit is a period of time basically parallel to the Gilded Age in the Unit ed States, to a portion of La Belle Epoque in France, and to the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Great Britain. For more information on late nineteenth– and early twentieth–century


    Vienna, consult the finest work on the period, Carl E. Schorske, Fin–de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Knopf, 1979). In addition, another noteworthy work on Vienna at this time is Stefan Zweig's World of Yesterday: An Autobiography of Stefan Zweig (New York: Viking, 1943).
  4. Olbrich's role in the Viennese design community would be very brief, as he would be hired to head an important design colony in Darmstadt, funded by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, a grandson of Queen Victoria and the brother of Empress Alexandria of Russia. Olbrich would move there in 1899, and afterwards become known as the most influential architect–designer in the German-speaking world by the time of his death in 1908. For further information, see J.M. Olbrich, Architektur (Berlin: E. Wasmuth, 1901–14), issued in thirty parts.
  5. Hoffmann has been the subject of many books. The most comprehensive examination of his architectural commissions is Eduard F. Sekler's Josef Hoffmann: The Architectural Work (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). For a review of his designs for objects, see Peter Noever, ed., Josef Hoffmann Designs (Munich: Prestel, 1992).
  6. It is interesting to note that the principal architects and designers who worked in Vienna in the second half of the nineteenth century and who contributed to the historicist appearance of the city had all died by the decade of the 1890s, the decade when Urban came of age: Eduard van der Null (1812–1868), August Siccard von Siccardsburg (1813–1868), Gottfried Semper (1803–1879), Heinrich von Ferstel (1828- 1883), Theophil von Hansen (1813–1891), Friedrich von Schmidt (1825–1891), and Karl von Hasenauer (1833–1894). The void left by their deaths was quickly and brilliantly filled by Otto Wagner, whose skills as architect, designer, author, and teacher placed him in an open field with few challengers. This situation was particularly difficult, however, for the group of younger architects emerging just before the turn of the century. Some, like Josef Maria Olbrich, took advantage of opportunities else where, while others, like Josef Hoffmann, filled two niches in Vienna: as product designer and as residential architect for wealthy and progressively minded individuals living in the Austro–Hungarian empire. Wagner's own studio was famous as a center for the cultivation of forward–thinking young architects and designers. Apart from Olbrich and Hoffmann, other individuals (amongst many) who trained in Wagner's office included Leopold Bauer (1872–1938), Jan Kotera (1871-1923), and Joze Plecnik (1872–1957), all of whom were born within a year of Urban. The overall domination of the design "market" by one giant, who naturally looked out for those individuals coming out of his office, certainly must have made professional advancement difficult for a young designer like Urban. For further information on the highly active atelier of Otto Wagner, see Marco Pozzetto, Die Schule Otto Wagners: 1894–1912 (Vienna: Anton Schroll, 1980).
  7. This vocabulary was already closely associated with Hoffmann's career by 1903 when he began work on the Purkersdorf Sanitarium, his magisterial gesamtkunstwerk based on this approach to design. For information on this pavilion and photographs of its exterior and interior, see Sekler, Josef Hoffmann: Architectural Work.
  8. For images of this station, see Harry Francis Mallgrave, ed., Otto Wagner: Reflections on the Raiment of Modernity (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1993) 32–33.
  9. This theory is advanced by Carter and Cole in Joseph Urban, 39–42.
  10. Some of the foreign–born designers working in the United States during the final decade of Urban's life were Rudolf Schindler (1887–1953) and Richard Neutra (1892–1970): both were Austrians who chose to work in California. Other significant European architects who would come over after Urban's death in 1933 were Walter Gropius (1883–1969), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), and Marcel Breuer (1902–1981).
  11. For more information on visual components of the houses of Palm Beach, see Roberto Schezen, Palm Beach Houses (New York: Rizzoli, 1991).
  12. The interiors were well known through published illustrations throughout the decade. For images of these fixtures, see Julius Posener, Hans Poelzig: Reflections on His Life and Work (New York: Architectural History Foundation, 1922) 124–25.
  13. For an image of this room, see Claes Caldenby and Olof Hultin, Asplund (New York: Rizzoli, 1986)101.






ON 19 FEBRUARY 1920, Joseph Urban signed a contract to serve as the art designer for William Randolph Hearst's fledgling film venture, Cosmopolitan Productions. By hiring Urban, the newspaper magnate was gaining one of the most highly regarded set and lighting designers in the business, a designer equally at home in the Metropolitan Opera and the Ziegfeld Follies. During the next several years of his career, largely with Cosmopolitan, Urban would serve as art designer for some thirty pictures. Although he brought a wealth of experience to the new medium, ranging from his training in stage design to architecture to interior design to illustration, he repeatedly argued against subordinating film to another art form. Indeed, at a time when film was widely understood as a lesser cousin of the stage, Urban insisted that the new medium was a genuine art with distinct aesthetic criteria. Through such visionary encouragement, as well as practical contributions to set and lighting design, Urban helped to raise American cinema from its adolescence of the first two decades of the century to its adulthood of the thirties and forties.

The success of Urban's contributions to American film is particularly striking given the culture of the early silents. Before Urban came on the scene, the design of the earliest films was a rudimentary affair: the sets were simple, reusable flats before which a fixed camera was placed. Innovation, when it came, progressed slowly. Toward the end of the first decade of the century the reusable flats began to be placed at right angles to one another in L or U shapes, with the effect of adding depth and a greater degree of realism. This depth in turn freed up the camera, which could now explore angles and shadows within a three–dimensional environment. Outdoor settings and multiple rooms came to play a role in the early 1910s, such that set windows looked out over genuine vistas and interior doors revealed offstage chambers. Such crucial early steps prepared the way for two magnificent leaps in the mid–teens: Giovanni Pastrone's Italian extravaganza Cabiria (1914) and D. W. Griffith's American retort, Intolerance (1916). These films offered unprecedented spectacle: full–scale recreations of ancient Carthage and Babylon, sets of the Temple of Moloch and the King of Babylon's palace, chariots racing on city ramparts and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Together, Cabiria and Intolerance brought a level of visual wonder to silent film that would emphatically signal an end to the era of the simple painted flat. Finally, toward the late teens, studios began to rely almost entirely on artificial lighting for their interior scenes, thus increasing the demand for technical expertise in artistic design. This increased demand, together with the high standards suddenly set by pictures such as Cabiria and Intolerance, marked the beginning of art direction in American film.


The history of early art direction in American film largely consists of the contributions of four gifted designers: Wilfred Buckland, Robert Brunton, Hugo Ballin, and Joseph Urban. Formerly the technical director for David Belasco, Wilfred Buckland became the nation's first real art director when he joined the Famous Players–Lasky studio in 1914. The rich settings and dramatic lighting of Buckland's style were received enthusiastically by a public becoming increasingly familiar with film and thus more receptive to innovation. "Here were faces, groups, and interiors" wrote Photoplay on Buckland's design, "lit by a warm glow of light, clear and yet full of the modeling of delicate shadows, and dramatized by discriminating concentration from one general source. At one point a touch of 'back lighting' shot across the scene, picked up a curve of the throat, a twist of bright hair, or a fold of lace for a glowing, glistening high–light."1

Following in Buckland's footsteps, Robert Brunton is credited with introducing a measure of restraint into the increasingly lavish set designs of the late teens and early twenties. His more muted style was largely achieved through the use of heavy shadow, which blotted out all but the most important set features and directed attention to the characters. Like Brunton, Ballin – who was also a trained architect, an accomplished painter, and a sometime film director – stressed scenic restraint and emphasized the characters over the set. To an unprecedented degree, Ballin was also a full member of the film production staff, participating in production decisions from the outset and standing beside the director throughout the shoot. It is with Ballin that the cinema art director fully emerged as a fine artist, jack–of-all-trades, and businessman: a combination of roles ideally suited to the versatile Joseph Urban.

"You probably know that Mr. Urban is today the most distinguished master of environment, light and color that we Anglo–Saxons have in the theatre," Photoplay reminded its readers in an article celebrating Urban's entrance into the cinema.2 Urban was curtailing his architectural and stage–design career (with the exception of his work for the Metropolitan Opera) at the behest of Hearst, who had just founded Cosmopolitan Productions in New York's East Harlem. The mission of Cosmopolitan was straightforward: to make popular yet artistic movies with high production values, and by so doing to offer the public an alternative to the cheap slapstick reels that had become so ubiquitous in the industry. The movies would cost up to two dollars, but the extra expense, Hearst hoped, would be worth it. The public unfortunately, decided otherwise. "The whole trouble was that W. R. was ahead of the times," remembered the Cosmopolitan general manager George d'Utassy many years later. "He made 'super' pictures several years too soon."3 Although the run of Cosmopolitan Productions as an independent business was brief, it would produce a number of superior films and one genuine silent film star: Marion Davies, an actress whose genuine talents have been overshadowed by her role as Hearst's Trilby–esque mistress. The other star of Cosmopolitan was Urban himself, who often earned positive reviews for the studio's films even when the plot and acting were not up to the high standard of Urban's designs.4 Hearst fully appreciated Urban's talents and, when the artist's contract was running out, used every inducement to get Urban to stay.5

After spending a brief period as an observer at Cosmopolitan, Urban plunged into his work with characteristic enthusiasm. One of his first acts was to redesign the lighting system at the studio. In an era before color film, Urban argued that "with proper backgrounds, furniture that belongs to those backgrounds and decorations that suggest color, the mind of the spectator can be made to think in colors even when they are not shown."6 To this end, Urban composed black–and-white "color charts" to test the ways in which different colors and textures appeared on black–and-white stills, as well as the way in which such stills may or may not suggest color and texture. Lights, he argued, should come from discrete sources (rather than be washed over the scene with floodlamps from the front) and could


be used creatively to suggest atmosphere and character. Although some of these artistic innovations – the use of "color charts," for example – were adopted, many of Urban's designs met with resistance, and the first year that Urban spent at the studio was a difficult one.

Urban's frustration during his first year at Cosmopolitan is evident from the notes that he wrote on the backs of several film stills. One still of the Marion Davies feature The Restless Sex (1920), for instance, shows an elegantly composed interior (fig. 62). The room is dark, with a single light source from a high window casting long shadows across the scene. Partially illuminated by the window, a sculptor sits on a stool, adopting the anguished attitude of his own, Rodin–like creation. "As lit by Urban" reads the note on the back of the photograph.7 The second picture, however, is a case study in the effect of poor lighting: the same scene is here lit diffusely, the light source ambiguous, the shadows muted, the mood vague (fig. 63). "As re–lit by director," reads Urban's note. Similar complaints can be found in Urban's notes to subsequent films, but the situation probably reached a nadir with a forgotten (and by all accounts forgettable)

Fig. 62 The Restless Sex, Oswald's studio, with lighting by Urban, 1920

work entitled Heliotrope. As usual, the problems began with the director's insistence on doing his own lighting. On the back of a still of a fountain in a courtyard (fig. 64), Urban wrote:

See wrong direction of light and shadows on
1. – Gate to the left
2. – Madonna
3. – Fountain

and flatness on everything else.
As lit by director.

An accompanying photograph, with Urban's lighting, shows the same scene to dramatically different effect (fig. 65).

But Urban's troubles with Heliotrope went beyond mere bad lighting; his set designs, too, were altered or eliminated. The dining room that Urban designed for the film would have been – had it been used - the first modern interior in American movies (fig. 66). Distinctive features of the room included a Werkstatte–inspired use of strict geometric figures, with white rectangles on the ceiling and in archways and interlocking off–white

Fig. 63 The Restless Sex, Oswald's studio, with lighting by the director, 1920


circles on the walls above the doorframes. The bar area, which echoes Urban's design of the bar in his own dining room in Vienna,8 is painted white with dark trim to stress the geometry of the piece and to harmonize with the wall and ceiling. Urban's startlingly modern interior never made the screen, however; it was replaced by a more traditional dining–room set

Fig. 64 Heliotrope, convent garden, with lighting by the director, 1920

Fig. 65 Heliotrope, convent garden, with lighting by Urban, 1920

preferred by the director, a Cosmopolitan regular named George D. Baker.

Urban's set for Heliotrope is also interesting in that it demonstrates his intention, anticipated only by Ballin in American film, to design an environment around a close reading of a character. Urban's explanation for his modern interior is laid out in an extensive note, written in slightly stilted English, on the back of a photograph of a conservatory garden in the same summer home:

My idea was that the man growing rich in last few years being an honorable businessman with modern and new ideas, a very sympathetic figure in the picture, took naturally a modern architect to fix the interiors in his summer home and the architect would show as much wood as he can for interiors, in this case because he builds for a man which loves wood.

The degree of thought put into the design of the businessman's dining room is unusual; Urban not only looked beyond the precise stipulations of the script in order to imagine the sort of interior that the character might inhabit but also brought his expertise in modern architecture into play.

Fig. 66. Heliotrope, design for dining room, 1920


This sort of close attention to the entire mise en scène of a production was a distinctive feature of Urban's approach. "[Urban] considers it his business to write the drama of scenery, to reflect the situations and characters in the houses and homes he builds for them," wrote the Evening Post in 1920.

Fig. 67 Enchantment, design for dining alcove of a tearoom, 1921

Fig. 68 The Young Diana, Dimitrius' study, 1922 (cat. 77b)

Pantomime, effective as it is in the expression of emotion, must always, in Mr. Urban's mind, be supplemented by scenery. To do this, the mind of the artist must grasp, not the dramatic struggle of one character but of all characters, and not alone architectural verisimilitude but atmosphere and mood. Needless to say, he must take infinite pains with manuscript and people bringing to bear upon them his interpretive genius.

"I want," said Mr. Urban, "to make pictures that are moving compositions in the same sense that a great painting is an immobile composition. At any point in a photo play, a photographic 'still' should reveal people and scenery in perfect artistic coordination."9

While hardly a radical notion among knowledgeable theater designers in the early twentieth century, Urban's desire to create a "perfect artistic coordination" between people and scenery was something of a revelation to the world of the American silents.

Like many early art designers, Urban took special pride in the historical accuracy of his designs. This pride led to frequent battles with Hearst, an enthusiastic collector of real and fake antiques, which he liked to see showcased in his movies. It was a situation that was destined to lead to conflict with the exacting Urban, and the altercations between producer and art director on the matter were laid to rest only when Hearst backed up a truck loaded with his most recent purchases – a virtual armory of medieval armor and assorted bronzes – accompanied by a note telling Urban to "put them on the set." "We heard his wrath resound throughout the whole building," recalled a former assistant many years later, whereupon Urban packed his bags and took a ship back to Vienna to visit his mother, not even bothering to resign.10 The tactic worked: Hearst eventually had to send a wire with a pay raise to Urban's ship in order to get the designer back. Although it was the last conflict that the designer would have with Hearst over the issue, it was hardly the end of Urban's trials. In a subsequent incident, during production of the Spanish costume drama The World and His Wife, a carpenter told Urban to base his set designs on a


series of vaguely Spanish picture postcards that he had found, as well as a photograph of a house in southern Spain. It was left to Urban to argue for his own designs against those of the carpenter, during which Urban was compelled to explain to the director that the carpenter's photograph was not of Spanish architecture at all but was, rather, a French chateau built in Andalusia by a war profiteer.

The incident was relatively trivial in itself but highlighted the fact that Urban's talents and expertise were regularly being thwarted by the studio. This time, Cosmopolitan Productions responded to the problem more systematically. An associate producer named W. Sistrom composed an internal letter to the studio, discussed Urban's complaints (with particular reference to the incident of the "picture postcards"), and argued for fundamental changes in film production. "What is a director in our scheme of things has been frequently discussed but never settled," the letter begins.

Now it has got to be settled because Urban is extremely unhappy under present conditions and unless something is done we are going to miss the opportunity to be THE concern that gets the credit for the tremendously important contribution to screen technique that Urban is going to make – either now or later with us or with someone else.11

The letter goes on to detail two different methods of film production: the "organization method," in which a single, in–house individual directs the show and generally guides the whole process; and the "director method," in which the studio hires an outside director to do the job. The best solution, Sistrom continued, would be a "rational combination of the good points of both methods." Importantly, this combination would give greater weight to the art designer, who would have his designs finished and approved by the studio before an outside director was even hired. This change, Sistrom concluded, should alleviate Urban's "trouble," which "arises from the fact that he does not come in contact with the production until it is 'set' in the director's mind."

Although the organizational changes at Cosmopolitan were ultimately not as fundamental as Sistrom had recommended, circumstances nevertheless shifted dramatically for Urban by early 1921. Inside of the Cup, released at the beginning of 1921, was a cause of frustration,12 but his work thereafter started to reach the screen unimpeded. Thus Urban was able to realize the modern style of Heliotrope in films like Enchantment (1921) and The Young Diana (1922). Finally making a virtue of his talents, the publicity department promised that the settings for Enchantment would be "ultramodern in every sense of the word,"13 and Enchantment became, indeed, the first American movie to feature modern interior design. Of numerous remarkable set pieces for the film, a dining alcove of a tearoom stands out in particular (fig. 67). The design successfully contrasts the geometric forms influenced by the Wiener Werkstatte with delicately patterned wallpaper reminiscent of William Morris's work. As usual, Urban's lighting is well considered: hanging fixtures (also of Werkstatte style) illuminate the room from above, while sunlight pours down on the scene from clerestory windows over flower boxes. Urban's experiments in modern design continued in The Young Diana, a movie that Photoplay called "a style show, perhaps, but not a good motion picture" yet singled out for its "beautiful sets."14 Like many films that Urban worked on, it retains interest largely due to his designs, perhaps the best of which is a sophisticated, hypermodern office with semicircular chairs fitted into pillars and a central desk framed by art deco sculptures (fig. 68).

It would be a mistake, however, to limit Urban's influence at Cosmopolitan – and on American movie culture generally – to his stage and lighting innovations. For, in a less tangible but no less important way, he was also bringing a sense of European high culture to the still marginal medium of American silent films. "I sent my whole staff to see 'Dr. Caligari,'" he remarked in the early twenties,


and then I called them all together – the directors, the technical experts and the stage hands – and I gave them a short lecture about it, telling them just what it meant to me and what vistas it seemed to open up for the profession in which they were engaged. You couldn't hear a restless motion in the course of the talk. No one lighted a cigaret. And when it was over, the whole crowd went out in twos and threes and more, earnestly discussing the problems and questions of art, probably for the first time in their lives.15

By introducing American directors and technicians to German expressionism, Urban was helping to pave the way for a movement that would reshape the long, dark shadows of Murnau into a distinctly American style. Combined with many of his own designs – from the rejected early lighting of The Restless Sex to the moody shadows of features like Bride's Play, Enchantment, and The Young Diana – Urban's studio lectures on Caligari suggest that he can be seen as a link between German expressionism and American film noir. In addition, Urban was introducing the idea, more novel in America than in Germany, that film was a genuine art form, with distinct aesthetic criteria. "So far," Urban wrote,

we have borrowed more or less from the stage and have overlooked the fact that spoken words, color, perspective and spatial relations are missing. We must develop the motion picture as an independent artistic expression, so individual and self–sufficient that we shall not feel the need of what we cannot have. Until this is done, all our painstaking effort is wasted by trying to build on an imperfect foundation.16

In his lectures as well as his designs, Urban was helping to advance the notion that American film was not only entertainment, not only business, but an "independent artistic expression." As such, he was at the forefront of the move in American cinema away from stage conventions and toward the unique demands of the screen.

Urban designed his last film for Cosmopolitan in 1925, after which he established an architectural studio in New York (paid for with earnings from his film work) and continued designing sets for the Metropolitan Opera and other companies. While he would return to film with a few projects for Fox in the early thirties, his major innovations were largely behind him; the Werkstatte–influenced designs that he offered for the Fox productions seem almost tame beside the enthusiasm for art deco that had since swept the nation. Urban's contribution to film design could be seen, however, in the more sophisticated sense of design inherited and promoted by art directors who came after him. Urban noted this development himself when, looking back on the course of American film from the standpoint of 1930, he wrote with pride that "directors have more and more turned their attention to the proper lighting of scenes, to an expressive location of the camera eye in the scene picture and to the development of new beauties in the art of photography."17 Characteristically unwilling to rest on his laurels, however, he criticized directors for their unwillingness to take creative risks and looked forward to the day when "the highly individual picture" might be "dominated by one creative will."18 As a plea for cinematic auteurism, Urban's dream came some twenty years too soon. Urban, as usual, was ahead of his time.

Matthew Wilson Smith is a scholar who writes on aspects of theater, film, and popular culture. He is currently working on a project on Bayreuth and Disneyland.



All photographs reproduced courtesy Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

  1. Photoplay (January 1921): 74.
  2. Photoplay (October 1920): 32.
  3. Quoted in John K. Winkler, William Randolph Hearst: A New Appraisal (New York: Hastings House, 1955) 227.
  4. A pattern of criticism – lack of enthusiasm for the film as a whole, high praise for the set and costumes – emerges from reviews for Urban's Cosmopolitan pictures. A New York Times review of the Marion Davies costume drama When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922) is typical: "though you may have doubted about the authenticity of the story, you are bound to be impressed with the authenticity of the settings. Surely Joseph Urban, who is responsible for them, has been true as well as magnificent. His scenes are splendid or simple, according to the character they should have, and, while they often impress the eye by their size and finished composition, they never seem present merely to be impressive. They are part of the story and ultimately successful in enriching it" ("The Screen," New York Times, 15 September 1922).
  5. Not least among the projects that Hearst hoped to convince Urban to work on was Hearst's famous "castle" at San Simeon. Urban, generally diplomatic with Hearst, privately referred to the place as a "monstrosity" and a "constipated cathedral," though he enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding mountains. In an attempt to convince Urban to stay – for the sake of the castle as well as the movies – Hearst offered the artist various "extras," such as an architectural contract for a new office building in San Francisco. Urban, eager to establish an architectural firm of his own in New York, repeatedly and politely refused. For an excellent survey of the often complicated relations with Hearst, see Randolph Carter and Robert Reed Cole, Joseph Urban: Architecture, Theatre, Opera, Film (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992), 145–68.
  6. Sunday Journal (3 October 1920).
  7. All film stills referred to here (and their accompanying notes) are located in the Joseph Urban Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University (hereafter JUG).
  8. For a picture of the dining room in Urban's Vienna apartment, see The Upholsterer 65 (September 1920): 70.
  9. Evening Post (3 July 1920).
  10. New Yorker (14 September 1940): 80.
  11. Letter from W. Sistrom to an unknown recipient, undated (1921?), JUC.
  12. The back of one of Urban's still reads simply: "a sample of how big and serious work is ruined through lighting and photography" (JUC).
  13. Quoted in Donald Albrecht, Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies (New York: Harper and Row with the Museum of Modern Art, 1986) 40.
  14. Quoted in Howard Mandlebaum and Eric Myers, Screen Deco (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985)140.
  15. Joseph Urban, typed manuscript with handwritten date "1921 or 1922" (JUC).
  16. Ibid.
  17. Urban, "The Cinema Designer Confronts Sounds," in Oliver M. Sayler, ed., Revolt in the Arts (New York: Brentano's, 1930) 241 .
  18. Ibid., 243.




ON 29 SEPTEMBER 1958, the president of Columbia University, Grayson Kirk, on behalf of the Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum, formally accepted the gift of the Joseph Urban archive from Urban's widow, Mary Porter Beegle Urban.  She subsequently noted that she chose Columbia because the late Brander Matthews, who had been a professor of dramatic literature and the founder of the museum, had admired her husband's work.  Furthermore, she had personal ties to the university, having been the director of physical training, pageantry, drama and the dance at Barnard College before her marriage to Urban in 1919.

Now part of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the collection is the largest single holding of Urban's work. It covers a prolific and eclectic career which began in fin–de-siecle Vienna and culminated in New York in the twenties and thirties. When Urban died in 1933, he had long been a household name, known not only for his buildings and stage settings but also for his designs of exhibitions, interiors, automobiles, furniture, store windows, roof gardens, and ballrooms.

The Joseph Urban Collection, extending more than 135 linear feet, includes approximately 700 watercolor drawings, as well as ground plans, elevations, scrapbooks, and photographs. In addition, there are 328 set models, some of which have been restored for this exhibition. (Many of the models are extremely fragile owing to the nature of the material used in their construction and currently await conservation treatment.) The collection, excluding the set models, has recently been reprocessed, rehoused, and described at item level with the help of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. When acquired, each project was stored in an envelope or file and arranged alphabetically within three groups – Vienna, Boston, and New York – the three cities where Urban worked. Those groups have been maintained, with materials arranged chronologically within them. The New York material is further divided into five categories: theater, Ziegfeld Follies, Metropolitan Opera, film, and architecture and design.

The Vienna files contain sketches, plans, and photographs for residences, rooms, restaurants, and monuments. There are examples of book illustrations, interiors, and set designs that Urban created in collaboration with his first wife's brother, the artist Heinrich Lefler. The two together founded the Hagenbund Society, a group of artists espousing modernist tendencies. The collection contains catalogues for Hagenbund exhibitions from 1902 to 1910 which provide ample evidence of Urban's skill as an exhibition designer.

Urban immigrated to America in 1912 and found employment as the scene designer for the Boston Opera Company (fig. 70). He was provided with a studio and permitted to bring over his scene painters from Austria. With their evocation of mood through creative use of color, Urban's designs for the Boston Opera were a sensation. His efforts are represented in the collection by watercolor drawings, plans, photographs, and production


records (light plots, cast lists, set lists, prop lists, and line drops) for productions such as Les Contes d'Hoffmann (1912), Louise (1912), I Gioelli delta Madonna (1913), and Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (1914).

The Boston Opera Company went bankrupt in 1914, and Urban soon began designing sets in New York. The collection is especially rich in his theater and opera works, and the material clearly reveals his pattern of working. He would study a play or libretto, discuss it with the director and producer, and then paint in watercolor a scale drawing of a scene. His artisans would create the ground plan from the sketches, and a set model would be built and painted. Urban would check the model and make changes, if needed. Then the scene painters would place a large canvas on the floor and work on it horizontally, rather than vertically as was usually the case (fig. 69). Reference material, scripts, watercolor drawings, pencil sketches, technical drawings, photographs, and programs document this procedure.

Productions represented in the collection include the Ziegfeld Follies and the Midnight Frolics, as well as Ziegfeld's hit shows Sally (1921), Show Boat (1927), Whoopee (1928), and Flying High (1930). Some notable non–Ziegfeld productions are The Garden of Paradise (1914), which brought Urban to Ziegfeld's attention; Caliban of the Yellow Sands (1916), a pageant held in Lewisohn Stadium at New York's City College to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death; and Nju (1917), Urban's attempt, with the director Richard Ordinski and the critic Kenneth Macgowan, to present drama without commercial compromise. Also included are all the designs Urban executed for the Metropolitan Opera Company from 1917 through 1933, among them Faust (1917), Cost fan tutte (1922), Falstaff(1925), Jonny spielt auf (1929), and Elektra (1932).

When William Randolph Hearst engaged him in 1919 as art director for his movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions, Urban became one of the first artists to design for the new medium of film. Urban was to work for

Fig. 69 Painting a mural for the Tiger Room at the Sherman Hotel, Chicago, 1920, photograph. 8x10in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Hearst until 1925. The collection contains scrapbooks with photographs of scenes from all of the films, scrapbooks of reference material, and a few watercolors. Of interest is a color key that shows how various colors appeared when photographed in black and white, indicating how Urban used color for depth and texture even when it was impossible to see its hue. Urban's battles for artistic control with the film director probably generated a letter dated January 1920 that already, early in the history of film, shows that filmmakers were grappling with the question of who is more important to the creation of a film, the director or the studio.

Although the collection contains many watercolor renderings and photographs of Urban's architectural and design projects, there are few specifications, plans, or other background material. There are, however, nine schemes that Urban designed for a proposed Metropolitan Opera House (1926–27), which was never built. And there is a scrapbook that


reveals Urban's attempt, in 1922, to help Austrian artists, impoverished in the aftermath of World War I, by selling their crafts in a Wiener Werkstatte store that he opened on Fifth Avenue. In addition, the whole of Urban's career in New York, dating from 1914 to his death in 1933, is thoroughly documented in scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. While the original scrapbooks have deteriorated beyond use, the information has been preserved and is available on microfilm.

Additional papers were recently discovered in Mrs. Urban's former home and donated to Columbia University in 1996. These papers contain material intended for a biography, letters and telegrams from Urban in Hollywood to his wife in New York, and a few telegrams from Florenz Ziegfeld. Biographical material contributed by Urban's daughter Gretl, and by his biographers Randolph Carter and Robert Cole, has also further enriched the collection.

The Urban collection is one of the most popular and heavily used collections in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. During the past decade it has been cited in a number of significant books. Among them are: Robert Reed Cole and Randolph Carter, Joseph Urban: Architecture, Theatre, Opera, Film (New York: Abbeville, 1992); Richard E. and Paulette Ziegfeld, The Ziegfeld Touch: The Life and Times of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992); William Taylor, Inventing Times Square (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991); John Dizikes, Opera in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Robert A. M. Stern, New York 1930 (New York: Rizzoli International, 1986); Mary C. Henderson, The New Amsterdam: The Biography of a Broadway Theatre (New York: Hyperion, 1997); Markus Kristan, Joseph Urban: die wiener Jahre des Jugendstilarchitekten und Illustrators, 1872–1911 (Vienna: Bohlau, 2000). Works have been lent to numerous exhibitions, including those at the Kunsthalle Wien (1995), the Smithsonian Institution (1997), the Metropolitan Opera Company (1997), the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (1999), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1999), and the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach (2000). Students and scholars have recently used the Joseph Urban Collection for research on topics that include architecture, theater, set design, film design, interior design, musical comedies, the Ziegfeld Follies, New York nightclubs, Urban's work in Pittsburgh, Austrian architects, Urban's work in Austria, the Wiener Werkstatte, the Reinhardt Theatre, the New Stagecraft, William Randolph Hearst, and Florenz Ziegfeld.

Gwynedd Cannan

Fig. 70 Urban in Boston studio, 1916, photograph, 8 x 10 in.
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University




Dimensions are in inches, height before width before depth. Productions at the Boston Opera are designated (B), at the Metropolitan Opera (M), and for the Ziegfeld Follies (Z).


  1. Kaiser Bridge, Vienna, elevation, 1898
    watercolor, 11 3/8 x 8 in.
  2. Chronika der drei Schwestern, underwater castle, 1899
    watercolor, 11 1/8 x 9 in., fig. 41
  3. Esterhazy Castle, St. Abraham, Hungary, interior, 1899
    watercolor, 10 5/8 x 9 3/8 in. (irreg.), fig. 9
  4. Rathauskeller, Vienna, 1899
    a. Strauss–Lanner Room, watercolor, 11 x 8 1/2 in., fig. 11
    b. Strauss–Lanner Room, reproduction of photograph, 12 x 9 1/2 in.
    c. Large dining room, reproduction of photograph, 9 1/2 x 12 in., fig. 10
  5. Goltz Villa, Vienna, 1902
    a. Plan and view of interior, pen and ink, 9 1/2 x 7 3/8 in., fig. 5
    b. Game and music rooms, watercolor, 9 1/2 x 7 3/4 in., fig. 6
  6. Redlich Villa, Vienna, elevation of Else Redlich's bedroom, 1907
    watercolor, 7 3/4 x 11 1/2 in., fig. 32
  7. Andersen: Zwolf Marchen, retold by Hugo Salus
    illustrated by Heinrich Lefler und Joseph Urban, Vienna: M. Munk, 1911
  8. Metropolitan Opera House (proposal), New York, 1926–27
    a. Facade: early study, reproduction of pencil drawing, 13 1/8 x 10 1/8 in., fig. 17
    b. Scheme IX, longitudinal section, watercolor, 17 3/4 x 27 1/2 in.
    c. Lobby, etching, 11 x 14 7/8 in.
    d. Proscenium, watercolor, 29 7/8 x 20 in., fig. 18
  9. Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, 1926–27
    a. Facade, ink and wash, 22 1/2 x 18 3/4 in., fig. 14
    b. Rear auditorium including balcony, photograph, 9 1/2 x 13 5/8 in.
    c. Section of mural for balcony ceiling, watercolor, 12 1/2 x 14 in., fig. 38
    d. Apron and proscenium, model: painted cardboard and other materials, 27 3/4 x 31 3/4 x 10 1/2 in., fig. 71
  10. St. Regis Hotel, New York, roof garden dining room, 1927–28
    watercolor, 14 x 11 1/8 in., fig. 39
  11. Temple Israel (proposal), Rockaway, interior with worship service, 1927–29
    watercolor, 18 3/4 x 16 3/4 in., fig. 72
  12. Bedell Store, New York, 1928
    a. Façade, photograph (Sigurd Fischer), 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 in., fig. 16
    b. Elevator doors and interior of cars, watercolor, 6 3/4 x 9 3/8 in., fig. 40
    c. Showroom, watercolor, 8 x 7 3/4 in., fig. 57
    d. Millinery department, watercolor, 8 x 7 3/4 in.
  13. Kaufmann Department Store (proposal), Pittsburgh, counter area, 1928
    watercolor, 9 x 8 3/8 in., fig. 58
  14. Reinhardt Theatre (proposal), New York, 1928
    a. Facade, watercolor, 19 5/8 x 15 in., fig. 15
    b. Auditorium, watercolor, 9 1/2 x 6 3/8 in., fig. 73


Fig. 73 Cat. 14b

Fig. 74 Cat. 15a


  1. William Penn Hotel, Pittsburgh, 1928–29
    a. Mens Lounge Room, detail and plan, watercolor, 20 x 16 7/8 in., fig. 74
    b. Ballroom, watercolor, 13 3/8 x 20 in.
  2. Central Park Casino, New York, 1929
    a. Reconstruction, exterior, watercolor, 5 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.
    b. Pavilion, photograph, 7 3/5 x 9 5/8 in.
  3. International Magazine Building, New York, 1929
    a. Exterior, photograph (detail; Sigurd Fischer), 9 3/4 x 7 1/2 in., fig. 1
    b. Lobby, photograph, 9 5/8 x 5 1/2 in.
  4. Jewish Art Theatre (proposal), New York, 1929
    a. Front elevation, watercolor, 16 3/8 x 16 3/8 in.
    b. Proscenium, pen and ink with wash and watercolor, 8 1/8 x 13 1/4 in., fig. 75
  5. The New School for Social Research, New York, 1929–31
    a. Elevation, pen and ink with watercolor, 20 1/2 x 15 in., fig. 59
    b. Main lobby, color treatment, watercolor, 14 5/8 x 14 5/8 in.
    c. Dance studio, color treatment, watercolor, 14 1/4 x 26 3/4 in., fig. 45
    d. Library, photograph, 7 1/2 x 9 3/4 in., fig. 61
    e. Auditorium, perspective, pencil, 12 5/8 x 16 1/4 in.
    f. Auditorium, photograph, 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 in., fig. 60
  6. Atlantic Beach Club, Long Island, terraced apartments, 1929–31
    watercolor, 18 1/2 x 20 1/8 in., fig. 44
  7. Park Avenue Restaurant, New York, interior of club, 1931
    photograph, 15 7/8 x 19 7/8 in., fig. 76

Fig. 75 Cat. 18b

Fig. 76 Cat. 21


  1. Palace Of the Soviets, interior: large hall with demonstration, 1931–32
    watercolor, 29 3/8 x 25 in., fig. 77
  2. Fairytale illustration, n.d.
    watercolor, 4 x 5 in., fig. 34

Fig. 77 Cat. 22



  1. Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg, act 1: Inside Saint Katherine 's Church, 1908
    watercolor, 8 1/2 x 13 1/2 in., fig. 25
  2. Lohengrin, curtain, 1 909–11
    watercolor, 10 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., fig. 43
  3. Oberon, act 2: Banquet hall of Haroun al Rachid, 1909–1 1
    pencil, 9 3/4 x 12 5/8 in.
  4. Tristan Und Isolde, sketches of footwear, 1909–11
    watercolor, 9 1/8 x 11 3/4 in.; 10 1/4 x 12 3/4 in.
  5. Godtterdammerung, act 3.2: Rhine woodland and valley, 1911
    pencil 9 x 12 in.
  6. Contes d'Hoffmann, 1912 (B)
    a. Act 2: Olympia, costume drawings for male guests, watercolor, 10 3/4 x 7 1/2 in.
    b. Act 4: Bacchanal: Giulietta and guests, watercolor, 8 5/8 x 9 1/2 in., fig. 4
  7. Louise, act 3: A little garden in Montmartre, 1912 (B)
    watercolor, 6 x 12 1/8 in., fig. 19
  8. Madama Butterfly, act 2: Inside Butterfly's house, 1912 (B)
    watercolor, 8 3/4 x 9 in., fig. 31
  9. Djamileh, elevation and ground plan, Haroun's palace, 1913 (B)
    watercolor, 11 1/4 x 8 5/8 in., fig. 33
  10. Don Giovanni, act 1.4: Giovanni's garden, 1913 (B)
    watercolor, 7 x 9 3/4 in., fig. 23
  11. Die Meistersinser von Nurnberg, act 3.5: Open meadow, costume drawing, 1914 (B)
    watercolor, 6 7/8 x 10 3/8 in.
  12. Otello, act 2: Desdemona's garden, 1914 (B)
    watercolor, 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 Vi in., fig. 35
  13. Parsifal, act 2: Klingsor's magic castle, 1914 (B)
    watercolor, 4 1/8 x 3 7/8 in., fig. 26
  14. Faust, 1917(M)
    a. Act 2: Fairgrounds at the town gates, watercolor, 9 1/4 x 13 1/8 in.
    b. Act 5.1: Walpurgisnacht, watercolor, 8 3/4 x 14 in., fig. 78
  15. Oberon, act 1: Rezia's sleeping garden, 1918 (M)
    watercolor, 9 1/2 x 13 3/4 in., fig. 79
  16. Saint Elizabeth, act 5: woods, 1918 (M)
    watercolor, 9 1/4 x 13 3/4 in., fig. 29
  17. Don Carlos, 1920 (M)
    a. Act 1: Forest at Fontainebleau,
    watercolor, 8 3/4 x 12 in., fig. 80
    b Act. 3.2: Square in front of Valladolid Cathedral,
    watercolor, 6 5/8 x 9 1/8in., fig. 29
  18. Parsifal, 1920(M)
    a. Act 1.1: Sacred grove,
    watercolor, 12 x 17 5/8 in., fig. 27
    b. b. Act 2.2: Klingsor's garden (unused),
    watercolor, 7 x 12 in., fig. 36


Fig. 78 Cat. 37b


Fig. 79 Cat. 38


Fig. 80 Cat. 40a


Fig. 81 Cat. 40b


Fig. 82 Cat. 42

Fig. 83 Cat. 43a

  1. Contes d'Hoffmann, act 2.2: Olympia, ballroom, 1924 (M)
    watercolor, 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in., fig. 52
  2. Don Giovanni, 1929(M)
    a. Act 1.5: Ballroom, set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 13 1/2 x 21 x 26 in., fig. 83
    b. Act 2.5: Giovanni's dining room, watercolor, 9 7/8 x 9 1/8 in., fig. 84
  3. Jonny spielt auf, act 2.5: Train station, 1929 (M)
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 23 x 25 7/8 x 19 1/8 in., fig. 21

Fig. 84 Cat. 43b


  1. Schwanda, der Dudelsakpfeifer, act 2.2: Entrance to city, 1931 (M)
    watercolor, 11 3/8 x 15 1/4 in., fig. 20
  2. Die Walkure, a rocky mountain ridge, n.d.
    pencil, 8 3/8 x 10 1/2in.

Fig. 85 Cat. 48b


  1. The Garden of Paradise, queen's bower, 1914
    watercolor, 9 x 14 in., fig. 37
  2. Behold Thy Wife, 1915
    a. Act 3: Library, watercolor, 9 1/8 x 14 in.
    b. Act 3: Library, set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 13 x 18 1/4 x 7l/2 in.,fig. 85
  3. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 (Z)
    a. Flower curtain, watercolor, 8 1/4 x 13 1/8 in.
    b. Zeppelin over London, watercolor, 8 x 13 in., fig. 48
    c. Bath scene with golden elephants, photograph, 5 3/4 x 8 1/2 in., fig. 47
  4. Caliban of the Yellow Sands, 1916
    a. Ground plan for auditorium and stage, watercolor, 32 x 23 in.
    b. Setebos, watercolor, 17 x 13 3/4 in., fig. 86
  5. The Century Girl, bubbles, 1916 (z) watercolor, 9 1/2 x 13 5/8 in., fig. 87
  6. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 (Z)
    a. Globe Theater curtain, watercolor, 8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.
    b. Opening scene, watercolor, 9 1/4 x 14 in., fig. 88
  7. Macbeth, outside the castle, 1916
    watercolor, 9 3/8 x 14 in., fig. 49
  8. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (Z)
    a. Contract letter dated 7 February 1917, typescript, 10 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.
    b. Running order, typescript, 15 x 8 1/4 in.


Fig. 86 Cat. 50b

Fig. 87 Cat. 51

Fig. 88 Cat. 52b


Fig. 89 Cat. 58a

  1. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, the Blue Devils (Z) watercolor, 8 7/8 x 12 7/8 in.
  2. Apple Blossoms, act 3: Color scheme for fancy interior, 1919
    watercolor, 10 x 10 7/8 in., fig. 7
  3. Caesar's Wife, check stub, 1919(Z)
    ink on paper, 4 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.
  4. Young Man's Fancy, 1919
    a. New York street scene at night, watercolor, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4 in., fig. 89
    b. Store window, photograph, with Urban's annotations, 11 x 14 in.
  5. The Ziegfeld Follies Of 1921, Venetian cityscape (Z)
    watercolor, 10 1/8 x 12 in., fig. 90
  6. No Foolin'. 1922(X)
    a. Skyscraper, watercolor, 10 1/4 x 12 1/4 in., fig. 91
    b. Curtain (unused), watercolor, 10 1/4 x 12 1/2 in.
  7. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 (Z)
    a. Act 1: Finale, technical drawings, mixed materials, 9 5/8 x 13 3/4 in.
    b. Exterior of a Spanish house, watercolor, 10 1/8 x 12 1/8 in., fig. 92

Fig. 90 Cat. 59


Fig. 91 Cat. 60a

  1. Orpheum Circuit, oriental city backdrop, 1925
    watercolor, 10 x 13 1/8 in., frontispiece
  2. Palm Beach Girl, 1926 (z)
    a. Snowbound (unused), watercolor, 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.
    b. Palm Beach Nights curtain, watercolor, 5 1/8 x 7 1/2 in., fig. 93
  3. Golden Dawn, straw curtain, 1927
    watercolor, 8 1/2 x 8 5/8 in.
  4. Rio Rita, 1927 (z)
    a. Barge floating on the Rio Grande, watercolor, 10 1/8 x 12 1/4 in.
    b. Courtyard of a Mexican mansion, watercolor, 8 1/4 x 9 1/2 in., fig. 94
    c. Courtyard of a Mexican mansion, set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 153/4 x 19'/8 x 13'/4 in., fig. 95

Fig. 92 Cat. 61b

Fig. 93 Cat. 63b


Fig. 94 Cat. 65b

  1. The Ziegfeld Follies Of 1927, castles in the clouds (Z)
    watercolor, 13 1/2 x 15 7/8 in.
  2. Whoopee, adobe mission, 1928(Z)
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 18 1/8 x 20 1/2 x 15 1/8 in., fig. 96
  3. Sons O' Guns, act 2.8: Ballroom, 1929
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 17 x 19 7/8 x 11 in., fig. 97

Fig. 95 Cat. 65c


Fig. 96 Cat. 67

Fig. 97 Cat. 68

Fig. 98 Cat. 70


Fig. 99 Cat. 71

  1. Flying High, act 2.6: Flight, 1930
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 15 1/8 x 22 1/4 x 11 3/4 in., fig. 22
  2. Princess Charming, bedroom, 1930
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 16 1/8 x 18 7/8 x 5 3/8 in., fig. 98
  3. Smiles, Cafe le Berry, 1930 (Z)
    set model: painted cardboard and other materials, 22 7/8 x 22 1/4 x 15 3/4 in., fig. 99



  1. Rivoli Theatre, stage setting, 1919
    watercolor, 15 3/8 x 15 7/8 in.
  2. Enchantment, stairway of Hoyt house, 1921
    photograph, 7 1/2 x 9 1/4 in.
  3. The Woman God Changed, 1921
    a. Courtroom, watercolor, 14 3/8 x 20 in.
    b. Set of courtroom scene, photograph, 5 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.

Fig. 100 Cat. 76

Fig. 101 Cat. 77a

  1. Bride's Play, wedding scene, 1922
    photograph, 7 3/4 x 93/4 in.
  2. Buried Treasure, pirate ship scene, 1922
    watercolor, 10 1/8 x 11 1/2 in., fig. 100
  3. The Young Diana, 1922
    a. Dimitrius' laboratory, photograph, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 in., fig. 101
    b. Dimitrius' study, photograph, 7 3/8 x 91/2 in., fig. 68
  4. Under the Red Robe, 1923
    a. Cardinal Richelieu's reception room, photograph, 7 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.
    b. Louis XIII's reception room, photograph, 7 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.



All photographs, identified by figure number, are by
Dwight Primiano Photography, with the following exceptions:

Cosmopolitan Productions 62-68, 101
Sigurd Fischer 1, 16
F. E. Geisler 3, 56
Gerlach and Schenk 9, 10
Peter A. Juley 13
Nyholm–Lincoln 60, 61, 76
unidentified 1, 2, 14, 47, 53, 54, 69, 70