Samuel Marx: Architect, Designer, Art Collector
By Liz O’Brien
Published Fall 2007
216 pages: Over 200 Illustrations
As an associate architect for the Baxter Laboratories in Morton Grove, Illinois, Marx designed the reception lobby in 1949 with signature touches such as fossil stone walls, black terrazzo floors, and luxuriously modern custom-made furniture.
Regency style outbuildings, like the small folly-like cabana with its pagoda roof and oculus windows, dotted the nine-acre site.
The grandly proportioned library, perfectly circular in plan, with a silver leaf coved ceiling, drew on French directoire and Federal era details.
Marx designed the site of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. A seventy-two-foot pylon of black granite rose above the elevated limestone plaza with a sculpture of Hamilton raised on a square plinth.
Still in place today, the wallpaper is as unusual and vibrant as it was over seventy years ago.
Picasso’s 1906 Woman Plaiting Her Hair, a masterpiece from his rose period, was acquired in 1939. It was one of several works in the collection formerly owned by the pioneering American collector John Quinn.
In the library, the Picasso hung over the fossil stone mantelpiece. Marx covered the walls and ceiling in flexwood to create a subdued sense of chic, with plaid-patterened curtains continuing the soft, tonal palette.
The Marxes were photographed at home for Life in 1952. A sense of ease and no-nonsense practicality belies the museum-quality works on view in their living room.
Many of Marx’s furniture designs, like this three-tier bookcase in limed oak, were wonderfully simple and straightforward.
The helical staircase, sculpted in the round like a twisting ribbon in the shape of a giant conch shell, provided a graceful and dramatic counterpoint to the house’s largely rectilinear plan.
A preliminary rendering shows how the building would look at night with its backlit window displays and gleaming surfaces. The three bands of windows in the early design were revised in favor of one single, continuous ribbon wrapping around the whole structure.
As the remodeling progressed, architect and client both realized that more space was needed to accommodate the extensive range and number of Robinson’s pictures. The solution, to build a free-standing, windowless art gallery adjacent to the main house, spoke directly to Marx’s strengths.
Marx finished the large custom bookcase in the same marbleized surface as the walls, with shades of green and putty gray.
The walls and cabinets of the kitchen, with its machine-age table and chairs, were lined in gray Vitrolite, an opaque, structural glass product marketed by the Libby Owens Ford Glass Company of Toledo, Ohio.
With the eye of a modernist and a subtle, magnificent architectural vision, Samuel Marx developed his unique gifts as an architect, furniture designer, and art collector throughout his forty-year career. Ultramodern is the only complete retrospective of the designer’s work; over two-hundred photographs and illustrations display the true range of Marx’s talents, and rightfully place him as an important figure in the history of twentieth-century American design.
About the Author
Liz O’Brien is a decorative arts dealer specializing in modern design. Her interest in Marx began more than ten years ago when she first showed his furniture designs in her New York gallery, making some of his best pieces available to interior designers and collectors. O’Brien is now recognized as a leading Marx expert and has been instrumental in placing him as an important figure in the history of twentieth-century architecture and design.