Necklace, acc. no. 17.71.1

Fragile Beauty: Art of the Ocean


Explore the wonders of the sea from its role as inspiration to the need for its preservation

The oceans are essential to life. Covering over 70% of Earth, they have remained an object of fascination, both treasured and feared, throughout history. Humanity has benefited from the rich and diverse fauna, flora, and resources the oceans provide, continually taking from these bodies of water for our gain. Fragile Beauty will explore the art of the ocean throughout Hillwood’s collection, from representations of the ocean to pieces created with its precious materials, while contrasting such works with contemporary art. This special exhibition will demonstrate the beauty of and admiration for these magnificent waters while raising the question of how to balance its preservation for future generations.

Oceanic Art at Hillwood

Fragile Beauty will be a celebration of the ocean, showcasing Hillwood’s wideAcc. no. 51.107.1 variety of marine-related art for the first time. The exhibition was inspired originally by a rediscovered artwork titled Treasures of the Sea, a 1900 copy after the renowned 1870 masterpiece by Austrian painter Hans Makart (1840-1884), one of the largest paintings at Hillwood and once owned by Marjorie Post’s father, C.W. Post. The piece depicts several allegorical figures among the rich background of the sea. Alongside this painting and additional seascapes will be objects made of rare and precious materials, including coral, pearl, tortoiseshell, and ivory, highlighting the beauty of these resources, many of which have been overexploited by humans. Lastly, Fragile Beauty will survey the use of sea-inspired creatures, shapes, and forms, such as mermaids and seashells, both in usable objects and in art.

Contemporary Displays

A selection of contemporary pieces, by artists including Morel Doucet, Courtney Mattison and Theo Mercier, and designer Christian Louboutin, will be interspersed with Hillwood’s historic pieces, demonstrating how the sea continues to serve as a source of inspiration and the dire need for sustainability for its survival. Mattison, an artist and ocean advocate, creates sculptural works that “visualize climate change through the fragile beauty of marine life.” Similarly, this exhibition will present the splendor of the sea at a time when the ocean is in danger, highlighting how sustainability is more important than ever.

View a list of Hillwood's objects on view in the exhibition. Please note: Loan objects are not included.

Exhibition Sponsors

Fragile Beauty: Art of the Ocean is supported by The Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, Ellen MacNeille Charles, Sophie and Val Hawkins, Martha R. Johnston and Robert T. Coonrod, Dr. Catherine M. Chura, Kyra Cheremeteff and Thomas W. Richardson, Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Dudley, Jr., Ms. Nedenia Rumbough and Mr. Jan Roosenburg, Janice H. Brambilla, and Simon and Nancy Sidamon-Eristoff. All exhibitions and programs are funded in part by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts through the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program. This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.