The Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist masterpiece in Chicago’s far southwest suburbs, needs no introduction. As graceful as a Greek temple and as serene as a Shinto shrine, the single-room house seems to float over a meadow alongside the Fox River — one of the purest and most poetic distillations of the International Style.
But what about Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who paid for the house, lived in it and lost a bitter legal battle with Mies over cost overruns and architect’s fees? Who, exactly, was she?
A daring and fascinating new exhibition, “Edith Farnsworth’s Country House,” does more than flesh out the impressive resume of this overlooked figure, who grew up on Chicago’s Gold Coast and became a leading kidney doctor and translator of Italian poetry. The show restores her presence to the house that bears her name, but where for years she was all but absent.
The exhibition performs this trick by dispatching to the warehouse the home’s coolly elegant, metal-framed Miesian furniture, including the architect’s signature Barcelona, Brno and MR chairs. In their place are replicas of pieces that Farnsworth herself chose, like a lovely wood and metal dining room table by the American designer Florence Knoll. Moroccan wool carpets are laid out on the travertine marble floor, along with potted plants...