Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler. Stenciled Frieze Panel from the Trading Room of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago, IL. c. 1893

Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler Stenciled Frieze Panel from the Trading Room of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago, IL c. 1893

  • Not on view

Completed in 1894, Sullivan and Adler’s thirteen-story Chicago Stock Exchange was one of the earliest modern skyscrapers, rising to a new height made possible by developments in steel framing. The second-floor trading room was its magnificent centerpiece. When the building was demolished in 1972, architectural elements were salvaged and gathered by collectors and museums. This particular painted fragment features fifty-two distinct hues in muted tones of rust and gold, green and yellow. Shapes that recall root systems, stems, and leaves are transformed into stylized patterns that allude to prairie landscapes and the fundamental role of midwestern agriculture in the US economy. The rhythm and precision of the abstract design are also reminiscent of Islamic decorative traditions.

In its lush, organic motifs and intricately stenciled patterns, the frieze reflects Sullivan’s goal of synthesizing elements of nature with abstraction. Organic patterns portrayed at different scales and in various mediums were integrated throughout the entire building, arranged to emphasize the structure’s verticality. Motifs recurred in molded plaster and terra-cotta and in the ironwork of staircases and elevator grilles. Sullivan believed that decorative elements and architectural form could, and should, come together to create a unique and harmonious whole. Through his elaboration of a concept he called “organic ornamentation,” he paved the way for a distinctly American visual culture rooted in the simplicity of nature yet brimming with endless variations of architectural expression.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Sullivan and Adler’s second-floor trading room was the main attraction of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building. The apparent austerity of the building’s exterior contrasted with the complex, dense, and multi–colored decoration of the trading room, which featured magnificent ironwork, colored glass, stencil, and plaster ornament. This portion of the vivid fifty-two-color frieze’s stylized organic patterning alludes to the stock exchange’s prominence in the agricultural market and, more broadly, evidences Sullivan’s appropriation of Islamic decorative traditions. The building was torn down in 1972, but much of the trading room and many other fragments were salvaged.

Gallery label from Shaping Modernity 1880–1980, March 28, 2012–September 8, 2013.
Oil on canvas
56 x 53 1/2" (142.2 x 135.9 cm)
Gift of Constance Caplan, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Robert B. Menschel
Object number
Architecture and Design

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].