Art: High Style

White-marble slave girls languish alongside posturing tragedy heroines and cherubic children. Emanuel Leutze's classic, Washington Crossing the Delaware, looms in its full-size 264-sq.-ft. version. Tiffany lamps and cut-glass bowls of dazzling intricacy vie with gingerbread mantelpieces. At first glance the Metropolitan Museum's gargantuan exhibition of 19th century American art, architecture and decoration seems about as serious an undertaking as a rainy afternoon spent in grandmother's attic. On second look, it proves to be a well-planned, scholarly survey of an oft-disparaged, still underestimated century.

Especially fascinating are ten reconstructions of the parlors, dining rooms, gardens and even furniture stores of the era's big-city...

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