Archives For July 2015

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.

The Museum’s new acquisition forges a special and important link between two prosperous late 19th-century businessmen and their devotion to collecting art. Samuel M. Nickerson may have lived in Chicago, while the name of William Henry Vanderbilt was synonymous with New York. But they were both enthusiastic parts of the same wave of artistic interest across America at the turn of the century, which resulted in real cultural phenomena: rooms like our Sculpture Gallery, private collections open to the public as a precursor to museums, and publications like Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper's weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper’s weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William H. Vanderbilt was the eldest son of railroad mogul Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited the largest slice of his father’s massive fortune. He did a fine job in railroads himself, and nearly doubled his inheritance by the time of his death. In 1879 he embarked on a $3 million building project that would permanently etch the Vanderbilt name in New York brownstone and American architectural history. “Nothing so magnificent had before been attempted in New York in the way of a private residence,” The New York Times remarked afterwards.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

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Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

The Vanderbilt residence at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street was technically two mansions connected by an atrium; his daughters lived in the second with their husbands. It was a feast for the eyes. The architect-decorators were Christian and Gustave Herter, German-born cabinetmakers favored by New York’s elite, and they worked with experienced architects Charles Atwood and John Snook to anchor their profuse decorative elements to a standing structure. No two rooms were alike, and all were exactly to the taste of the moment. Just like the original interior designers of the Nickerson Mansion, the Herter Brothers favored a creative pastiche of historical and cultural styles all arranged together in interesting ways. You had vast groupings of artistic objects heaped on fireplace mantels, walls divided into three or more sections before reaching the ceiling, elaborate carvings in exotic wood, and jewel-tone colors. One’s eye never quite knew where to land.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection is really a book of description. And just as we trawl through Curbed or Pinterest to see how tastemakers arrange their interiors or tune in on television for sneak peeks of celebrity’s homes, this description was hungered for by America’s new middle class and nouveaux-riche.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

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Published in limited number—1,000 editions, of which the Driehaus Museum’s acquisition is #712—of beautiful materials, included richly grained and gilt-edged brown leather and deep blue silk inner linings, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection offered entrance to the private world of the wealthiest man in America. The reader is treated to a vivid tour of the home, from the Boudoir’s ivory-inlaid ebony walls to the grand three-story Picture Gallery, as well as Vanderbilt’s private art collection, which included around 200 paintings.

 

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

V-Interior

The author, Edward Strahan (Earl Shinn), was an influential self-made American art critic who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and returned with a mission—not to make art, but to write about it. He wanted to dazzle American eyes and minds with the wonders of great art, examples of which so few of them had seen. Even the publisher, George Barrie, seemed to emphasize the artistic quality with his beautifully bound books filled with lavish artwork. A year before coming out with Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, Barrie put the visions of the 1893 Chicago’s worlds fair into people’s homes with an illustrated two-volume set, World Columbian Exposition MDCCCXCIII, Art and Architecture. He also collaborated with Shinn on a series called Art Treasures of America.

They were proponents of a vast sort of gentrification campaign for young America taking place at the end of the 19th century, which needed men like William Henry Vanderbilt. You might call this a kind of Mediciean mindset. Many Gilded Age barons like Vanderbilt saw themselves as bringers of an American Renaissance in which the powerful and wealthy contribute to the public good and encourage the flourishing of the arts. So when Vanderbilt spent over $1 million to amass works by Alma-Tadema, Bougeureau, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupré, Fortuny, Millet, Millais, Rousseau, Troyon, and Turner, he had more than his personal financial portfolio in mind. Upon the grand opening of his mansion in 1882, Vanderbilt hosted two receptions, “to one of which he invited other multi-millionaires of the town to inspect his treasures, and to the other poor artists who had never been able to see the great galleries of Europe.” Afterwards, visitors were admitted by card on Thursdays. This was, according to one publication, “an important element in cultivating the artistic taste of the metropolis.”

Gallery of Paintings

 

"Figures from 'Down to the River' by L. Alma-Tadema."

“Figures from ‘Down to the River’ by L. Alma-Tadema.”

 

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Incroyables, by F. H. Kaemmerer.

 

Like Vanderbilt, Samuel M. Nickerson opened the Sculpture Gallery to art students and other interested Chicagoans, not only his personal guests. Art collections were viewed as public treasures, obtained by privilege but not to be hoarded. Rather, they were to be shared for the enjoyment and betterment of society at large. There was a deep belief during the aesthetic movement that exposure to exceptional beauty somehow elevated us, changed us, improved us as humans. Writing about that subject today, Alain de Botton puts it like this:

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”

 

 

 

 

 

Resources
Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Bibliopolis, “Publisher: George Barrie”
Dictionary of Art Historians, “Shinn, Earl / Edward Strahan, pseudonym”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library Table, Herter Brothers (1864-1906)
The New York Times, “Frick Remodeling Vanderbilt Mansion, Will Make Over One of Famous Brownstone Twins. Alterations to Be Costly: William H. Vanderbilt Built the Two Houses in 1880 at the Cost of $3,000,000—George Vanderbilt’s Tenure.” April 16, 1905.
The New York Times, “C. Vanderbilt Gets Mansion and Art, Property Worth $6,000,000 Reverts to Him by Grandfather’s Will on Death of George W. House Let to H. C. Frick. Stands at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street and Cost $1,600,000—Art Valued Above $1,000,000.” March 10, 1914.
Nathan Silver, Lost New York, p. 121-122
Lindsay, Marketing Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Lindsay, Marketing Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and why we ended up working for the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name? Lindsay

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Marketing Manager – I handle the advertising, marketing, social media, PR, as well as the website for the Museum.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I grew up in a tiny town outside of Houston, Texas.  In 2006, my wife and I moved to Chicago sight unseen and fell in love with the Lakeview area. We decided to try out downtown living in 2013, moved to the South Loop, and have enjoyed being able to walk to/from anything happening in the city such as the Pritzker Pavilion, Art Institute, Lollapalooza, Jazz Fest, etc.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I have a BFA in Graphic Design & Advertising, as well as minors in both English and Art History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.  My dream was to work in an art museum, and tried on many occasions to get a job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.  Each time I was told to start lower – interning, volunteering, or taking a small job such as in the store.

When we moved to Chicago, the job I was transferring with fell through once we got into the city which caused me to start a hunt for something new.  A position opened up as a supervisor in the store at The Field Museum and I easily got the job with my extensive retail background.  It only took about 6 months until I was promoted to the back office area helping out the buyers.  I stayed with the Field for over 8 years, holding several different positions, lastly in the Communications department. During my time at the Field, I went back to school and earned a Masters of Arts in Museum Studies, as I had finally decided that this was the career for me.

I decided I missed my art history roots, began searching out art museums in the city and happened upon the Driehaus Museum.  After reading about how new (in the museum world) it was and how the Museum was started thanks to Mr. Driehaus, I was shocked that more people in the city didn’t know about it.  And I wanted to tell everyone.  So when the position for the Marketing Manager came up I knew I had to jump on it so I could tell everyone about this hidden treasure of a museum!

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Most likely the cook since I love cooking and entertaining for others.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? If it was possible, I would light the fireplace in the Front Parlor, pull the sofa from the Drawing Room into the Parlor, bring in a bottle of wine, and read by fire light in the mansion as the city bustles about outside.

What is your favorite movie?  Book? Favorite movie is Jurassic Park.  Favorite book is a tie between Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Princess Bride and any of the Harry Potter books (though Goblet of Fire has always held a special place in my heart).

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum? The Summer Servants tour.  I have never experienced a living history tour until coming to the Driehaus Museum.  It is a engaging and educational way to learn about the Nickerson family, the house, as well as the Gilded Age.

What is your dream job? Ever since I was little I wanted to be a paleontologist – but then I discovered you had to be decent at math, which is my worst subject.  So if they took that part out and just let me dig in the dirt all day I would be a happy camper.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum? The day we announced the Downton Abbey exhibition to the public was so much fun.  Watching the press and social media grabbing onto to the news and being so excited about it made me smile.  Not to mention the amount of messages from my own friends wanting to come see it.  Sorry guys! You have to wait until October to purchase tickets just like everyone else! I cannot wait to see this exhibition in person when it’s installed inside the mansion.  It’s going to be very elegant and so enjoyable for fans of the show, myself included.

It’s finally summer in Chicago and you’ve done the usual:  baseball game, boat tours, street festivals and so forth.  It’s time to check out some of the gems of the city, some of which a lot of people don’t realize are right near them.  We are going back through the archives of the Driehaus Museum Blog to suggest some great places to bike or take the train over and explore!

The Other McCormickville: Lincoln Park’s Seminary Townhouses – Right off the Fullerton Train Station are historic townhouses preserving pieces of Chicago’s Gilded Age.

A Visit to Jackson Park – Did you know that the Museum of Science and Industry is housed in a building built for the 1893 World’s Fair? Or that nearby there’s a Japanese garden from the same fair?  Take a step back to 1893 all throughout Jackson Park.

Going to Graceland – Burnham, McCormick, Sullivan, Field, Glessner.  If you live in Chicago, you most likely recognize these last names.  A visit to the Graceland Cemetery is a must for anyone who appreciates Chicago history.

Do you have any other favorite little-known places to visit in Chicago?