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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

J & J. G. Low Art Tile Works was one of America’s great tile companies, and there are many instances of its decorative, low-relief tiles in the Driehaus Museum’s original interiors today.

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By: Tasia Hoffman

On February 14, 2015, The Driehaus Museum will open an exhibit entitled Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art JewelryThis exhibition will focus on women as the creators of and inspiration for Arts and Crafts-style and Art Nouveau-style jewelry.

…Arts and Crafts?  Art Nouveau?!

Whether these art historical terms are old friends or uncharted territory, let this month’s blog post serve as a mini-prep course for February’s bejeweled extravaganza.

First up: the Arts and Crafts Movement.William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England and was shaped by the ideas of writer/critic John Ruskin and designer/activist William Morris.  These men chose not to embrace “modern life” as brought about by industrialization, instead advocating an art and a lifestyle dictated by an intrinsic set of values including work ethic, community, spirituality, and equality.  Ruskin and Morris denounced industrial capitalism, which alienated workers from their own humanity, and opposed machine-made goods, which numbed the freedom and creativity of the brain.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.

Art, they felt, should be crafted “…by the people for the people as a joy for the maker and the user” and designed in a manner that integrates functionality with supreme aesthetic quality.

Arts and Crafts objects and structures are known for their use of natural (streamlined or simplified) forms, fondness of floral and geometric repetitive patterns, and dedication to high-quality artisanship.  A wide range of influences, from medieval to Japanese, were drawn upon to produce a harmonious, but decidedly non-Victorian, aesthetic.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900

In America, the British Arts and Crafts tradition was modified by a material shift to regional resources and an aesthetic shift to include local environmental forms.  Native American and Asian design influences were readily employed, paralleling a growing interest in “handmade” appearance and simplified geometric forms.  Architect/interior designer Frank Lloyd Wright and furniture manufacturer/publisher Gustav Stickley advocated the use of machinery alongside skilled craftsworkers to expedite the furniture-making process, allow craftsworkers to operate in a more “exclusively creative” capacity, and, ultimately, draw the cost of furniture down to a middle-class price bracket.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907

 Stickley began publishing The Craftsman, a magazine that circulated the idea of Arts and Crafts interiors and products as a bridge to a more desirable, simpler life, one supportive of and connected to the ideals of an honest, hard-working America.  That being said, many of the Arts and Crafts products created still catered to an upper class audience, and, while the objects embodied romantic notions of unity, they did not make those ideas a tangible reality.

Citations:
-Miller, Angela L., et al. American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.
-Kleiner, Fred S., and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
-Photo: “Charles and Henry Greene, Mary E. Cole House, 1906-1907.” www.thecraftsmanbungalow.com
-Photo: “William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.” www.studyblue.com
-Photo: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.” www.bbc.co.uk
-Photo: “Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.” www.artsandartists.org
-Photo: “Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.” www.high.org
-Photo: “Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.” www.moma.org

Fisher gallery picA young architect carved the distinctive lion heads on the lacquered-cherry wood fireplace mantel and the bookcases in the gallery of the Marble Palace. He was Robert E. Seyfarth, (Born 1878, Blue Island, Illinois) and an employee of both August Fiedler and George Washington Maher.

Seyfarth studied at the Chicago Manual Training School founded under the auspices of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

It was a private secondary institution that taught drafting and shop as well as a regular high school curriculum. Located at 11th and Michigan, the campus was later moved to the University of Chicago where it was absorbed into the lab school program.

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Illustration of the Chicago Manual Training School

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The first Seyfarth house in Blue Island

Seyfarth went to work as a draughtsman for August Fiedler after graduation in 1895. At the same time he joined the Chicago Architectural Club where he most likely met influential Prairie School architect George Washington Maher. By 1900, Seyfarth was involved in the redecoration of the trophy room and gallery of the home that Lucius George Fisher Jr. had recently purchased from Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Maher designed homes in Seyfarth’s hometown of Blue Island and that possibly helped to cement their relationship.

However by 1909, Seyfarth went into business for himself. Until the Depression, he had offices downtown. But the economic downturn forced him to relocate his practice to Highland Park, Illinois. No longer identifying with Maher’s Prairie School designs, the handsome homes Seyfarth created along Chicago’s North Shore and in the city have elements associated with Tudor and Colonial styles.Lawrence_Howe_House_Winnetkaarticle on Seyfarth

 

800px-Seyfarth_House_-2_Highland_Park_1911_photoFor a gallery of Seyfarth’s homes click here.  Much of Seyfarth’s work was photographed and he was a proponent of advertising as a means of marketing his practice. He would remain a vibrant and engaged member of the Highland Park community until his death in 1950.

 

Sources: http://www.robertseyfartharchitect.com/

 

 

Visitors to the Driehaus Museum often cite the gallery as a favorite room with its marvelous stained glass dome and massive wood-burning fireplace. Lined with lacquered cherry bookcases and featuring an iridescent mosaic tile Art Nouveau surround, it is the one room in the mansion that was completely redecorated in 1901 thanks to the second owner, Lucius George Fisher Jr.Gallery, The Richard H. Driehaus Museum_Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, 2011

Perhaps Fisher wanted to put his own stamp on the Nickerson’s distinctive décor? Or did he just want a grand showcase for his collection of rare books and hunting memorabilia? Whatever his reasons, he hired one of the great Prairie School architects of the day, George Washington Maher.

George W. Maher

George W. Maher

Maher was born in Mill Creek, West Virginia in 1864. But by the age of thirteen he was living in Chicago and apprenticed to the architectural firm of Bauer and Hill. Thanks to the Fire of 1871, Chicago had become a center for innovative building design. After a stint with Joseph Silsbee where he worked as a draughtsman alongside Frank Lloyd Wright, Maher opened his own firm in 1888. Influenced by the styles of H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan, Maher’s houses reflect the “form follows function” dictum associated with Sullivan’s work. But while fellow architect Wright would follow the elaborate ornamentation of Sullivan’s cursive elements, Maher would eventually lean towards the Arts and Crafts movement in the houses he designed.

ely house

Ely House, Kenilworth, Illinois

hart house

Hart House, Kenilworth, Illinois

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Beginning in 1893 with his own home in the northern suburb of Kenilworth, Maher went on to design forty distinctive houses there as well as several homes in Chicago’s historic Hutchinson Street District in Uptown. At the same time, he became allied with the developer of the Edgewater community on Chicago’s lakefront, producing a series of homes that still stand today on Sheridan Road.

pleasant home oak park

Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois

But the most influential commission Maher would receive was from John Farson. The house now known as Pleasant Home in Oak Park, Illinois would establish the tenets of Prairie School design for posterity. Its success was copied time and again by other architects of the period.

At the same time, Maher was developing a unified design concept known as the Motif-Rhythm Theory. By incorporating an element in both the exterior and interior of the building—say a local plant, a geometric shape—he created some kind of decorative element throughout that ties the whole project together.

Maher Coffee Set

Maher silver coffee set.

Not only did Maher create plans for innovative and beautiful homes, he designed furniture, lamps, silverware and stained glass.

Many of his houses have distinctive windows that either he drew or commissioned from other firms such as Giannini and Hilgart, Healy and Millet, and Tiffany Studios.

Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

Maher designed Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

So the next time you visit the gallery, take a look at the detailed thistle frieze below the glass dome and the unifying design of the room with its carved lion heads by disciple and architect Robert Seyfarth. Take a moment to savor the genius of a unique artist, someone very much ahead of his time.

Resource: http://www.georgemaher.com/

For the Museum Store, L’Esperance Tile was commissioned to craft two custom tiles inspired by the J. & J. G. Low Art Tile Works tiles found in the Driehaus Museum—which, with their embossed natural details, jewel-toned colors, and sheen, are among the most stunning surviving elements of the this 1883 mansion.

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Ever wonder why the former living quarters on the Driehaus Museum’s second floor don’t look like bedrooms anymore?

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Read on for a Q&A with Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio, the final speaker of the 2012 Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series who explored the decorative metals of the Aesthetic Movement last week.

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A few reasons why conservatories were all the rage during the 19th century.

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J & J. G. Low Art Tile Works was one of America’s great tile companies, and there are many instances of its decorative, low-relief tiles in the Driehaus Museum’s original interiors today.

Continue Reading...