Archives For Mansions

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

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.

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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/

“We strongly advocate the use of different styles in different rooms, to avoid the monotonous effect invariably produced by the fanatic apostles of the so-called Eastlake or Modern Gothic. For the same reasons it will be necessary for articles of luxury, as Easels. Hanging Shelves, Cabinets, etc., to use motifs from the Mooresque, Byzantine, Japanese, etc., though diametrically opposed to the prevailing style of the room.” – August Fiedler

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William August Fielder

The principal interior designer of the Nickerson Mansion was William August Fiedler. He was German, born at Elbing in 1842. August Fiedler as he would later come to be known studied architecture in his native country but immigrated to the United States in 1871. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he found his way to Chicago, taking advantage of the post Chicago Fire building boom. A perfectionist in his pursuit of quality, Fiedler began his career the way many architects of the period did–as an interior designer.

 

 

fieldler advertBy 1877, he had his own furniture business, A. Fiedler and Company at 24 - 26 Van Buren Street. As a decorator, Fieldler would leave behind a lasting legacy in the richly carved details of the Hegeler Carus Mansion in downstate LaSalle, Illinois, built between 1874-1876. The high finishes of his custom woodwork and furniture attracted the attention of Samuel Mayo Nickerson who hired him to design some of the rooms for his new home at 317 Erie Street in Chicago (now the Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie). fiedler dining room

Fiedler’s impeccable attention to the smallest elements of style shine. He created unique parquet flooring and architectural flourishes with such precision and beauty that he went bankrupt by not charging his wealthy clients enough to compensate for the quality work he produced.

Visitors to the Hegeler Carus Mansion will recognize many similarities between that home and the Nickerson’s Marble Palace. The hand turned columns and cornices of the two homes are reminiscent of each other as are the ornate carvings that surround the fireplaces. Fiedler’s innovative use of turned wood spindles, decorative mantels and wainscoting are common to both interiors.

millwork hegeler carus mansion

Millwork detail, Hegeler Carus Mansion

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Fiedler carved sideboard, Hegeler Carus Mansion

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Parlor with parquet flooring and custom millwork, Hegeler Carus Mansion

Germania_Club,_August_Fiedler_arch

Germania Hall now the Germania Club at Clark and Germania Place.

But August Fiedler also began to design buildings here in Chicago and around the Midwest. He completed the Germania Hall in 1888 along with fellow architect John Addison and built private homes in Blue Island and Milwaukee.

 

Moorish_palace_labyrinth,_august_fiedler_archIn 1893 when the World’s Fair drew the curious multitudes to the White City, one of the standout buildings was Fiedler’s Moorish Palace, patterned after the Alhambra of Spain. It was one of three pavilions Fiedler designed for the Colombian Exhibition.

Long time Chicagoans will remember Henrici’s Restaurant on Randolph Street, another Fiedler project. On the city’s Gold Coast, 1547 North Dearborn Parkway is another of his sumptuously detailed interiors replete with lavish woodcarvings in an 18,000 square foot city estate.

In 1893, Fiedler was named the first Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education. He supervised the construction of fifty-eight schools and designed many including Burley, Goethe, Eugene Field and Pullman.

800px-Goethe_school,_August_fiedler_arch

Fiedler was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He died in Chicago in 1903.

 

For information about our upcoming trip to the Hegeler Carus Mansion on Wednesday, June 4, please visit our website.

 

 

Sources:

A. Fiedler and L. W. Murray, Artistic Furnishing and House Decoration, (C. H. Blakely & Co., printers, 1877)

http://chicagohistoricschools.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/william-august-fiedler/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Burnhamandroot/Sandbox

 

 

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The Driehaus Museum is excited to introduce its first Book Club series.  We begin the series with Sally Sexton Kalmbach’s book Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago. The Jewel of the Gold Coast book clubs take place on January 30th and February 5th.  Here is a brief selection from the book, as well as a conversation with Anna Wolff, Driehaus Museum Educator.

 

An Excerpt from The Jewel of the Gold Coast

On a warm day in late July of 1870, Bertha Honore married Potter Palmer at her parents’ fashionable limestone home at 157 Michigan Avenue, across the street from today’s site of the Art Institute of Chicago. The tree-lined residential street was filled with carriages depositing the forty relatives and close friends who attended the wedding ceremony. At 6 p.m. a pastor from the First Christian Church performed the ceremony. A wedding supper for seven hundred followed the service, catered by Kinsley’s, one of the most celebrated restaurants of the day. Noted for its oysters shipped from the East Coast, Kinsley’s was located on Washington Street between Dearborn and State, not far from the Honore home.

The petite 5’5″ dark-eyed woman of 21 was dressed in a gown of white satin and rose-point lace designed by Charles Frederick Worth, a designer who dominated Parisian fashion in the later half of the nineteenth century. Orange blossoms were arranged in her brown hair. Her small waist was encircled by a corset, an item of clothing in vogue throughout most of her life.

Potter Palmer was a happy man. At the age of forty-four, he was the most eligible bachelor in Chicago. He had illustrated his business acumen by amassing millions, traveled extensively in Europe, sown his wild oats, and now he was marrying the intelligent and graceful woman who had captured his attention eight years previously.

Her wedding present was the new Palmer House Hotel, valued at $3,500,000, and just being completed at the time of their marriage.

After the ceremony, the newly married couple departed for Europe, but Paris was not part of the itinerary because of the Franco-Prussian war raging in France. This was Bertha’s first journey to Europe, but her introduction to Paris and the Impressionists lay in the future.

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What do you hope participants will get out of joining in the discussion?

Anna Wolff:  I see the book club as a relaxed way for our guests and members to further engage topics related to the museum.  We’ll be discussing Gilded Age fiction, biographies, and history with the authors and will expound upon the book from a literary perspective as well as discuss the larger historical context of its content.  Our Book Club is a great way for patrons to get to know each other better in an informal setting over shared interests.

How did you decide which books would be used for the first book club?

Clara_and_Mr_TiffanyWolff:  March’s Book Club will feature Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This was a natural fit for us since Ms. Vreeland will speak in an informal lecture earlier that week.  With our current exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection” we chose a book that celebrates that time period.

People are always very interested in Bertha Palmer. Since the book, The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago, sells well in our Museum Store we knew many visitors and members would be interested in discussing the book and meeting its author in an intimate setting. For the winter series we found it very fitting to have one historic fictional novel and one more rooted in fact.

The first book featured is Jewel of the Gold Coast by Sally Kalmbach. What has it been like working with her on this new project?

Wolff:  Sally is a wealth of knowledge that is always eager to share information.  She will be bringing historic documents, images, and illustrations to further explain who Bertha Palmer was.

What did you find most interesting when reading The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago?

Wolff:  I found it particularly interesting to learn about Mrs. Palmer’s life as an art collector.  I gained an understanding of who she actually was as opposed to her legacy as an art collector.  The process of her becoming an art collector is far different than I ever expected.

What’s next…what are some books you would like to include in future book clubs?

Wolff:  I would love to feature Devil in the White City or Death in the Haymarket both have a strong connection to Chicago history and are fascinating reads.

 

 

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