Monday, October 15, 2012

Mr. Vanderbilt's HOUSE and COLLECTION - Apartments

***Click HERE to view the introduction to this book.*** 

 ***Photos and text from Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collection, described by Edward Strahan pseudo Earl Shinn - the Holland Edition published in 1883.***



Such description as it is proper to give of the family rooms on the first floor may begin with the Boudoir, the northernmost chamber of the suite, looking out on Fifth Avenue, and measuring twenty-six feet long by eighteen feet wide. It is finished in a woodwork, for dado and door-frames, entirely composed of ebony, inlaid with ivory. The walls are covered with a brocade of dark-blue silk, manufactured in France from a pattern furnished for the purpose from America; the blue is watered with lines of gold thread, interspersed with small dragonflies in gold; the carpet is also blue, inlaid with small gold figures of Turkish device. The ceiling presents, in two long panels, paintings of Cupids engaged in music and dancing. The mantelpiece shows a frame and columns of yellow marble with Ionic capitals, over which rises the mantel-hood, an elaborate arched affair, in ebony, with shelving and cabinets. The central arch supports a painted frieze by the late Mr. Christian Herter, in what may be called the Belgian style of art; it represents the Triumph of Cupid, 


showing the soldier, the maiden and even the monk, bringing tribute to the love-god enthroned as king.    A quantity of beautiful bric-a-brac fills the shelving and arcades of this mantel - a clock with a seated nymph, Gerome's Sword-Dance and Almeh in silver, and a pair of fine Solon pate-sur-pate vases, sixteen inches high, showing graceful Greeks engaged in gardening and tree-planting. The divans and chairs are completely cushioned, so as to conceal the frames, and are covered with the same blue and gold moire as the walls.

Seven family paintings are hung in this room, including the proprietor's father, that well-known New York figure whose fine gray head yielded such an unusual chance to the portraitist, and his married daughters.

Turner's "Fountain of Indolence" has been sometimes hung in this room, and, more recently, in the Picture-Gallery below. In the photogravure plate illustrating this apartment it appears conspicuously, so that a good idea of it, in all but its sumptuous color, may be got from that engraving. It measures sixty-four by forty-one inches, and has never been otherwise engraved. It is by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.   In this sumptuous and visionary 



composition Turner gives fullest play to his dream, translating Thomson's vision of idleness into a no-man's-land of playing fountains and balancing stone-pines, with a reclining fisher and half-seen maidens almost lost in the vermilion vapors of sunset.


Beside it, in the same plate, is seen a curious Japanese cabinet, six and a half feet high, in which the ornamentation is odd and only to be thought of by Orientals. On a basis of reddish plum-tree wood are applied scenes of farming and fishing in a kind of sketch-work of ivory - the ivory outlines, in relief, defining the trees, the figures and the clouds.

Another cabinet, separately represented in one of the plates, is of ebony inlaid with ivory, and has been placed here in harmony with the architectural fittings of the apartment. It is of renaissance style, is seven feet high, and its ivory bas-reliefs are of high artistic value. The largest of these reliefs shows Venus with her doves, with Adonis sitting on a rock beneath a tree, in his enchanted garden, while Cupids pour on him the life-giving showers from their urn among the clouds.

A largo Japanese screen in this room, five by three and a half feet, shows two mother-of-pearl phoenixes, with tails in scales of tortoise-shell, perched on a golden tree on the black ground of the panels.

A lady's Bedroom, to the south of this Boudoir, is the culmination of everything elegant, delicate and fresh contained in the house. The furniture is the most choice, the most elegant, that the mansion contains. In this exquisite room, where silver toilet-services, embroidered silks and delicate hangings vie with masterly paintings to refresh the attention, it would seem that the dreams must be propitious and the waking pleasant. Among the fragile glitter of the upholstery, where everything seems to start bright and crisp from the hands of the artificer, there is one worn-looking object, and only one; it is the little Bible, placed on the candlestand at the head of the bed. The frieze and cove of the chamber are in rosewood and mahogany. Silken damask, in flowers and vines, covers the wall.

The unusual delicacy and elegance with which this chamber is appointed throughout, find their culmination in the painting on the ceiling, certainly one of the most refined works of art to be found in the world devoted to such a destination.   This is "The Awakening of Aurora," a floating and visionary chain of life-size figures occupying all the ceiling-space.   The artist is Jules Lefebvre, whose "Mignon" and "Toilet of the Bride" we shall encounter in the Picture-Gallery, and who has already sent some of his finest works to America, such as "The Dew" (in the Astor collection), the "Cigale," the "Dawn," the "Odalisque," etc.   The composition here, at first sight, seems principally to consist of the light gossamer clouds of daybreak, among which, faintly and gradually, figure after figure steals  into sight. Aurora Sleeps,
cushioned on the vapors, her head wrapped in veils of white and pillowed on her arm. Below her the red sun rises out of the dark ocean.   She is awakened by a Zephyr of the morning, a moth-winged spirit which sings in her ear; another little Zephyr, still sleeping, curls under her arm.   Above, across the flying clouds, the moon-goddess passes quickly in her chariot, drawn by obedient nymphs; crowned with her crescent, and shooting her last arrow at one of the mischievous Loves of night, the cold queen of the darkness recedes from the scene with precipitation and tumult, leaving the realm to Aurora alone.   This imaginative rendering of the awakening of the world is expressed in figures of such accomplished grace, tenuity and delicacy, that it seems as if 



some old Greek chisel had been resuscitated to carve them in bas-relief from the  marbles of Paros;  modern art would  


have appeared hardly competent to caress into being these unsubstantial draperies, these tapering and moulded limbs, these faces from which every trace of the empire of carnal sense has been kept away.

In truth, it would be hard to find another artist of our time competent to treat such a subject with such elevation. This ceiling-picture should go to posterity with the "Source" of Ingres, as our highest achievement in pure classic, as the studious nineteenth century comprehends it. It is only fair to say that the artist is fully cognizant of the great leap of his genius consecrated in this lucky picture. We have heard him, in ordinary conversation, allude to the "Plafond" as his masterpiece, the achievement which best satisfies himself, that by which he would fain be principally known to the future, and that whose reproduction he would wish his children to see, to treasure and prize after his death.

A family portrait in this chamber deserves special cognizance, although the portrait-gallery, in a general sense, hardly falls within the purview of such a work as this. It is the half-length likeness of a daughter of the house, also by Jules Lefebvre; a figure with an expression strangely compounded of gaiety and native dignity, turning with a glad smile to regard the spectator, in an attitude that well conveys the effect of walking and the sense of arrested motion. The painting of this canvas, as narrated by M. Lefebvre, shows the conscience with which the higher class of French artists accept their tasks. The painter had received the commission to execute the likeness during a temporary halt of his sitter and her parents in Paris. The original picture, a half-length, was considered finished when the family left the capital for a Swiss excursion. On their return the artist, seeing with delight his sitter transformed by a health-giving tour, with pulses heightened, with frame and movement more elastic, with complexion brilliant from the mountain air, and with eyes grown more lustrous, resolved at once, without any bargaining, to reject the picture already made and prepare a little surprise in the shape of a new portrait "I tore the first picture from top to bottom without hesitation," were his own words lately, perhaps not literally and materially accurate, in describing the incident. A second likeness, three-quarter length, whose posture and general treatment can be seen in one of' the designs inserted in the text, was sketched in and worked at with enthusiasm; and its peculiar air of elastic movement, its carriage as of a health-goddess, and its hunting-nymph complexion, are explained by the fact that the portrait is a souvenir of a happy mountain tour.

Underneath the "Aurora" overhead hang the canopy-draperies of the bed, in rich stuffs, desending from a carved tester near the ceiling. Among the mahogany and rosewood fittings of the room will be noticed the framework of the principal door, of three which open from the chamber; it is of marquetry-work, renaissance style, with vases of flowers inlaid; the dado is likewise of hardwood finish, with its polish interrupted by designs in marquetry.

A set of chairs, with a reclining-chair or chaise lounge  of very light and dainty design, are by Allard fils, of Paris; to cover these, a valuable series of ancient Italian embroideries, of silk on silk, has been sacrificed.   Scenes of courtship, suggesting the most romantic episodes of Ariosto and Tasso, occupy the shield-shaped spaces devoted to these groups, and decorate the chair-backs. A tall Dutch antique clock, by Johannes Neuman, of Amsterdam, plays an old-fashioned tinkling tune; on its dial, a changing face of the moon shows in numbers the day of the month; in another circle, over a figure of Time, a slide indicates the day of the week.

Stepping out upon the balcony - from either of the windows between which reposes the silver toilet service on its 


dressing-case—we find ourselves looking across the avenue towards the gardens of a charitable institution, and, just opposite, the principal cathedral of America. This recessed balcony is the subject of the design forming the tailpiece to the first chapter. It is the most ambitious piece of architecture to be found anywhere in the stonework of the house, and forms a choice nook, with its vases of growing plants, its graceful Ionic pillars and pilasters, and its ceiling all aglow with gold mosaic. The bronze railing here, corresponding with that which forms a crest for the vestibule, is of more elaborate pattern than that surrounding the garden-plats below. Like all the constructive bronzework about the building, it is cast in a faultless manner by the well-known Bureau Brothers, of Philadelphia.

Another bedroom, the next to the south, differs from the last and attracts attention by its unmistakable air of masculine usage and proprietorship. Here is a very magnificent and imperial-looking bed, fit to shelter the dreams of power or of authority; its canopy is a heavy tabernacle of the richest stuffs, and its carvings are hardly adequately seen in its reflection within the mirror, as depicted in the large design inserted in the text. This chamber is finished in rosewood inlaid with satinwood; the silken damask covering the walls shows the quaintest designs, of the old Persian style, with horses or hippo-griffins of heraldic character bursting from the fantastic blossoms which climb over the tissue. Undeniably, the fittings of this room are as rich as those to be found in the residences of kings, though richness does not seem to be the chief object, a decidedly austere and utilitarian air pervading all the conveniences with which the chamber is provided.   A dressing-room adjacent has proved one of the most expensive chambers in the mansion; the tubbing and basin arrangements are of silver, set in mahogany, while the wainscoting, to the height of eight feet, 


is in glass opalescent plaques or tiling of gold, blue and silver tints, gilded on the backs and set securely in the cement; the dressing-room ceiling is vaulted in the Pompeian style; the approach to this toilet-room is dissimulated by the sliding doors, consisting of very large plate-glass mirrors; these mirrors yield at a touch, though they are with their framework very heavy, being set in chiseled brass.

DECORATED BY PROSDOCINI                                                                     PHOTOGAVURE

The boudoir and pair of chambers just described form a suite on Fifth Avenue. Facing at a right-angle to these, and fronting on the lateral street, is a room the perfection of cosiness and snugness. Every accessory invites to intelligent thought and study. The walls are lined with a large and choice selection of books.   Besides the evidences of a literary taste manifested in this Study, are the signs of a musical propensity, shown in the large piano and the other instruments of sound; sporting tastes are encouraged too, and it is not unusual to find a light rowing-boat carried bodily into the room and forgotten on the floor. A carved wooden sofa-chest, like those of the 


Medici period, a wooden mantelpiece of corresponding device, with rich stamped leathers on the wall above,—reading-lamps, literary utensils, and every temptation to a student's life,—portraits and busts, the familiars of the readers thoughts, compose the intellectual and the literal furniture.

The life-size head of Longfellow, engraved in line by Marshall, hangs above the reading chair; this portrait, accepted by the poet in the most final manner by his autograph attached to all the impressions of the proof edition, was the last likeness made during his lifetime. The publisher of this print, Mr. George Barrie, who likewise issues the present work, was entirely unprepared, though not necessarily surprised, to see, on a chance visit, the selection he had made of what in his view was the Longfellow-portrait most likely to satisfy the critical, thus endorsed and accepted in a typical house, famous for the fastidiousness of its art-selections.

The busts of Moliere, and other eminences of the bewigged period of literature, look down from the book-cases. On the mantel is seen the life-mask of Washington, taken from nature by the great Houdon, and cast in bronze in our times by Maurice Power. A more intelligent and fruitful choice of books than is to be found in the thousands which conceal the walls of this Study, seldom gladdens the literary visitor in a fashionable house. The other apartments, whose linings of silk and damask, of mosaic and leather and ebony, have been cheerfully praised, must yield after all in preciousness to the room which is lined with brains. 




  1. I love the interiors of this apartments they look pretty amazing and much antique.

  2. As mentioned in the "introduction" for this series of posts my intention is to present this publication as printed. Because of that some of the photos are out of place in relationship to the text re: the Gallery and Conservatory above. The text here can be further "fleshed out" by reading "Beetlehead's" 640 Fifth Aveune and Gilded Mansion: Grand Architecture and High Society

  3. Mr Vanderbilts house and collection is shown on the post .read to know more