Thursday, August 15, 2013

Louis 16th Splendor Reflected in City Home - 854 Fifth Avenue, New York City

This Distinguished Presentation of a Famous Period in French Building Is One of the Finest Examples in this Country.    It Recalls Marie Antoinette and Her Influence on 18th Century Art. 

Significant detail, skilfully introduced in the main facade, emphasizes the French feeling in the Mason house.
    IT has often been felt that the French type of architecture was better adapted to the country home than the town house but, on the contrary, it has been found peculiarly satisfying, particularly in cases where a certain standard of social life is maintained. Born in a period when the amenities of life occupied a greater part of the attention of the people than at almost any time in the world's history, it naturally reflects the same elegance and refinement and supplies an ideal setting for lavish entertainment of an important sort. The Louis 16th style which received its inspiration from the Greek has the classic purity of that period. One finds the large plane surfaces exposed with sufficient ornament to lend variety to the design. There is an exquisite delicacy about the style that never palls, any more than do the famous relics of early Greece, for based on the fundamental principles of the Orders, it rejoices in the rhythm of perfect scale and proportion.

  In upper  Fifth  Avenue  is  a handsome white stone and  marble residence, designed  in the style of  Louis 16th by Warren & Wetmore, New York architects, that is peculiarly reminiscent of Marie Antoinette and the gay court at Versailles in the latter part of the 17th and early part of the 18th centuries.   The refinement of the architecture of the times, shown in the  main  facade,  is  harmoniously reflected  in the interior,  where a great wealth of detail recalls the influence of the famous French Queen and her Royal Consort on the art of the period.

  Decorative effects are gained by ornamental detail of great refinement as in the Mason house, by the adaptation of a rarely beautiful frieze of carved stone and, in particular, by the distinction of the second tier windows with their classic pediments, pictorial stone rails and the carved framing about the windows upheld by corbels.

  Curiously enough we have comparatively few examples of pure Louis 16th architecture in this country but many done in the florid Rococo or the later and ornate Renaissance. Those done in the former fashion today arouse little or no enthusiasm on the part of the laity but, on the contrary, a feeling more or less of aversion.

Main Stair Railing. Residence of R. L. Beeckman, Esq., 854 Fifth Ave.. New York.    Warren & Wetmore, Architects.
Made by The Gorham Company.
  The influence of Versailles can be traced in innumerable instances, but the particular feature that dominates the design and strikes the keynote of the general treatment is the superb replica of the grand staircase in the Petit Trianon, so indissolubly associated with the vivacious but ill-fated French Queen. To find revealed in a modern city home such an intimate personal expression of the tastes of such a famous personage, so faithful a friend not only to art but to the American colonies in their inception, is highly dramatic and in the light of this superlative example of 18th century art, one is drawn very close to this notable character in history so that all preconceived knowledge falls away and there rises in its place a very human figure in whose appreciation of beauty, at least, we moderns can enthusiastically share.

Reminiscent of the gay court at Versailles in the time of Louis 16th is this palatial staircase, patterned after that in the Petit Trianon.

  The stair well reaches up to a highly decorative skylight, partially screened in ornamental bronze, gilded with dull gold. Covering the vast wall space above the stairs is a very rare old Tenieres tapestry, adding immeasurably to the splendor of the interior. There is a richly carved marble mantel with other decorative marble furnishings of an appropriate sort such, for example, as tall urns with heavy pedestals for flowers or ferns, and ornamental benches.   Even the dressing room and the lift are delightfully French of the Louis 16th period, the former suggesting the influence of the chatelaine of the Petit Trianon. Mirror and console, flowered walls and decorative frieze are all delightfully feminine and in accord with the spirit of the times.

  From the palatial hall, faced entirely with stone, rises majestically the white marble stairs, flanked by a richly wrought iron balustrade. An ornamental iron newel, above a semi-circular base of three broad steps decorates the stair rail, the treads and risers perfectly proportioned, and the whole feature in scale with the noble apartment. The staircase winds gracefully by several turns to the formal suites above and although the stairs are supported to the first turn by an enclosing wall, from this point on they are free standing, a constructional feature that adds a sense of buoyancy that is little short of inspiring. 

A cove ceiling and rich crimson damask wall hangings with draperies closely allied in color and texture are all delightfully French of the Louis 16th period.

One end of the reception room, illustrative of the refinement of wall treatment in the days of Marie Antoinette

The treatment of the mantel and chimney piece, with painted oval, is distinctly characteristic of the times.

   At the head of the stairs is the grand salon where daintily paneled walls, decoratively treated and the painted overdoors again remind one of Versailles.   Hangings of crimson damask, in which fabric the larger pieces of furniture are also done after the manner of the period, lend a rich effect and the various commodes, gueridons and shapely chairs, mostly antiques, are in harmonious accord.

Superb in size and decorative magnificence is the grand salon, the walls ornamented in the fashion of the period, with crystal chandeliers of 18th century pattern and rich crimson satin hangings.

Daintily painted walls mark the grand salon, with overdoors reminiscent of the work of Boucher fils.

Breaking sharply away from the prevailing French style, the treatment of the dining room, of great grandeur, follows Italian precedent.

Done in Italian Renaissance, the dining-room doors have an air of great dignity, in accord with their surroundings.

  The bed room suites show the walls largely paneled in white, often with cove ceiling and showing light and graceful moulding treatment, with overdoors charmingly treated with painted decorations. One showing a medallion of cupids and flowers suspended by a ribbon suggestive of the work of Boucher fils***Boucher & Son***, is of unusual refinement and charm. Not a few of the pieces of furniture, the chairs in particular, still retain the graceful Louis 15th curves with others having the straight line and other technical likenesses to the work of the later period, but all blended after the manner of decorative treatment in the reign of Louis 16th.

To find so many authentic pieces of the late 18th century is quite remarkable, for in the reaction of the transition of the period against the florid Rococo a hiatus ensued and from the death of Louis 15th and the accession to the throne of his successor, quite a time elapsed before the style attained maturity and in the interim most of the original drawings of Louis 16th furniture were lost. Fortunately, many examples of the type were preserved and from them the style, supposed to have been inspired  in great measure by Madame de Pompadour, were reconstructed.   Recently however, according to a high authority, many of the original designs have been traced.     

Cut from a solid block of marble is the balustrade perforated with scroll and acanthus motif that rises from the second floor.
  While the grand stairway ends at the second floor, the feature is transferred and carried up from another point with equal brilliancy of design and execution. Of the same white marble, the balustrade is exquisitely carved out of solid blocks of the material in a rich perforated design in which the acanthus motif enters.

  France at the time the new style came into existence, about 1750, was in a state of confusion. The preceding reign had gone so far along the road of extravagance and exotic taste as to call down upon its head abundant criticism, for its fantastic elaboration, especially in interior decoration and furniture. An excess of or ornamentation was to be seen in the furniture which abounded in such motifs as broken curves, shells, scrolls and the like. There was also a profuse use of mirrors, with the background of the rooms done in white and gold while baroque detail was popular in wall treatment.

  The situation, when Louis Quinze came to the throne, showed, as one wise person suggested "the architectural tendency pulling in one direction, the decorative tendency in another." The whole period was distinguished by the strong architectural reaction in favor of simplicity and, while it has become historically known by his name, his influence upon it covered in all not more than thirty years.

  Everywhere at this time the English influence was dominant and English ideas were in the air. It was during the time when the Brothers Adam were startling England with their marvelous craftsmanship, and their work bore the imprint of refinement and simplicity, based on a great devotion to the classic style. It is the Adam influence that is so strongly felt in the development of the French style.

  It was from 1730 to 1790 that the Louis 16th style prevailed and in the sixty year interim there were several different phases of the same expression that showed themselves but the general characteristics were in all respects those by which it had subsequently been known. And, while the ruler of the Court of Versailles lent the style royal favor and for 150 years it has borne his name, the honor of its origin or development should go to two French architects from the town of Lyons, Jean Nicholas Servandoy and Jacques Germain Soufflot who, imbued with the loftiest ideals, lent themselves to the task of recreating a declining style of architecture and establishing a type that has brought the homage of celebrated people all the world over to its feet.  The End.

  When these photos were taken 854 Fifth Avenue was owned by George Grant Mason. It was originally built for Robert Livingston Beeckman in 1905. Mason purchased house in 1912 fully furnished. Before being sold to the Yugoslavian Government(now Permanent Mission of the Republic of Serbia) in 1946, Emily Vanderbilt Sloane(White) owned property after selling her side of her father's house, 642 Fifth Avenue. Click THIS LINK to read more on the timeline of the property. Click THIS LINK for more on the Vanderbilt connection.

  Wikimapia location and Bing Streetside view.

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