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American Art at Biltmore House
In the late 1880s, George Washington Vanderbilt, then a young man of 25, came upon the perfect spot in the North Carolina Blue Ridge for a 250-room French Renaissance chateau to be built by his friend, architect Richard Morris Hunt. The great chateau would be called "Biltmore."
Vanderbilt's decision to locate his mountain mansion near Asheville, North Carolina, led to his purchase of a total of 125,000 acres surrounding the site. Today, Biltmore Estate encompasses approximately 8,000 acres, including formal and informal gardens designed by the father of landscape architecture in America, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Above, from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): George Washington Vanderbilt, c. 1900,; Richard Morris Hunt, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), 1895, oil on canvas; Frederick law Olmstead, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), 1895, oil on canvas; all photos courtesy of Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
While the incomparable beauty of Biltmore Estate is the result of the combined creative talents and vision of all three men - Vanderbilt, Hunt and Olmsted - it is Biltmore House which continues to be the centerpiece of Vanderbilt's legacy. This great house remains the largest private residence in the United States, a National Historic Landmark.
Begun in 1890, Biltmore House is constructed of tons of Indiana limestone transported by a special railway spur built specifically to bring the massive amounts of material and supplies to the site. It took hundreds of workers five years to complete the house.
Above, from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Seymour Guy (1824-1875), Going to the Opera (William Henry Vanderbilt family), 1873, oil on canvas; Stone Roberts (1951-), William A. V. Cecil Family, 1990-91, oil on canvas; John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), George Washington Vanderbilt, 1895, oil on canvas; all photos courtesy of Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
On Christmas Eve in 1895, George Vanderbilt formally opened the doors for the first time to friends and family. In 1999, when John Hazeltine, editor of Resource Library Magazine toured the mansion with Biltmore Estate's Kelly H. L'Ecuyer, he found Biltmore House much as it was when the Vanderbilts occupied it over 100 years ago, showcasing George Vanderbilt's original collection of furnishings, art and antiques.
Vanderbilt, grandson of industrialist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, was an intellectual, fluent in several languages, well-traveled and knowledgeable about art, architecture, music, agriculture, horticulture and literature. Vanderbilt' s diverse and cultured tastes influenced his travels with architect Hunt while Biltmore House was being built. The two men journeyed throughout Europe and the Orient, purchasing paintings, porcelains, bronzes, carpets and furniture. All of it would eventually become part of the collection of 70,000 objects still in Biltmore today. While much of the collection is foreign in origin, much was commissioned to American artists and craftsmen.
Above, from left to right (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Assistant Collections Manager Kelly H. L'Ecuyer points out the bronze statue of a boy with two geese by Karl Bitter in the chateau's glass-roofed garden room; Ms. L'Ecuyer in the library with the ornate rolling step-ladder designed by Richard Morris Hunt; another view of the carved wood step-ladder; library table designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt; Resource Library Magazine editor John Hazeltine at entrance to the chateau; all photos by Barbara Hazeltine
Indeed, it is the nature of the collection, reflecting the personal interests and tastes of George Vanderbilt himself which guests then, as well as now, find most fascinating. Inside the house, artworks by Renoir, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Pellegrini and Boldini adorn the walls and, in one case, the ceiling. A number of family portraits grace the walls, painted by Whistler and other notable artists. In the dining room alone we found eight portraits on family members. Guests will see two Sargents in the "Tapestry Gallery.".
The furniture includes designs by Sheraton and Chippendale. And of course, throughout the mansion one can see examples of architect Hunt's artistic designs for utilitarian furnishings such as library ladders (see photos above), tables and other fixtures.
Please also see Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron
For more information on the art of Biltmore House, contact The Biltmore Company, One North Pack Square, Asheville, N.C. 28801
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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Resource Library is a free online publication of nonprofit Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO). Since 1997, Resource Library and its predecessor Resource Library Magazine have cumulatively published online 1,300+ articles and essays written by hundreds of identified authors, thousands of other texts not attributable to named authors, plus 22,500+ images, all providing educational and informational content related to American representational art. Texts and related images are provided almost exclusively by nonprofit art museum, gallery and art center sources.
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(left: JP Hazeltine, founding editor, Resource Library)
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