Friday, August 31, 2012

Mr. Vanderbilt's HOUSE and COLLECTION - Drawing-Room

***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.*** 



TRODUCING the Drawing-Room, as we enter from the  central Hall, is another of the portieres belonging to the Lille series, described in the chapter on the Anteroom and Library; these specimens of Lille haute-lisse manufacture, it will be remembered, belong to the period of Louis XIV., and were formerly in the possession of that monarch's grandson, the Due du Maine; they represent classical subjects, treated in the style of Le Brun or Rubens; they are valuable for their undimmed preservation, and for having their original borders.   The specimen introduced into the present chapter, like that in the former one, represents the Seizure of the Sabine wives. The stout soldiers of Romulus are seen bearing aloft their ample armfuls, among the valleys of the Seven Hills.

In the Drawing-Room we find a more frank indulgence in color, a more pronounced love of ornament for its own sake, than in any portion of the house. The walls are stretched with red velvet, profusely embroidered, and studded with cut crystals of every shade; these variegated flashes of jewelry are introduced in the figures of butterflies applied to the stuff, and seemingly attracted to the profuse bowers of embroidered blossoms, which cluster in arches just under the cornice, leaving the centre-spaces of the panels bare in their crimson breadths.

The artistic attraction here is the ceiling by P. V. Galland. The painters scheme is admirably decorative, and comports with architectural probability in a greater degree than is usual     with ceilingpieces. The central space being flat, and supported by coves which round up to it on every side, the artist takes the opportunity to  represent a  light trellis  in the middle, sustained upon carved timbers  which rise here  and  there from the cornice.   The human figures which crowd   the   composition   occupy  the coves, and   can   be   seen   without   straining the eye.    They represent knights at the tournament,   with    the    fair   ladies   who watch them, hunting-scenes, vintages, harvests. Every posture is a study of elegance and originality, and the tranquil, sunny impression of the whole leaves upon the eye that sense of flattered repletion which is the aim of decorative art in its lighter aspect. M. Galland, the author of the pageant, owing to his constant addiction to the more sumptuous forms of art, is less widely known as a painter than many an inferior knight of the palette. Though he produces easel-pictures, in his scanty intervals of leisure, they do not form part of the picture-dealer's stock; his appreciators are, accordingly, not the usual shop-window students, but the favored individuals here and there whom fortune allows to receive exceptional advantages 


of culture, and also to inherit the wealth with which palaces are built. M. Gallands ample compositions are to be found in the establishments of Baron Rothschild, at London


of Prince Nariskine, at St. Petersburg, of Mme. de Cassin, at Paris, and in the royal palace at Stuttgard; he has recently finished one of the great wall-paintings for the Pantheon, at Paris, where he comes into well-sustained competition with Puvis de Chavannes and Cabanel; this serious and elevated composition represents the Preaching of St. Denis; and he has also just terminated a design for tapestry representing Henri IV., destined to take the place of the likeness of Napoleon III. in the Apollo Gallery of the Louvre, where it will form the pendant to that of Louis XIV. M. Galland, in fact, with Baudry and Puvis, is one of the four or five great decorative artists now living.   



His government has shown a sincere appreciation by invoking his aid at all the national establishments where his qualities can be made useful: thus he is professor of decorative composition  at the Beaux-Arts School, director of the works at the Gobelins manufacture of tapestry, government commissioner at the porcelain factory of Sevres, and, of course, an officer of the Legion of Honor. An artist of such importance should be better known in America, where it is a matter of pride to keep well abreast of the catalogue of contemporary renown; yet, save in this and in one other private mansion of New York, it would be impossible to point to one of his works in the new world. The ceiling-composition in this residence is in the artist's best style; it shows his ready mastery of every device of the charmer, the abundance of his invention, his facility and elegance, and his ability to be forcible without overloading a plafond-subject with unseemly vigors. The never-ending frieze of personages whose procession winds around the coves is in no part sombre; it is successfully lifted into the full air and sunshine of its imaginary elevation among the clouds; it is not too deeply modelled, but every form is an agreeable silhouette, neither flat like a Greek vase-painting, nor projected like a Rembrandt portrait; in addition, what the decorator has no right to lose sight of for a moment, every figure is a shape of beauty. The festive catholicity of the subject allows the artist to introduce almost any form of the picturesque, and in so doing he always keeps to the level of the subject; among the round arms of the vintage-maidens, posing on their heads the flat corbeilles***baskets***, he is familiar and jocund; among the veneurs***hunters*** bringing in the boar, he is hearty and Rabelaisian; among the knights going to the jousts, he is gallant, noble and sedate; and he rises to the height of medieval purity and distinction among the lovely dames, each fit for the queen of a love-parliament, over whose delicate heads is lifted the standard, "Plus que valeur, beaute triomphe."*** more than value, beauty triumph***


The carvings and furniture in this room deserve special attention.   Most of the latter was designed and made in New York, but there is a pair of cabinets by Barbedienne of Paris, flanking the west entrance, inlaid with mother-of-pearl in a framework of gold, and bearing five Limoges enamels by Serre.   The elegant device for the frame enclosing these enamels is shown on page 55***below***.

Another meuble, also by Barbedienne, is really a tour de force and a curiosity.    It is a cloisonne enamel cabinet, with double doors and shelving, standing on
an elegant table of fire-gilt bronze or or-moulu,  by the  same maker. The  manufacture  of  cloisonne   enamel,  by  the   method  employed in China and Japan,  has never been  understood  in   Europe; but Barbedienne has  several  times  accomplished  the  same  result by sheer power and wilfulness, merely doing without the labor-saving secret which saves the Oriental half his work - repudiating that, because nobody in the West knows the use of the gum with which the Eastern workman attaches his cloisons to the bronze. Barbedienne's stupendous traceries in enamel look rather like champleve than cloisonni, on a very close inspection; rather as if the space between the colors was dug out, leaving the delicate divisions standing- like a honeycomb of gold; but, however his wizard familiar permits him to do it, the Paris bronze-founder turns out a cabinet that is the perfection of taste; for the designs of his doors and plaques are Persian architectural designs, and they apply themselves to the doors and surfaces in great sheets of enamel, whose figures enter into the structure architecturally, which Chinese designs would never do. This singular casket, in which ivories and lacquers are kept, is one of the greatest triumphs of headstrong and unnecessary ingenuity which French cleverness has effected. Mother-of-pearl, very freely used in both the architecture and the furniture of this saloon, strikes the highest key in the octave of colors in the decoration, of which the lowest is the crimson of the walls and carpet, while a middle value is attained by a very lavish use of gold. The rounded corners are colorless, however, by a singular caprice; these cold intervals being an elaborate arrangement of mirrors and silver statues, nearly life-size; these singular niches, among all  the glow and color, come upon the eye almost like ice-grottoes.



The mother-of-pearl, seen everywhere seen, carries off, however, the high note of the silver and the reflectors with ingenuity and elegance. Its use here suggests for what unexpected effects it may be depended  upon, even  in architecture.    Thus, in the broad cornice which unites the walls to the coves, the panelled woodwork design is covered with pale metallic-green gilding on a ground of mother-of-pearl. Mother-of-pearl, inlaid with invisible joinings, sheets the gold tables; and mother-of-pearl, bending over the rounded angles of the Barbedienne cabinets, catches the light like the shields in a trophy, and strikes a changeable decorative note which repeats itself from ceiling to floor of the apartment.

The massive frames of the three doorways are elaborately carved and incrusted with gold. Flying genii, similar to those seen in museums on Roman sarcophagi of the later periods, hover at the upper corners. At either side of each door-post is placed a pillar, of the material familiarly called "onyx," and showing the most   beautiful   markings  of spar or alabaster;  this  stone  is   brought from Africa, and is not to be  confounded with the less rich "Mexican onyx."   The pillars are hung with gold chains set with colored cut crystals, and bear gold cages in which dance the lights for receptions or balls.    The arrangement for lighting the   apartment   depends,   however, less upon the candelabra on  the onyx pillars than upon the singular device in each of the corners, just glanced at in the previous paragraph.   Here we find, one for each recess, silver light-bearing statues; the figures, somewhat smaller than life, are very elegant, in a bygone style suggesting Pradier and the epoch of Louis-Philippe; the silver surface perfectly harmonizes with the purity of their lines and the weighty strenuousness of their draperies.   These nymphs each bear up an arched branch of lights, and the rounded niche behind reflects the illumination from its lining of little square bevelled mirrors.    The effect at night, it need not be said, is simply feerique***magical or fairy-like***

Among the rarities of which the saloon is full, it is impossible to overlook the two statuettes carved out of solid ivory; they are both by Augustin Moreau-Vauthier, superintendent of plastic ceramics at the Sevres factory. No living sculptor, except perhaps Cordier, has studied more than this artist the infinite applications of sculpture to decorative ends. Of these two figures, the Cupid, with a pedestal of trifling height, measures an altitude of nineteen inches; and it is hard to detect a joining in the ivory; the Fortune, a somewhat larger figure, poises on a globe of turquoise blue, with various supporting figures and attributes; the latter statue was exhibited life-size, in bronze, at the Triennial Exhibition in Paris in 1883. Both are completely adapted for parlor admiration; they are thoroughly elegant, refined and artistic, without deep mythological meanings to disturb the equipoise of the evening caller. Cupid, balancing one of his arrows in the guise of a dart, is a peculiarly living, elastic figure.


The elaborate tables in the Drawing-Room, all of which are experiments in design that at any rate have not failed from any restriction of cost, support plate-glass  cases, as transparent  as possible,  in  which are protected a host of  costly  trifles,  besides   the   ivories above-mentioned.    The worth of these rarities is usually in  inverse ratio to their size.    Yonder  little red cup  and  saucer,  for  instance, are pointed  out as having cost three hundred and fifty dollars. The large vases and dishes in rock-crystal are delicious studies for the lover of bric-i-brac.   These curiosities are the personal  choice and selection of the proprietor, picked up in scant hours of leisure among the curiosity-shops of European  cities.    A  few of them  are   represented   in  the  photogravure plates and in the designs accompanying the text.

Represented  in  the  photogravure  plates are found the following: Plate containing a group of five objects. In the centre is a curious ivory watch. It is of English manufacture, having on the back the national St. George with the dragon. The movement, which of course is not ivory, is signed "Bushman." - The gold-mounted snuff-box above it is marked with the maker's initials, "F. J.;" it is of the Napoleon epoch, and the enamel on the lid, representing an enamored pair running to the Fountain of Loves, is a favorite subject of Prud'hon's which the Paris goldsmith still loves to repeat on  his fine  opera-glasses and card-receivers. The other snuffbox, below, fairly copies the shape of a Dutch boat, and looks like Dutch manufacture; the hold, supposed to be charged with the finest tobacco, is approached by a comparatively small hatchway in the middle of the deck. Landscapes like  those  on  the  Dutch tiles, canal-views and castles, a human figure twice as tall as the buildings, constitute the ornament of this quaint old object. 


The metal is completely covered with  enamel  on all sides, and the piece must have been a difficult one to fire successfully, owing to the risk of unequal heating, and of the enamel flying from one side or the other; the edges and hinges are gold. At the sides are two vinaigrettes; one, attached to a finger-ring, is of porcelain, painted with a maiden pursued  by Loves,  in  the taste of Greuze;  the other is enclosed in a perfect ivy-tod of gold, with Cupid looking out from among the leaves; this difficult piece of goldsmith's open-work imprisons the scent-bottle, in rock crystal. 

Plate representing a Necklace and Miniature. The miniature is by the celebrated R. Cosway, and represents the Hon. Mrs. Duff, daughter of the first Earl of Fife. It is mounted in brilliants representing a bow of ribbon suspending the case or frame; this wealth of strass gems is characteristic of the buckles and clasps of the eighteenth century, especially when, as here, a portrait  is to be turned into a brooch. The necklace is a setting, in old-fashioned gold chains, of a row of eleven stone intagli, of classical subjects though not necessarily ancient; it is well for the beginner in collectorship to remember that elaborate subjects like these, too large for the finger-seal, are hardly ever real antiques; they are far more likely to be studies in Greek art by Rega, the fine Neapolitan artist of the beginning of this century, or by "Cnaeas," who signed the ablest of the Poniatowsky imitations

Plate with Snuff-Box and Double Miniature. The snuff-box is of the date 1630, and the enamel is of dark lapis-lazuli blue, in which is set a round miniature; the latter may represent Anacreon, receiving Cupid and the Graces. The unusual size of this piece, with its antiquity and destination, make it peculiarly interesting. The makers mark is " L. F. T." An inscription in Russian letters is found inside, thus interpreted: " His Excellency Alexis-Theodore Lechovechu, 30 March, 1630" The twin miniature representing the children of Lady Lake, two fine boys set face to face in a double case, is signed "H. E." The frame is gold, enclosing on the back a pretty Wedgwood cameo in the blue-and-white, representing a nymph pouring libations on a flaming altar, encircled with a ring of lapis enamel;  a half-effaced inscription, of which the last word is doubtful, seems to perpetuate the sadness of a widow's or bereaved mother's heart: "Le triste Souvenir est pour LAme tin Bien"***The blade is sad remembrance Although tin***, plus precieux que les Heures qui Brillen"***Hours precious than that Shine***.  The urchins, looking like Eton boys of the period of Shelley and Canning, are painted with great elegance.

Represented in the design on page 52***above*** is an antique chatelaine of gold, to which are hung a variety of quaint toys, including a gold watch the size of a finger-ring. The timepiece, hardly large enough for Titania, is of old French manufacture, of an epoch when Robespierre had not yet swept away the kings; it is signed "Le Roy et Fils, Horlogers du Roi, a Paris, No. 19,734."

Snuff box of his Excellency A. T. Lechovechu; and miniatures of  Lady Lake's children.




Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mr. Vanderbilt's HOUSE and COLLECTION - Antechamber and Library

***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.*** 





Illustrated at the top of this page is one of the ordinary decorations of the Library, which opens out of the central hall, on the ground-floor. The relic in question is an antique fan, in excellent preservation, of the generation when paintings by Lancret, Fragonard and Lavreince were freely used to blow the wind into sweet faces that were soon to lie low under the guillotine.    This fan is superbly royalist in sentiment, - for that fans may have a sentiment, it proves in its own person. On the sticks - pearl with gilded relief-work - are seen the symbolic dauphins, curling their tails with the greatest haughtiness, and surmounted by a rising sun with disc and rays of gold.    The fan was intended as a badge of loyalty, and a symbol of congratulation to the royal mother on the birth of the prince.    The infant, after perishing in the Temple, has risen repeatedly, as is well known, in Canada, in Austria and Germany; the families that are willing to draw pensions from the houses of Chambord and Orleans on the strength of authentic proofs of the survival of Louis XVII, are numerous and persistent. This silken toy, which fluttered gayly in honor of his birth, survives in more credible form, and inhabits America as a prosperous emigre, telling tales of the brilliant times before the Revolution. The purest type of the Marie Antoinette period of decoration is seen on the two external sticks, while the middle ones are sculptured with equally elegant subjects, comprising human figures in all the finish of the gem-carver. The screen part of the fan is also artistic, - a sector of rich silk, on which are painted in gouache three principal subjects; in the middle there is a love scene of quaintest artificiality, with a gallant making his declaration to a powdered beauty at her toilet. A Cupid in the air, not satisfied with the towering head-dress and crest of feathers of the court beauty, is about to add a wreath of roses to the edifice; dressing-maids attend, on either side, to the love-lock or to the toilet-table, and the inevitable abbe plays the guitar to a lovely visitor in a hat. This scene of Beaumarchais-like comedy is conceived with the proper extravagance and painted with the proper nicety. Festoons and frames of spangles surround this group as well as the others, where we see Cupids crowning their Psyches, or turtle-doves pairing. The division of the breadth of taffetas into panels, connected by medallions  and festoons, is altogether characteristic of the period; and the frail treasure is all the more precious for having outlived the Bastile and the other ponderous vanities that crumbled in the Revolution because, - unlike this gauzy survivor - their time was come.

At the beginning of the above paragraph we have unlocked a desk of which only one person living has a right to the key, and exhibited a favorite chair which is equally individual in its employment. The Library is remarkable for the panels of rosewood, inlaid with pearl and brass in lines which design various Greek subjects. These panels are found framing the doors, forming the front of the mantel-shelf and the pediment above it, and constituting the cornices of the low book-cases which are set against the walls. One of our illustrations shows, for instance, a jamb of the door leading into the drawing-room, in this sort of work, with tragic masks and trophies: the corresponding panel has emblems of music and war; a rich curtain, half covered with lines of deep fringes, is drawn across this door.


The fretted ceiling of the Library is of rich workmanship, set with small square mirrors which incrust the spaces of the design. The walls, where they can be seen between the pictures, display a heavy brocade with Oriental peonies as a figure; the same stuff completely covers the large arm-chairs, which are upholstered so as to conceal the frames; the writing-chair, however, is of leather. 

The chimney is masked from floor to ceiling with an     elaborate structure which can be best understood from the plate in photogravure; the fireplace is framed in three broad slabs of African onyx, a stone much more beautifully colored and veined than the better-known Mexican onyx. This fine spar we shall find profusely employed in the drawing-room. Here, in the Library, the choice pieces enclosing the fireplace are very successfully represented by the plate, with their veins like webs of the geometric spider, a design which seems to be repeated in the carpet. On and near the hearth are found the fire-basket, - the fender of architectural design, - the utensils for the fire, which hang from a sort of panoply, and have been found original enough to form the subject of one of our smaller sketches. Greek acanthus-capped pillars stand in couples beside the hearth, or rise at either side almost to the ceiling for the support of the entablature. In front of these are gilded sphinxes, sitting, to support the shelf of a statuette or a vase. The mantel garniture, clock and lustres, is of that phase of Marie Antoinette decoration which is sufficiently classical to go with a Greek environment. The mirror is found repeating these objects, as well as the pictures on the opposite wall. In designing this elaborate chimney-piece, the architect has been successful in combining the Greek orders, which are apt to look rather too bare in an interior, with whatever of Pompeian frieze decoration and Roman sumptuousness would harmonize with them most properly, and carry out the impression of richness proper to a fully upholstered modern room. Here is a Greek fireplace which does not seem to deaden the fire by its chilliness. The one thing to avoid, in adapting classical motives to domestic architecture, is a museum look; and this is certainly a Greek structure which
continues to be Greek without the homeless air of the admirable ruins which travellers admire.


The ante-room, or private reception-room, communicates with the Library, and is found immediately at the left on entering by the vestibule. The wood employed in fitting it up is mahogany. Mahogany panelwork covers the lofty ceiling, with stamped leather introduced as decoration. A high mahogany wainscoting covers a large part of the walls, and the bookcases and seats are of the same tropical wood, too much neglected by the modern architect.


One of our colored views gives a glimpse into this ante-room. Its ample window is framed in an arched screen of carved mahogany, in whose edges are set large rectangular panels of stained glass in scrolled renaissance designs, - the plate-glass window being thus surrounded with a system of painted windows. The screen in question gives an arch-shaped opening for the casement proper, and the arcade is continued by lateral round-arched openings at the sides, in which are placed a pair of broad low vases, like the urns in niches of a classical columbarium. The curtain-rod stretches at the spring of this arch, so that the heavy draperies may be drawn completely across at night, when a couple of crystal lanterns attached to the window-frame supply the place of the sunshine, and light up the objects in the apartment still from the direction of the casement. The ponderous carved table supports books, writing-materials and a globe. The low three-cornered chair beside it is cushioned with leather. This is the most serious-looking room in the house, and can be so curtained and enclosed, at a touch, as to inspire the gravest meditations in an applicant doing ante-room duty while expecting a reception.

 The rarities of which illustrations are introduced in this chapter have been selected from the library.

Solon Vase: "Night" - A number of the vases and other pieces decorated with so much plastic originality by Solon-Miles in pate-sur-pate are accumulated in the library, and are introduced freely among our plates, as objects of art and not as products of a commercial character. Solon-Miles was long engaged in the porcelain-works at Sevres, but before the close of the Empire was tempted to carry his talent to England, where he now resides. His method of employing barbotine or slip as the material for a bas-relief is a novelty, and has caused his exquisite designs in this material to be sought after by collectors as eagerly as the choicest works of the carver in ivory or marble. He usually employs white, on a ground of blue, red, brown or black. His remarkable, original and classical talent as a designer gives an authentic value to his slightest composition; his English hosts now recognize in him a modeller worthy to succeed Flaxman, and his material is more attractive; however exquisite are the "cameos" which Flaxman modelled for Wedgwood, in white on a turquoise or lavender ground, they must yield in distinction to these enchanting sculptures, like them Greek in spirit, but unlike them translucent and gem-like. It is strange that Solon has never applied himself to making a fac-simile of the Portland Vase. He is the only artist fit to try it who has arisen since England has been the custodian of that unique curiosity, and his material is more suggestive of the original than Wedgwood's, which was mechanically faithful but gritty and dry. Wedgwood's cameo-work, however, was cast in a mould and susceptible of repetition, while Solon's designs are hand-wrought and individual. The material is applied in semi-liquid state to the pottery to be decorated, partly painted on, and partly modelled in the higher reliefs with touches of the brush or the graver. Where thinnest, it becomes transparent in the firing, still covering itself with the glaze that involves the object all over; in the portions lifted higher than the field, it gets more and more opaque, thus yielding all the delicate effects to which the cameo-cutter has recourse when working in stratified gems. Thus the veil or scarf looks transparent when it flies off from the figure and floats in vacancy, and the skirt looks white where it clothes the limbs and gauzy when it falls from them.  Our ceramist's material of burnt translucent paste would bestead him but little if he had not the artistic ability to give it effect; but his compositions are so many poems, chiselled and embroidered in their tiny perfection like separate epigrams of the Greek Anthology. 

The vase representing "Night" is blue, like the sky around the moon. Gold stars are sprinkled over it for a background to the figure, who floats with head bent back and drapery falling in long festoons from neck to foot, as if Sleep was the cause of Night rather than the attribute. On other parts of the vase, little genii accompany the shooting stars, whose fall, says the legend, accompanies the death of a mortal. This vase is simple and almost funereal in shape, with little other decoration than the Night-goddess who rises like a statue on the vaulted and star-studded blue. The flat handles, zigzag base-ornament, and heavy lotus-flower terminal standards, give it a primitive character, as if meant for libations in a death-rite under some defunct religion.

Solon Plaque: "The Toilet - Greek lady at her toilet attended by her maids, a group in the panel of a large, square-shaped tray.    The mistress sits on a high seat supported by four slender legs, stretching out her lower limbs before her with a natural grace that uniortunately has gone out of the ways of modern ladies.   With her right hand she holds the polished metal mirror in front of her, and with the left fastens her double chiton at the shoulder.    Her beautiful, supple feet are still naked, but her hair is carefully braided and dressed, probably also daintily anointed, heavy ear-rings are in her ears and at her feet an attendant selects from the jewel-box a necklace for her mistress's further adorning. Opposite these, two other slaves prepare the bath, one of them, nude to the waist, stooping over it, and the second kneeling beside it in order better to test the temperature of the tepid water. Both of them arrest their occupation in order to glance at their mistress, as though their attention had been attracted by some exclamation evoked from her by the contemplation of her own gracious beauty, or, perhaps, by the sudden sound of the bell tinkling over her fair head. Between these two groups we see the embroidered tissue that serves as a portiere, hanging in the open doorway. All these figures, being by Solon, are elegantly drawn and modelled, and the old, old, ever new, subject - Fair Woman and her Adorning - is as charming as ever.
SCIENCE.      VASE IN pate-sur-pate, BY SOLON.      DESIGN BY R. M. LANCELOT.

Solon Vase: "Science" - Design inserted in the text. In the pair of which this is one, there are griffins on the neck of the vessel, smooth serpent handles, and a frieze of beautiful Cupids on the ovoid body. The pretty urchins are exercising their minds over scientific instruments, in a charming baby-class. It is not in every class that so much Love is applied to Science.
Winter. Porcelain Vase, Decorated by M. Solon. 

Solon Vase: "Winter" Photogravure - This pair is of highly decorative shape, with twisted handles, narrow neck and foot, and a square base. In the groups in front, eight Greek boys are collected round a grate from which flames up a joyous fire; one laughingly stirs the coals with his rod, and others warm their chubby backs at the heat with ineffable comfort, amid a suggestive tracery of leafless branches. The plate is so successful that the very quality of the pottery is accurately represented by it.

The artist who has dignified the clay with these enchanting cameos is worthy to sign his works, with a name that should be held in as grateful remembrance as the names of the Greek potters whose signatures the student spells out on  the cups and pitchers of the museums.    It is noticeable that the antique potters, like the medallists, often signed their masterpieces, a thing not always done by even the proudest statuary.    Phidias dared not do so, by-the-by, and was punished for even designating himself on his work by a symbol. Solon-Miles has enlarged the horizon of the ceramist's material; he has made it one of the most  flexible,  yielding,  transparent   mediums  to  express   fancies  evanescent and   faint as morning dreams.    His productions, when they are classed with the general achievements of
the century in sculpture, painting, and the like, hold a high place among the highest, and represent what is best in modern design; when they are classed with the specialty of their material, they easily surpass all that has been done since the Greeks, with the single exception perhaps of Flaxman's designs - connect themselves in rank with  the products of the admired potters of antiquity, and should perhaps be placed above those of the men who only invented a process or a material, like Della Robbia and Palissy.  It is fit that they should bear a price like original and autographic pictures or carvings by the most highly-rated modern artists; fit that they should be cataloged, signed and dated, and be made the items in the yet to be written biography of one who expresses the best modern art in a quaintly-chosen medium, and who may be said to-daily turn the clay beneath his feet into immortal jewels. Nor should the artist be thought a trifler who has had the wit to direct his faculties to pottery. It is the only material in which he is safe, the only material employed by Art which is, chemically speaking indestructible. Many a vanished race has left us no record of its brains but its pottery. It is not impossible but that, two millenniums hence, when our marbles are all calcined and our bronzes all melted, and Raphaels oils turned as black as coal, these vases, or competent fragments of them, may be what will tell to the future that we had an art.

Porcelain Vase, in form of a Persian Water-vessel - This fine piece of porcelain, of which the illustration is inserted in the text of the present chapter, has been admitted on the same principle as the Solon pate-sur-pate, though of modern and even commercial origin. It is no excuse for the exclusion of a good piece of work that the maker is living. This worthy piece of English ceramics, though it may possibly be quoted in a dealer's catalogue, deserves to be distinguished here as much as in some art-record of the future when it can be cited as a product of the past and of a hand long dead. It is of recent Royal Worcester make, and is somewhat more than a foot in height. The fashion is closely imitated from a design of which the Persians are never weary, and of which specimens can be seen in silver, in  damascened steel, and in pottery. It is of an elongated gourd-form, with the neck greatly attenuated and fitted with an ornamental stopper. A handle and a serpentine spout rise opposite each other, the latter tied to the neck of the vessel by a clasp of open-work. The surface is surprising, for porcelain, in expressing a dull velvety richness, pitted like an ostrich egg, a treatment which goes well with its warm ivory white; the gold sparingly introduced shows with great elegance on this shade of white, and defines the blossoms which with true Persian largeness of spiral curl over the object.  The handle, of flat fretwork, is finished at the top with a dragon's head, which approaches the rim as if trying to drink at the lip of the vase. On the lid is a many-lobed ornament imitating the battle-mace often seen in collections of Saracen armor. Not a line of the design is untrue to its Eastern ideal.

The door leading from the central hall into the library is furnished with a portiere of tapestry, one of a suite of tapestry hangings which belong to the various doorways leading off from the hall, and which can be seen in series from that court or atrium. They are all of a set, and represent subjects taken from classical history. They are haute-lisse tapestries, from the royal manufactory at Lille, Louis XIV epoch. It is believed to be certain that the set belonged to the Due de Maine, grandson of Louis XIV. The subjects preserve the original borders, a thing much sought after by collectors of tapestry; these borders represent a range of bulbous-looking shields, of the fanciful and unpractical shapes used in tournament, separated by square quatrefoil-strewn plaques; for the corners, there are similar shields set diagonally and enwreathed with scrollwork. Within these borders take place the animated scenes of the legends. In the present case it is Romulus directing the seizure of the Sabine Wives. A fair-haired Sabine nymph lies on the ground in front, whom a helmeted Roman seizes in his brown arms; a second woman runs from the group, grasping her skirts and tearing her hair.   Behind, Romulus with a gesture of his sceptre directs the hasty matrimonial transaction; he is in a complete suit of splendid armor, antique in pattern with all that the seventeenth century knew of antiquity; a winged dragon with swan-like neck forms the crest of his helmet, and his body is covered with a gleaming cuirass, whose fringe of thongs falls over the white skirt of his tunic; while his left hand wields the sceptre, his right holds the bridle-rein. Beyond is an arched bridge over the Tiber, from which a mounted cavalier contemplates the scene disinterestedly; behind, among the trees, the fortifications of primitive Rome, over which Remus leaped in contempt, are represented. The colors are fresh and in excellent preservation, and the general style is in that florid animated taste which shows that the example of Rubens is still fresh in the eyes of industrial designers. No tapestries of the period have been more successfully kept than the set to which this belongs. Among the library fittings is a monumental table, fit to go with the architectural mantel-piece as a serious piece of permanent construction. Its illustration forms the tailpiece to the present chapter. 

Specimens like this, put together under exceptional advantages, designed before America can be said to have a style in cabinetmaking, but showing the handpointings and   tendencies  towards a style, likely to be long  preserved, and representing   the most deliberate work of a period, are just what will be valuable to the Chippendales and Boules of the future. The reproach of American taste as leaning towards a flimsy evaporated delicacy can hardly be applied to a work like this. It looks as immovable as granite, as heavy as bronze. The legs are connected by a sort of lambrequin of carved and inlaid wood, making the lateral sides of the table almost solid; on this curtain, inlaid in marquetry, is the terrestrial globe, encircled by the stars of the national banner. The festoons of pearl discs surrounding the rim carry out a motive repeated in much of the woodwork of the room. The classical motive which controls all the fittings of the library is shown in bold Ionic volutes at the corners and in Greek palmetto designs enfolding the four supports. The feet are braced by an ample slab at the bottom. The general aspect, notwithstanding the innovation of the carved lambrequin, is sufficiently classical to go with the general Attic aspect of the room.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Mr. Vanderbilt's HOUSE and COLLECTION - Atrium

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



In the centre of the edifice is found a large hall, which pierces all the stories up to the skylight; it is surrounded by columns, and at each stage by galleries. It may here be called the Atrium. The columns which support the system of galleries are worthy of attention. They are of fine russo antico, or red African marble, from those important Roman quarries which have only within a few years been reopened. These quarries, last exploited by those who rightfully called themselves masters of the world, as they knew it, owe their resurrection into commerce in great part to commands from a continent then unknown, and the stones would be greatly surprised at their travels if they were conscious. Of these polished slabs, which now often reflect the faces of Western beauty, the neighbors last employed may have been those used by the emperor who constructed a speculum-gallery***WARNING IF YOU GOOGLE***to reflect the persons of his spies. The markings of the stone are very beautiful - distinct and bizarre in their patches, as if covered with the petals of poppies or peonies. The drums of these pillars are bound together with bands of bronze, the metal being frotte d'or, or gold-powdered; the capitals, of a design directly noncommittal but sufficiently rich, are also of bronze similarly heightened with gold.   The floor is a light-colored mosaic; it is nearly covered, however, with a vast carpet, which would be called Turkish by the ordinary observer but for its impossible dimensions; no Eastern looms exist capable of turning out carpets of the size found in this and the other ground-floor apartments; they are all, in fact, of British manufacture, woven from Oriental designs made expressly for their destination by the architect .

Of the same rosso antico as the columns is the chimney-Piece, a most massive affair extending quite up to the ceiling, and occupying a great part of the wall-space immediately opposite the door of entrance. The hood of the mantel is enriched with a profusion of bronze ornament, whose richness takes on a character of vagueness from being, by daylight, thrown into the deep shadow of the gallery which juts out above it. The two fine figures in medium-relief, in bronze, representing Nymphs of Pomona, and flanking the fireplace as ornaments to the jambs, are of great artistic and historical interest. They happen to harmonize very well, though three hundred years older, with Noel's modern lamp-bearer at the stair-foot which is to be described as so purely renaissance in design. These two orchard-nymphs, with fruits and wreaths in their hands, are by Germain Pilon, the celebrated French sculptor, deceased in 1590. They were modelled for the Chateau de Villeroy, where they occupied a similar position as the caryatides of a chimney-hood. In the original arrangement, a bust was accommodated between them, with the motto Per Ardus Surgo. The work of Pilon has that conscious and slightly fantastic grace, that taper attenuation of the limbs, which is so completely characteristic of the whole of Europe at the moment when she awoke from her mediaeval lethargy and began to think of her beauty. The artistic science of the figures is complete, and the draperies exceed all modern sculptured drapery in the feeling of action and life which makes them flutter so intelligently. The models of Germain Pilon lose none of their delicacy by being cast in bronze. The originals, now at the Louvre, were executed in the ordinary French freestone.

On either side of the chimney is found an elaborate marble and bronze console, the support of which is made of spiral bronze scrolls and bandrols in harmony with the stairrail. On these tables are several bronzes, of modern workmanship. One is a fine group of a race-horse and his jockey. On the table illustrated at the head of this chapter, the central figure is the very original bust of Semiramis, by E. Hebert, an artist born at Paris and medalled in 1872. The legend relates that Semiramis, who was nursed by doves in her infancy, passed into the form of a dove at her death or transmigration; the queen is closing her eyes in the enervation of her metempsychosis. At her shoulders the dove-wings are already sprouting, and cradle her form with their long pinions. The artist has adopted with skill the Assyrian style of art for the support of the bust of his Babylonish heroine. The groups on either side are the well-known "Horses of Marly." It may be as well to remind the reader that the original groups, in marble, now stand  at the entrance of the promenade called the Champs-Elysees, in Paris; and that they were prepared for Louis XIV for his place at Marly by the sculptor Coustou, at which place they remained till the Revolution. They were placed in their present position, regarding the scene of the execution of Louis XVI, in the year 1795. 

The doors around the central hall, leading to various rooms, as Drawing-room, Dining-room, Picture Gallery, etc., are hung with portieres, generally of Lille tapestry, but in the case of the Picture Gallery, with a modern curtain, whose design and material deserve notice. There is a risk in applying architectural designs to a drapery, whose floating folds may disturb at any moment the integrity and consistency of the patterned fragment; this scruple has been boldly overcome, however, and the velvet foundation has been crossed with arcades of embroidered architecture whose symmetry is only evident when the curtain is fully stretched. The renaissance character of the hall is carried out in the motif, which represents round Roman arches supported on flat pilasters inlaid with panels containing allegorical figures, the whole system of silken masonry and human characters being reduced to a quaint formality by the necessities of satin-stich and applique. Winged figures fly in the spandrels; and the keys of the arches are apparently sustained by nymphs supported on festoons and capitals in the Raphaelesque style; the centre of the twin curtains is filled, within the architectural pattern, by Raphael scrollwork, in the midst of which hangs the cipher of the proprietor, dexterously interlaced, instead of a shield of arms. The composition of this portiere, along with the five stained glassworks to be presently noticed, is unique in the house as a specimen of designing contributed from American soil, in the strict taste of the best renaissance models, but springing from native industry instead of being a trophy gathered from some old centre of foreign art in such examples does the house justify itself as a sort of educational force, a college for the development of the higher crafts.

Looking overhead, the first gallery is found to be railed and masked with sculpture, instead of the painted friezes which arc seen in the upper one. These sculptures are very elaborate, consisting of festoons of woven cords and thongs, hanging between smiling mascarons in the taste of Jean Goujon.  From space to space, in front of flat tablets, are seated playing infants who support the plaques on their shoulders and look over laughing into the Hall below.   The elaborate bronze grille of this gallery, topped with a hand-rail cushioned with crimson plush, has a brilliant, Veronese sort of effect when crowded with ball-room figures leaning curiously over to watch the come-and-go of guests on the mosaic floor beneath. The coupled red marble pillars on which rests this gallery are continued by a system of similar pillars to support the gallery of the next story.

The Tapestries to be found in various parts of the building are finely introduced by the valuable one forming a screen in an angle of the Hall.  It represents "The Fortune-Teller," and was woven at the Gobelins Factory in Paris, from a design executed for Marie Antoinette by Francois Boucher, director of the Gobelins works at the time. Boucher's painting, from  which   it was  executed,  is  to  be   found   at  Versailles,  in Marie Antoinette's apartment in the Grand Trianon.  It is one of five designs made by the director for the decoration of the Queen's favorite country-house.  A chronicle of the period narrates that the artist was inspired in his  composition by the following  anecdote. Mademoiselle, eldest daughter of the Regent, in passing through the fine  avenue which led from Versailles to Marly, stopped her chariot to bestow an alms upon a band of wandering gipsies, and desired to have her fortune told.   The Bohemian sorceress, introduced among the three sisters, - the two remaining daughters of the Regent being likewise of the party - examined the lines in the hands of all the princesses.   From the signs she discovered, her prediction was made to the effect that the eldest should be a shepherdess in Paradise, that the youngest should marry one of the great kings of the earth, and that the third should be a nun. The three predictions were fulfilled, as history records.   The central part of the design on this tapestry, rc-woven at about the same epoch, was sold at San Donato, with the Dcmidoff collection, in 1880; it omitted the upper cornice seen in the composition, and the foliage at the top and sides; but it exhibited, in the narrow border running around, the authentic fleurs-de-lis proving a fabrication for royal use.   The composition is one of the characteristic bergerades of the day, so mild that a French malcontent, Rivarol, said that they needed a wolf or two in the sheepfold to make them endurable.   The well-combed sheep are grouped in  front; a Louis-Quinze  gallant offers wreaths to  the  powdered and   high-heeled shepherdesses to whom the barefooted gipsy explains the future; and the ballad-like adventure takes place by a statue-garnished ruin, in a bower of seaweed-looking olive trees.    But the design proves what a master Boucher was in the art of decoration; a composition of greater balance and suavity could nowhere be found for a situation of well-timed rusticity; half a picture, half a broidery-pattern, the tapestry perfectly fills its elegant function. "This tenture," admiringly says the San Donato catalogue, "is among the number of the most felicitous decorative creations of the eighteenth century." 

"The Japanese Neptune" is usually placed, on its lacquered pedestal, against one of the columns of the Hall. It is as fine a specimen of intricate undercutting as is anywhere to be found, even among the products of this unparalleled people of bronze-founders. The size is about half the size of life.  The deity is an ancient bearded personage, with an intellectual cast of countenance, standing in the waves, and looking intently at an incense-burner, which he carefully holds level before him with both hands. He wears a high mitre, encased in two fluted shells, and his double cape and tunic are patterned with wave forms and dragons. To his back clings his familiar, a wonderful dragon, every hair of whose beard, as well as the spines of his back, is fearlessly modelled in relief by the audacious moulder.   Only a glance is needed to show that the artist cannot repeat the usage of his mould; it is casting A CIRE  PERDUE,  to give the term its most inevitable sense. Western artists are astonished at the audacity with which Japanese sculpture handles the waves of the sea, of which a splendid instance is here before us; the bubbles of foam, dying furiously out of the whirlpool from  which the figure  rises, are, a bold way to express their transparency, lightness and movement; this sculptured maelstrom emerges from a base of shells. The iodine scent of the sea seems to be expressed in the vase of perfume, its brute force in the dragon, while the deity who controls it is girt with an elaborate sword, - the eternal warfare of the ocean against the land.

What classical artist of our own Aryan race has ever better expressed the spirit of the element which constantly tells us of its determination never to be turned by the art of man? On the incense-vase has been placed one of the bronze mermaids familiar to curiosity-hunters, appropriate to the subject, but not apparently belonging to the statue.
From a corner of the Hall, on the north side, ascends  the  staircase which commands the whole interior of the house. This stairway turns upon itself at every landing, and standing under it and looking vertically upward we see the curious effect which it has been thought worth while to represent ***above*** The reader will understand that the illustration is made in contradiction to the aspect usually made use of for pictorial purposes, and that he is looking aloft, with head well bent back; the effect will be best understood by holding the book***laptop*** for a moment quite over the eye. The intention is to show the elaborate casing of the stairway, in panelled and polished wood.  The under side of each flight is thus revealed, enclosed in a sheath of bevelled, mitred, dovetailed, panelled, and interwoven timbers, whose design changes with the different floors; in the heart of the square spiral thus viewed can be glimpsed the broad arcade which crowns the upper floor.

The corner from which springs the staircase is devoted to the convenience of guests, with cloak-room, toilet, ante-room, etc, opening into it from their several doors. This corner, in fact, enlarges into a Vestibule, which may be called the Arched Vestibule, to distinguish it from the principal Vestibule, described by itself in the last chapter. This little piece is finished almost like a jewel-casket; it yields a motive for the illustrator ***above***. In that illustration may be best seen the character of the wooden panelling which entirely surrounds this Vestibule and the Atrium, as high as the tops of the doors; the panels, resembling courses of bevelled stonework, are separated by wooden plaques with scrolled and coiled ornaments in relief; the doors - the entrance doors bearing the design of "Salve" - are also bordered with a woven pattern of carved-work, like a magnified lace. The carver's touch in all the woodwork of the house, coming from European workmen long in American employ, is believed to be unexcelled in precision and spirit by the best carvers of France or Italy.

The vaulted ceiling of the Arched Vestibule is coffered, as the illustration shows; and the wall against which it fits bears a fan-pattcrn, like sun-rays, to fill in the outline of the arch. The large circle, opening through the wall at the side, admits light to the stairway, and permits the persons assembled on the stairs a momentary speculation on the guests entering from the vestibules below, who appear briefly framed in the ring-shaped aperture. Various appropriate bits of furniture occupy the little Arched Vestibule - Chinese teakwood chairs, with seats and backs of clouded steatite; a Chinese screen, with a large silk transparency in each leaf; a cylinder for canes, a bronze tazza-table for cards; a hanging lantern of cut crystal hangs from the key of the arch, depending from six gilded chains. At the stairfoot within, is found a large cassone, or "marriage chest," an elaborate affair in carved woodwork, which would be taken for the Italian-made tomb of some Ginevra, did not its freshness and polish show that it is a piece of modern art, wrought in competition with the old dead wood-sculptors of Europe.

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