Saturday, January 26, 2008

Richard Morris Hunt, part 1


Over the years I've visited a number of house museums that were designed by the prominent 19th century architect, Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895). He was not a pretty man, as evidenced by the photo above but was extremely gifted and ambitious. R.M.H. was called the 'Dean of American architecture' because he was the first American to be admitted to the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris and later opened the first American architecture school in 1855. Born into a wealthy family with an artistic mother, R.M.H. spent much of his teen years in Europe following his fathers' death. Here he visited many palaces and castles that later influenced his residential work for the 'who's who' of American society during the Gilded Age. (his brother is the prominent artist William Morris Hunt)
'The Breakers', Newport, RI.

While most of his work has been torn down in NYC where he was based, a few projects remain such as the base of the statue of liberty and the facade of the Met on 5th avenue. Boston houses a lot of his work still and so does Newport, RI. Other projects are scattered nationally. He had quite an exciting and successful career; designing the first apartment building in NYC which was considered scandalous, one of the first 'sky-scrapers' with an elevator (the new york tribune building) and being one of the lead architects of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago which brought city planning and the city beautiful movement to the USA.
'Marble House', Newport, RI.

During the gilded age R.M.H. was the architect to go to if you were of a certain class to design your NYC townhouse and palatial country estates. Many of those still exist and are now house museums (Biltmore and the Breakers to name 2 of the most famous).
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC.

R.M.H. was so beloved of his society clients that upon his death he was rewarded with the only monument in the USA to an architect - along 5th avenue in central park across the street from the Frick collection but at the time faced many of his beautiful townhouses which no longer exist. To this day you can still pay homage to this great architect at his monument (here it is!)
RMH memorial, Daniel Chester French & Bruce Price
He also was painted by John Singer Sargent at the request of the Vanderbilts to hang in Biltmore. Most architects are lucky to get their name carved onto a building somewhere or on a plague -let alone a portrait by one of the preeminent painters of all time! You can recognize the Biltmore in the background.

In the following posts over the next week, I'll be highlighting some of his projects that I've visited with photos I've taken -I hope you enjoy these! I think they illustrate that even though most of these residences are totally ostentatious they also were built as family homes with a lot of charm, function and coziness beneath the gilded exteriors and public spaces.
'Grey Towers', Milford, PA.

3 comments:

All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

Dear Be the change - y pleasure to feature you! you have a lovely eye - I'm jsut sorry i didnt find you earlier than last night and had to "whip you in" to the post with out any pics. WOuld you like me to feature some of your pictures? let me know - I'd like to if you'd like to.

Take care

All Thing Bright

All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

PS just leave me a message on my blog - no need to email me

Scott Fazzini said...

I love love love R.M.H., but I suppose anyone who appreciates great architecture does! I used to watch A&E's "America's Castles" religiously when I was a kid, and of course his work was featured often. You've inspired me to research R.M.H. a bit more...... off to Barnes & Noble I go!