Monday, May 22, 2017

Art of Biltmore House Tour

Hubs & I belong to a wonderful Facebook group called Fans of Biltmore House, which is currently nearing 9000 members who share a passion for Biltmore, George Washington Vanderbilt's summer home in Asheville NC.  We share photos and factoids, have a book club, ask each other questions, and spring and fall (November, once the Christmas decorations are up) have a big group meetup.  The most recent meetup was May 20, and I was fortunate to take two tours, this one and the Landscape Architecture Tour, or Olmstead Tour (both my nomenclature). 

My photos from the day are here

FOBH Exclusive Art of Biltmore House Tour 2017 0520 

Leslie Klingner, guide

Other Biltmore employees contributing: Tracy ______ and our own Jean Sexton.
(Leslie celebrates 11 yrs at Biltmore next week)

(Apologies -- these are rather scribble-scrabble notes, but I was writing as fast as I could!  And I’m more than willing to share what info I jotted down, just recognize their limitations.)

QOTD (quote of the day): “I have a vote for a sleepover...?”

Winter Garden - heart of the home - conservatory in home - new idea at that time.  
Aural input -- fountain running, probably music playing somewhere in the home

Bitter statue - Boy Stealing Geese
Bitter (Austrian) - also did the frieses in the banquet hall & sculptures in the garden… also some household implements (“that andiron looks like Bitter”... it probably is)
Conservators’ goal: to get fountain running again
But historic bronze - must protect the patina (also some plumbing leaks)
Water in a single stream out of beak
Fantastic water pressure, that’s not the issue

Biltmore Blooms uses themes so the idea of garden parties was used in this instance
Chinese Lanterns
Cornelia’s birthday

Rafael Guastavino arches between Winter Garden and Banquet Hall
Catalan artist
Mediterranean system of vaulted architecture
Acoustic qualities -- reverb if standing below center of arch
1100 places have arches done in Guastavino style, inc Carnegie Hall, Boston Public Library, and the elephant house at the Bronx Zoo
Self-supporting - no scaffolding needed in construction
Quickset mortar -- can lay in a set and kneel on it to do the next set
Most places it's structural; at Biltmore it's just ornamental.
Guastavino is buried in St Lawrence Basilica, at Haywood and Cherry, by Civic Center
Guastavino is buried in St Lawrence Basilica, at Haywood and Cherry, by Civic Center
Black Mountain - temp (traveling) exhibit Palaces for the People display in Swannanoa Museum

Anne Bastion (sp?) - Biltmore upholstery conservator
Responsible for dressing the costumes
Reupholstered ALL the Banquet Hall chairs -- usually that’d be a lifetime project; they did it in 2 ½ years
Banquet Hall table collapses to fit the size of the group -- can sit 4 to 64
13 antique chairs - those with arms
Common to love a look, then work with a company to reproduce it
To reupholster, first de-upholster from 1970s redo (how do we know 1970s?  The latex foam found in it)
Based on the fabric on the chair backs, planned a color scheme and fabric.  Then in process, on one chair, found some traces of original fabric!
Found some original mending
Fabric from Lyon, France
Evidence of use -- found internal reinforcing wood on some chair fronts where they’d broken at some point
(my uncouth thought: WWE in the Banquet Hall, a little after-dinner tussle… “The chair!  Use the chair!”)
Brass bits were age-darkened to black, some popped off
Styrofoam replacement cushions - not stuffing, because bugs don't eat it, and it's stable material and lightweight.  Also can sculpt shape.
Put in structural support so could use the chairs for sitting on if the family chose to.
Hand-sewn "underwear layer" made of linen -- can sew fabric to it, not stapled

Reproduction tacks on the side use the same holes.
Silk fabric
25 years breakdown in the light
Birds get into the house and like it
Cost per yard "I can't tell you".
Factory still had swatches of original in their factories so they could match it!  so setting up the looms was less than if from scratch.  Still astronomical $.  And the day the 64th chair was finished ans returned to the Banquet Hall, a bird came in and liked it...!

Different size chairs
Arm chairs probably for show, not for sitting, so displayed usually to the side
In a banquet, might use arm chairs as end seats but difficult if along the sides of the table
GWV and Edith, rather than the image of nobility sitting at the far ends of the table, sat at the center, opposite each other.
Most titled (or important) guests sat with them
Edith's dinner book lists who came to dinner
Man-woman-man-woman seating
Cultural norms to talk to the person on one side of you and when indicated (by lady of the house) would switch to next discussion partner -- not like today's talk to whomever, carry on multiple convos. -- hosts' responsibility to set the seating to match interests with talking partners 

Cathy Bernhart (sp?) - blooms - 31 years at Biltmore, retiring this year
Tinkerbell hidden in the tablescape (in the conservatory) (my pic here)

Long-term goal to get the flags down (light damage) & put up reproductions (the service flag is already a reproduction)

Breakfast Room
Return portraits to original placements
John Singer Sargents in Oak sitting room -- in 1920s were here!
Photos show which FRAMES were original to paintings -- even Commodore was swapped

George was influenced in art by his father, William Henry Vanderbilt -- a different experience growing up than his siblings had because WHV was amassing historical narrative paintings

George was interested in contemporary art... contemporary in that time was Renoir, Monet, Manet, Whistler
Also prints of 15th century Renaissance masters

Renoirs were recently moved back to the breakfast room
Renoir, from Limoges France, started in porcelain painting -- then used the money from porcelain to go to L'Ecole des Beaux Arts.  Get up close and see the brushwork!  (& if there's a Renoir exhibit, go!)

Original wall coverings - core double pressed leather

What's on the other side of the door?
Butler's pantry -- access for back of house duties

Butler would typically stand just inside or just outside the door to keep an eye on things

Hand cut velvet fabric on chairs.
Redone ~1991
Imagine terrycloth towel loops.  Then imagine each loop was cut by hand.
To weave 1yd of fabric takes 2 1/2 weeks

Book loops on mantle (my pic here) - are they connected to the paper wigs?
Different department, but goal was to see books as decor in keeping with the Designed for Drama (my term: Fiction to Cinema) exhibit.

Desk was previously in 2nd floor sitting room
Marquetry - inlay work - puzzle pieces of wood, cut and inlaid.  Also layers of brass and pewter.
GWV's prize possession -- how do we know?
Inside drawer is label "Alphonse de Lamartine", who among other things ran for president of France.  Was of the upper class but fighting for the people.  Napoleon III beat him out and offered him a cabinet post; de Lamartine declined because he wanted still to fight for the people.

Albrecht Dürer prints
Look at the level of line work -- remember, these are WOODCUT prints
All, including writing, is done in reverse
Up to this point, prints were of religious settings and rather stiff
Look at range of tones

Dürer never saw a rhino -- took description from a friend who had seen one
Rhinoceros were almost like mythical creatures, but ones that actually existed
The actual rhino pictured here (previously seen by Dürer's friend) was being gifted to the pope, but in transport was shipwrecked... the rhino drowned.

Tapestry Gallery
George Singer Sargent - both American and British, kind of -- born in Europe to American parents with strong Philly & Connecticut connections
Studied Rembrandt, VanDyke, and Velasquez.
Portraits commissioned 1890
Very modern, out of Spanish portraiture - dark backgrounds, poses, props
GWV has book in hand and is above the door to the library -- has always hung there.
Also Maria Louisa (GWV's mother)

Edith painted by Giovanni Boldini, who was known for painting the "It" girls
Drama, fashion, and movement
All his portraits were beautiful, whether or not the subjects were
Show who the person is

Library Den
aka Scriptorium
aka Chamber of Silence (perhaps because eccentric Uncle George, who loved his nieces and nephews and would have them over and sometimes would need some quiet -- as in "this is the place where we have to be vewwy, vewwy quiet", etc)
St Peter the Martyr (with hand to lips) on the library side of the door

Previously held writing tables
Bookshelves were not in here
In George's day, different mantle -- perhaps the music room mantle was here?

In 1914, George had a financial hardship and sold many Rembrandts and Dürers to the Morgan (NYC museum)

Ceiling grand vault, similar to French chapels

George's original books, 10,600 of them
Not handle with gloves because in losing the tactile sense, might rip it -- but don't hold long or oils in hands might transfer, and don't touch the gilding
Cohesive look to books because GWV had them sent to custom bookbinder for endpages and binding
Lamp of knowledge bookplate
As Wharton was writing new books, George was reading them -- same with Thomas Hardy

Ivory and Gold portrait by Whistler (in Tapestry Gallery)
1898 portrait of Edith
Probably not finished with her sitting because she got pregnant
Special relationship between George and Whistler -- George was one of Whistler's pallbearers
Transcription of their correspondence is at Univ Glasgow

Darren (chief curator) is working on a lighting project for Sargents of Hunt and Olmstead
2nd floor Living Room was both a gathering place (prior to going down to dinner, for example) and a gallery
The feature portraits had moved because with the Louis XVI room finished, they wanted everyone to see the room and it needed a way out, but that cost the place for two of the favorite paintings in the house.
The portraits were painted in Biltmore -- would love to know which room.
Because of Sargent's painting style, up close they are very abstract; have to move back for the paintings to come together
Both subjects were very old at time of painting
Hunt's [family member] said, "I can hardly look at the portrait because it exposes how sick he really was."
Olmstead was so ill he sat for the face in the portrait, but for the body, Olmstead Jr (who was working here) put on his dad's clothes and stood for him.

Andrew Zorn "The Waltz"
Swedish artist
known for capturing the feeling of the moment
newly lit, but may yet change the lighting

Sitting Room (between George's and Edith's bedroom)
Mrs Bacon portrait - frame related correspondence with Sargent - he made custom frames and sometimes cut down frames. 
In this case, antique frame was cut down, but then was still too big, and the framemaker didn't gild all the sections, so correspondence re portrait is finished but waiting on frame.
Mrs Bacon was a cousin of GWV, a trained musician, and loved Spanish music

Sargent had a retrospective of his work done while he was alive (very rare)
Requested one particular painting for it, the portrait of Mrs Benjamin Kissam (GWV's mom's SIL), even though it was widely panned at its release as "ugly" and as though she were "going to do laundry". 

Edith's room
Edith's desk is again marquetry, brass inlay, ormolu (a gold-colored alloy), & bronze 
Initially little corner caps were used to protect corners, but then they got increasingly ornate and ornamental

Tortoiseshell inkwell - currently under conservation

Louis XV style clock - every leaf and swirl recently conserved -- the magic of saliva!  an effective cleaning agent without corrosive effect

Any questions?

Was Cornelia lonely, being an only child all the way out here?

Cornelia played with the estate kids. 
And she had a playground with seesaws out by Diana
She was part of the first women's polo team
Active-Sporty-Tied to the estate
At her wedding some of the gifts the estate workers gave her were fishing gear such as a creel, and a fishing outfit and boots

THANKS, Leslie!

And thanks to Jamine for all her work in putting together FOBH day activites and coordinating with Biltmore to give us such amazing access.

And thanks to all our wonderful admins, Jamine, Melanie, Tor, and Christopher!

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