By Nancy Armitage
Many years ago, I was researching the Huntington Mansion Dining Room in their New York City home. It was the Huntington Mansion at No. 2 East 57th St. (at the corner of 57th & 5th Ave,; across the street from the Vanderbilt mansion). I had recently gone on a trip to Newport, Rhode Island. I got to visit the Vanderbilt Breakers Mansion (Cornelius) & the Marble House (Mr. & Mrs. Wm. K. Vanderbilt) & their historical elegance. While walking on the Newport village boardwalk, I walked into the Newport Historical Society building. I was looking at books on the Gilded Age. In several of the books, it stated that the Drawing Room in these stately mansion were in print the “Drawing-Room” & that the Dining Room was written as the “Dining-Room”.
After I came home from Newport, Rhode Island, I tried this spelling when looking up the Huntington’s information. On the web, I dialed in “Mrs. Huntington’s Dining-Room”. By doing this, I found a gold mine of photos & information, I was thrilled! An article about the NYC Huntington Mansion was in a magazine called Architectural Record, dated 1903; they published 3 photographs of Mrs. Collis P. Huntington’s (Arabella) mansion at No. 2 East 57th. St. NYC. Collis Huntington had died in August of 1900.
I found 3 photographs of the NYC Huntington Mansion: One photograph was of her Drawing-Room (White Salon or (Angel), one of the Family Dining-Room (above) & one of the “State Dining-Room” (the Huntingtons also called it the “East Salon”- rectangular in shape with an incredibly mural on the ceiling). I was intrigued by the title of this room: “State Dining-Room” because of the name & photo. The name indicates that the Huntingtons dined with President (s) of the United States. The only other “State-Dining Room”, I know was located at the White House in Washington, D C. We know they dined with Governor Roosevelt who became a President, President Taft about the Panama Canal, & President Ulysses Grant. The Huntington’s State Dining-Room had sitting for up 18 to 24 Dinner guests. Their State Dining Room was used for Luncheons, Dinners, & Receptions for Heads of State, and royalty too.
By the photograph of the Huntington’s NYC “State Dining-Room”, the room had to be 2 1/2 stories high or taller. It was quite an extravagant Dining-Room/Art Gallery. At the top of the room was a ornate gilded carved rounded ceilings. It shows a elaborate fire place with a massive mantle piece with 2 wood carved square columns on both side of fireplace. A horizontal gold panel of angels covering the top & another wide massive mantle piece on top of that. The room is filled with master oil paintings hung salon-style with ornate gold frames. The State Dining -Room had18 massive gold & 2-tone large velvet chairs surrounding the room. The chairs were most-likely red or green: it is documented that Mrs. Huntington NYC Dining Room was green so the chairs were probably green . There is ornate damask style wallpaper which is most likely green, also.
The Huntington’s mantel painting in their: “East Salon” or “State Dining-Room” by John La Farge:
In the Huntington’s State Dining-Room or sometimes called the “East Salon” was a beautiful painting over the fireplace. For central focus & attention is a lovely Gilded Age painting by John La Farge. I don’t know the name of this beautiful still life painting with people, but I can describe it. It is a large horizontal oil painting of a woman on the left. She is wearing a Gilded age fitted gown She is fluffing a very large flower arrangement that is taller then herself. There are children on the right side of the painting surrounding a dining table. In the dark background. I can’t make out the images. So how did the artist John La Farge get so lucky to have his beautiful painting be front & center in the Huntington’s State Dining-Room? how did the Huntington meet La Farge or see & buy his artwork?
La Farge was famous for his paintings of women, nudes, flowers, & still lifes. All subjects that Mrs. Huntington love to collect. He also did amazing stain glass windows, too (like Tiffany & Co.) John La Farge’s painting was picked to be the very focal point of one of the Huntington’s grandest rooms. Well, he was French, so that would have thrilled Arabella. Why La Farge? and where did they meet him? or see & buy his painting?? Maybe at the Chicago World Fair in 1893? Another theory I have is the Union League Club in New York City. In 1881, the ULC moved to a gorgeous ornate 4-story building on 5th Ave & 39th St. “the building included decor designed by Frank Hill Smith, John La Farge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens & Will Hicole Low. Maybe the Huntingtons were inspired by La Farge painting at the Union League Club, maybe to commission him to paint a painting for them. The Huntington’s were members of the Union League Club & entertained there often. Maybe, the Huntingtons commissioned him to do their mantle piece painting in the their State Dining-Room. Document: Wikiwand
John La Farge (World’s Fair Chicago paintings 1893)
Well in 1893, there was a grand World’s Fair in Chicago. If ever I was a time-traveler, I would like to go back in time to experience this extravagant event!! The property they created for this Worlds Fair reminds me of Venice, Italy, & London England, & Paris; just amazing Beaux Art structures. This World’s Fair was called “World’s Columbian Exposition” located at Jackson Square & Midway Plaisance in Chicago. Interesting that Archer Huntington named his house “Plaisance” meaning “for pleasure”. The Chicago World’s fair opened on May 1, 1893 & it closed October 30, 1893. Massive buildings & a grand canal were built in the middle of all the grand buildings. Ohio State Building is a beautiful artisan made Large Mountain Log Cabin. By the way, it also looks exactly like the Collis & Arabella Huntington “Huntington Chalet” at their Great Camp: Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mt. in upper state New York. It was built by Wm. Durant & the Huntingtons bought it in 1895.
Two buildings still exist from this World’s fair in Chicago: Palace of Fine Arts Building & Art Institute of Chicago. It was a magnificent fete, they made waterways & islands that people could ride gondola boats to get to different building (like Venice, Italy). They built this massive buildings that had themes to visit.
A massive city which they called “White City” was built for this World’s fair. States had their own buildings, like California (designed in a California Mission style theme), Iowa, & New York . Many of the great artist paintings were in these state buildings. Other massive buildings were erected like the Administers Building, Union League Building, Womens’ Building, & Manufacturers Building.
At the Chicago Worlds Fair: the artist-painter John La Farge submitted 4 paintings to that 1893 World’s Fair. They were named & dated as followed: “The 3 wise men,”(1878), “Study of Boy’s Head” -who was Garth Wilkingson James (1860-62), “Visit of Nicodemus to Christ” (1880) & “Venetian Guitar Player” (1887).
Portrait Painters & Landscape Painters at 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago:
As a artist, I am amazed at the most impressive wikipedia page : List of American painters exhibited at the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition. The high quality & the craftmanship of these masters painters (men & women) is note worthy. Portrait Painters like Edwin Howland Blashfield, La Barge, Sargent, Daniel Huntington, Frederick Church, Wm. Merritt Chase, George W. Maynard, Kenyon Cox, Louise Cox, Frank W. Benson, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, Thomas Eakins, Lilla Cabot Perry, & Elizabeth Jane Gardner (Bouguereau). Bouguereau sweet painting called “Soap Bubbles” was exhibited; by the way, Mrs. Arabella Huntington collected this artist’s French paintings.
Landscape paintings with people were submitted by: Henry Siddons Mowbray. Beautiful landscape painters like Winslow Homer, Frank Myers Boggs, & Frederick Arthur Bridgman. Some of these painters where able to exhibited 6 to 14 paintings in various locations for this World’s Fair in Chicago!
It is interesting to me that the Huntingtons hired a handful of these artists to decorate their New York City mansion: Daniel Huntington sketched Bella Worsham (Huntington) 4x times in pencil in 1870’s, I have been unable to locate with painting he painted of “Bella Worsham”. The Mural painters that the Huntingtons hired to decorate the Huntington Mansion on 57th St. NYC were Blashfield &, Mowbray; La Barge has one of his masterpiece over the Huntington’s mantel over the fireplace in their State Dining-Room or “East Salon” & the Bouguereau paintings Mrs. Arabella Huntington loved & collected several paintings in her New York Mansions.
Artisans that painted murals at the Huntington’s Mansion at No. 2 NYC:
So we know some of the famous artisans the Huntingtons hired to paint murals for them in the Huntington Mansion. We do know that their long East Salon Dining-Room had a huge rectangular mural that was amazing; Elihu Vedder painted this long Dining-Room (East Salon) ceiling with 3 huge circles & large lunette 8 medallions, Edwin Blashfield painted “Triumph of the Dance” in Mrs. Huntington’s White (Angel) Drawing-Room, Francis Lathrop painting the “Music Room” with the ceiling “Allegory” & H. Siddons Mowbray: the corridor decoration “Proserpine & Ceres & the Central Hall (half moon shaped murals of the Muses) which are now located at Yale University.
We know some of the Huntington’s “Entertainments” that took place in this Huntington “State Dining-Room”, Sometimes with US Presidents, Friends, Royalty, or Business Associates were hosted by Collis P. & Arabella Huntington and later with Henry E. and Arabella Huntington.
Also later, when Arabella married Henry E. Huntington in 1913, they also did some grand State Dining-Room with royalty & friends. Also, entertaining two of the grand dinners for H. E. “Edwards” Huntington Hobby Club for about 18-24 people. (Check my blog on HEH and his Hobby Club, also.)