Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

The visionary artist with his own museum in a Riverside Drive Art Deco masterpiece

May 16, 2022

St. Petersburg-born Nicolas Roerich was many things: an archeologist, philosopher, emigre due to the Russian Revolution, and Nobel Prize nominee many times over.

Nicholas Roerich

But it was his talent as a painter of colorful natural and mystical scenes that brought him to the United States in 1920, when a national tour of 400 of his works launched at the Kingore Gallery in New York City in December of that year.

After the tour and between treks to the Himalayas and India, the charismatic Roerich took up residence in 1920s Manhattan, working out of a 19th century mansion at 310 Riverside Drive, at 103rd Street. With financial help from a Wall Street moneyman and patron named Louis Horch, he founded the Master Institute of United Arts, a school that offered lectures by top painters like George Bellows.

The Master Apartments, Riverside Drive

The mansion also housed his own personal museum, where fans could buy copies of his art and writings and debate the merits of his talent. “Talk to his disciples and one encounters almost incoherent adoration,” wrote the Brooklyn Times Union in 1929. “That seems to be the precise word for it. Adoration. Artists are divided in their opinion of his talent.”

Roerich the artist and mystic fascinated Jazz Age New York, and his interest in Eastern philosophies found an eager audience. So when Horch proposed the idea of demolishing the old mansion and building a modern apartment tower on still fashionable Riverside Drive that would devote its lower floors to Roerich’s school, studio, and museum, the two men struck a deal.

The Master Apartments, soon after the building was completed

The Master Apartments, also known as the Master Building, (above) made its debut in 1929. It was the tallest building on Riverside Drive, which was transforming from a street of single-family and row house mansions to an avenue of elegant and more restrained apartment houses.

This 29-floor Art Deco masterpiece was designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett, who himself belonged to the Roerich Society. With more than 300 income-generating apartments plus a theater, “the building’s distinctive Art Deco detailing, terraced setbacks, and stupa are easily identified from Riverside Park and the Henry Hudson Parkway,” states the building’s own website. “Its corner windows are reputed to be the first in Manhattan.”

“Guests From Overseas,” 1901

According to Anthony Robbins in New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham’s Jazz Age Architecture, the Master Apartments “rise to a single, tapered pinnacle, more like a Midtown skyscraper…. [Corbett’s] design relies on geometric patterns, angles, and colors.”

After Wall Street collapsed in 1929, however, fortunes quickly changed for Roerich and his Art Deco tower. “Roerich’s star in America plummeted,” wrote John Strausbaugh in the Observer in 2014. “The Master Building was hit hard by the Depression and went into receivership. Horch renounced Roerich and sued for $200,000 in unpaid loans. The IRS went after Roerich for tax fraud. By 1938 Horch had control of the skyscraper, shoved Roerich’s paintings in the basement and ousted his followers.”

The Roerich Museum was then replaced by the Riverside Museum, which was devoted to contemporary art until the 1970s, when the collection was absorbed by Brandeis University. A new space for Roerich’s artwork was found in 1949 in a brownstone at 319 West 107th Street. Roerich passed away in 1947, but the Nicholas Roerich Museum still exhibits his works today and may be the only museum in New York devoted to one artist.

The Master Apartments went co-op in 1988. The many studio apartments have been combined into larger units, the lobby has been restored, and it remains the tallest building with the most recognizable Art Deco design touches on Riverside Drive.

Cornerstone, with the R and M

Two remnants of its earlier incarnations remain: a cornerstone bearing the initials R and M (for Roerich Museum, it seems) and the words “Riverside Museum” in small letters above the entrance.

Come see the Master Apartments and other mansions and monuments on Ephemeral New York’s Riverside Drive walking tour June 5 and June 19!

[Third photo: NYPL; fifth photo: Wikipedia; sixth photo: MCNY 2013.3.1.348]

Upcoming Talks and Walking Tours with Ephemeral New York!

May 6, 2022

I want to let everyone know about three events happening this month, May 2022, featuring Ephemeral New York. All are open to the public, and it would be great to meet readers of this site!

Photo: Salmagundi Club

On Thursday May 19 at 3:30 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Salmagundi Club as part of their Afternoon Tea Talks monthly series. Inside this art and social organization’s beautiful brownstone parlor at 47 Fifth Avenue, host Carl Raymond and I will be talking about Gilded Age New York City, as well as how Ephemeral New York got its start, insider info about the site, and more.

After the talk, tea, sandwiches, and cookies will be available to cap off this casual and fun event. Many of you probably know Carl through his popular podcast, The Gilded Gentleman, plus his historical talks and tours exploring Gotham. Click the link for tickets!

Image: New York Adventure Club

On Sunday May 15 at 1 p.m. and again on Sunday May 22 at 1 p.m., I’ll be leading a walking tour through the New York Adventure Club, “Exploring the Gilded Age Mansion and Memorials of Riverside Drive.” The tour starts at 83rd Street and ends at 107th Street. In between we’ll walk up Riverside and delve into the history of this beautiful avenue born in the Gilded Age, which became a second “mansion row” and was set to rival Fifth Avenue as the city’s “millionaire colony.” The tour will explore the mansions and monuments that still survive as well as the incredible houses lost to the wrecking ball.

Tickets for May 15 can be bought here, and tickets for May 22 at this link. Hope to see a great turnout on a lovely May day!

[First image: Salmagundi Club; second image: New York Adventure Club]

This 1850s Lower Manhattan image might be one of the oldest street photos

May 2, 2022

In the 1850s, New York City’s population reached 590,000. Central Park was mostly an idea, the urban city barely existed beyond 42nd Street, and mass transit meant taking a streetcar pulled by horses.

And at some point in that decade, a dry goods store employee turned daguerreotype studio owner captured this remarkable image of a stretch of Greenwich Street, with more than a dozen men standing with their hands in their pockets beside wood and brick storefronts.

The photographer was Abraham Bogardus. From the 1840s through the 1860s, Bogardus ran his own studio in various locations in Lower Manhattan. Two of those locations were on Greenwich Street: first at 217 Greenwich, and then at 229 Greenwich, according to the International Center for Photography (ICP).

Like the other daguerreotype studio owners congregated around Lower Broadway in those decades, Bogardus mostly did portraits. Considering how popular daguerreotypes were at the time with the public, he likely made a good living.

Yet something must have compelled him to step outside his studio door and capture what he saw, and intentionally or not create one of the oldest surviving street photographs of New York City. It’s not a daguerreotype but an ambrotype, according to Invaluable.com, which posted the image when it was up for auction. (It recently sold.)

Abraham Bogardus in the 1870s

An ambrotype involves a slightly different process than a daguerreotype but is quicker and cheaper to produce, according to the Library of Congress. “Photographers often applied pigments to the surface of the plate to add color,” the LOC stated of ambrotype producers—which could account for the red brick buildings in an otherwise black and white image.

Besides Baker & Sadler at the far left, the store signs are hard to read. Invaluable.com says one sign advertises a bakery and confectionary, others are for a cobbler, a drugstore, a cabinet making firm, and a jeweler.

Could these men be owners and employees of the stores they stand in front of—or are they practicing the time-honored New York City activity of hanging around on the street whiling away the time?

[Top image: invaluable.com, second image: Wikipedia]

The Fifth Avenue wedding present gifted to these rich Gilded Age newlyweds

April 28, 2022

Getting married during the Gilded Age when you’re young, rich, and from a famous family meant making lots of plans. The right church for the ceremony had to be booked, a grand reception arranged, distinguished guests invited, and a proper wedding party put into place.

The almost-completed Payne Whitney House, 973 Fifth Avenue; the James B. Duke mansion has not been built yet

And in an era when young people generally resided with their families before marriage, a couple also had secure their own place to live after the wedding bells finished ringing.

Payne Whitney, undated

Payne Whitney and his bride, Helen Hay, both 26 years old, luckily had that taken care of for them. Whitney was gifted the ultimate Gilded Age wedding present when his wealthy Civil War colonel uncle, Oliver H. Payne, purchased a 70 by 100 foot plot of land on Fifth Avenue between 78th and 79th Street and intended to build a mansion for his “favorite” nephew and new wife.

Fifth Avenue and 79th Street in 1911: corner left is the Isaac Brokaw Mansion, corner middle is the Fletcher Mansion, and attached is the Payne Whitney House. The James B. Duke mansion is on the far right.

This gift of a Fifth Avenue mansion was actually announced at the wedding, held on February 6, 1902 in Washington, DC. (Hay’s father, John Milton Hay, was a DC insider, serving as President Lincoln’s private secretary and then as Secretary of State in the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations.)

The name of the mansion giver was kept secret, but a month later the New York Times revealed that it was Oliver Payne and printed some financial details of the yet-to-be-built home—which would be end up between the splendid 1899 Isaac Fletcher chateau-like mansion and then the James B. Duke mansion when that one was completed in 1912.

The Payne Whitney mansion is on the far left; Duke mansion is at the center

“The plot has been held at $525,000, and it is said that the price paid by Col. Payne is little, if any, below that figure,” the Times wrote on March 8, 1902. “The mansion to be erected thereon will undoubtedly cost as much more, so that the total value of the wedding present will not be less than $1,000,000.”

Who would be hired to design this mansion, which would front Fifth Avenue at a prime location of Millionaire Mile? Stanford White—who also happened to be a guest at the wedding.

Helen Hay Whitney

“Designed by White in 1902, the house contained forty rooms,” wrote Wayne Craven in his book Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities. “Construction continued until 1905, and work on the interiors dates from 1904 on.”

It’s not clear where Payne Whitney (whose mother was one of the fabled ‘Astor 400’) and Helen Hay lived while their mansion was going up. But after the wedding they spent a monthlong honeymoon in Georgia, and then after a brief stop in New York City went to Europe for several months.

Another view of the mansion

One major interruption during construction, unfortunately, was White’s demise in 1906; the architect was shot and killed on the roof of his magnificent Madison Square Garden. By the time of White’s death, “most major work on the interiors was completed, but the house was not actually finished until 1909,” stated Craven.

It took seven years to build, but what a stunning palace it was. What became known as the Payne Whitney house at 972 Fifth Avenue “was designed in high Italian Renaissance style, the curved granite front, covered with rich classical ornament, rises five stories,” wrote Barbara Diamonstein-Spielvogel in The Landmarks of New York, Fifth Edition.

Looking good in a 1939-1941 photo

“Winged cherubs fill the spandrels of the round-arched parlor floor windows, which are flanked with Ionic pilasters,” continued Diamonstein-Spielvogel. “The Renaissance treatment of the upper stories, with Corinthian pilasters and carved classical figures in low relief, is particularly handsome.”

The Gilded Age was at its end when the mansion was completed, but the Whitneys had a fortune with which to live well for the next two decades with their two children. Payne, a Yale Law School graduate, launched his career as a financier and thoroughbred horse breeder. Helen was an accomplished author and poet.

This looks like the Venetian Room, still viewable today

After her husband passed away suddenly in 1927 while playing tennis, Mrs. Whitney became a renowned philanthropist and living in the mansion until she died in 1944.

“The Republic of France has been the owner of this impressive mansion since 1952,” stated the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a 1970 report designating the Payne Whitney mansion a New York City landmark.

The Payne Whitney Mansion in the middle, earlier this year

The French have been good to the house, keeping it open and installing a beautiful two-story French-English bookstore called Albertine. Curious visitors can wander through the impressive front doors to a rotunda with a marble fountain, then view a gilded former receiving room called the Venetian Room (above), furnished with pieces from Europe bought by White and the Whitneys.

Long after the Whitneys departed, the house stands as a Gilded Age reminder on an avenue with few mansions left from this elegant era. There is one curious treasure inside worth noting: a statue (below), The Young Archer, which has been in the marble rotunda for decades, is “now thought to be an early work by Michelangelo,” according to a website about the mansion maintained by the French Embassy.

[Top photo: MCNY, 90.44.1.862; second photo: FindaGrave; third photo: NYPL; fourth photo: New-York Historical Society; fifth photo: LOC; sixth photo: MCNY 90.44.1.864; seventh photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; eighth photo: MCNY 90.44.1.423]

Three mythological Art Deco figures on a 57th Street apartment building

April 25, 2022

Walk along 57th Street, and you’ll see many examples of Art Deco architecture and ornamentation: geometrical shapes, zigzags, and even sculptures of mighty male figures toiling in the modern city. That last one is part of the facade of the 40-story Fuller Building.

Farther east, where office towers recede and elegant apartment buildings line quieter stretches of East Midtown, there’s a different example of Art Deco artistry on one specific residence.

The building is 320 East 57th Street. Take a look at the images above the entrance: three nude women hold hands in a kind of dance, surrounded by floral motifs. Helpful Ephemeral New York readers pointed out that these are the Three Graces, the goddess daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology. Each daughter bestows a particular gift on humanity: mirth, elegance, and youth and beauty.

The bas relief appears to be modeled after this sculpture by Antonio Canova from 1814-1817, which is currently housed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I imagine the Three Graces has been here since the building was completed in 1926, according to Streeteasy—which attributes the ironwork in the lobby to French ironworker Edgar Brandt, a giant of Art Deco design.

Could Brandt be the sculptor behind the figures? I saw no attribution in the building, which only has a plaque outside noting that Paulette Goddard and Erich Maria Remarque resided there.

Step Into the Morningside Heights rowdy resort district dubbed ‘Little Coney Island’

April 18, 2022

Since 1892, West 110th Street has also been known as Cathedral Parkway. It’s a heavenly name for a stretch of Manhattan that had a citywide reputation for vice and sin at the turn of the 20th century.

110th Street station on Ninth Avenue El, 1905

“Little Coney Island,” as this quickly developing enclave of Morningside Heights was dubbed by residents, police, and politicians, consisted of a few blocks of newly opened pleasure gardens set in wood-frame buildings that attracted carousing crowds of fun-seeking men and women.

A “pleasure garden” sounds pretty saucy, but it was simply a venue or “resort” where working class New Yorkers, often immigrants, went to drink, listen to popular ballads, watch vaudeville acts, and otherwise entertain themselves with the same kind of lowbrow attractions found on the Bowery or at Brooklyn’s Coney Island, minus the rides.

In a city of tight quarters and without air conditioning or paid vacations for working people, pleasure gardens were popular. Thanks to its breezy open roof and proximity to the Ninth Avenue El, one of the most frequented at Little Coney Island was the Lion Palace, spun off from the Lion Brewery on 110th Street and Broadway.

Little Coney Island’s dance halls and beer gardens existed in wood buildings like these

“While it’s unclear as to exactly when the Lion opened, by the end of the century the Palace had a summer roof garden and performers were regularly covered in newspaper entertainment listings,” wrote Pam Tice on the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group site in 2016. “It became a popular spot for the nearby Columbia men.”

Soon, saloons, music halls, and casinos sprang up, like Waldron’s Dance Hall at 216 West 110th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, per a 2021 piece by E.L. Danvers on I Love the Upper West Side. The Imperial Garden and Columbus Casino drew hundreds of revelers each night.

Berenice Abbott took this photo of a 110th Street wood house in 1938; it would have been in the center of Little Coney Island

Of course, such a concentration of “entertainment houses” also raised the hackles of neighborhood associations and social reformers. After a fire broke out at Philip Dietrich’s resort in March 1900—during a performance by an act called the Fowler Sisters, who sang the ballad, “Farewell, Love’s Dream Is O’er,”—the crackdown on Little Coney Island seemed inevitable.

First, liquor licenses were turned down. A year later, police raided Waldron’s and a dance hall owned by Herman Wacke on the grounds that it was illegal to dance on Sundays.

“The dance halls that remained open entertained only a few straggling patrons, and these were not allowed to dance,” wrote the New York Times on March 18, 1901. “The musicians sat listlessly around their instruments and watched the police as they sauntered through the rooms.”

A bill passed by the state prohibited the operation of a dance hall serving alcohol within half a mile of a church. The Riverside and Morningside Heights Association petitioned to get rid of Little Coney Island, saying the proprietors violated liquor tax laws and “brought a large number of the worst element of the city to the locality,” per a June 1900 Times writeup.

110th Street and 8th Avenue in 1898, up the street from Little Coney Island

In 1901, a judge deemed a series of law enforcement raids at Little Coney Island to be “police persecution.” But the end was near. Ultimately, Little Coney was a victim of real estate development.

“Here is a section which was notorious a few years ago as New York’s ‘Little Coney Island,'” stated a New York Times story from 1910 about the new apartment residences going up along 110th Street. “Both sides of 110th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, were lined with old wooden houses, groggeries, and summer beer gardens….”

“The cheap resorts managed to exist, however, until the natural order of things the builders saw that the land was better suited to towering edifices of stone and brick, and today but scant evidences remain of the former conditions.”

[Top image: Alamy; second image: Real Estate Record and Guide, 1911, via Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group; third image: MCNY 43.131.1.582; fourth image: New York Times; fifth image: NYPL]

A colorful mural across a tenement wall honors the immigrants who built Yorkville

April 4, 2022

Save for a few restaurants in the upper East 80s and some cultural and historic organizations, the German presence in Yorkville—Manhattan’s last “Kleindeutschland“—has almost entirely vanished.

German bakeries and bars no longer line the streets, German language newspapers aren’t readily available at newsstands, and the smell of beer wafting from local breweries vanished after the last brewer closed its doors in 1965, according to an AMNY article from 2018.

But one tenement on York Avenue continues to pay homage to the German immigrants and their descendants who made East 86th Street a hub of culture and energy through much of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The five-story tenement, on the corner of York and 83rd Street, appears similar to the hundreds of other low-rise walkups lining the streets from Third Avenue to the East River north of 79th Street.

But look closely: one side is painted with a series of whimsical images of a clock, NYPD officers, gargoyles, a sewing machine, cartoonish faces, and gothic arched entrances.

Called Glockenspiel, the building-wide mural is the work of artist Richard Haas. Its origins date back to 2005, when a towering new luxury condo building across 83rd Street called the Cielo opened its doors. Apparently, new residents of the 28-story Cielo weren’t too happy about the shabby tenement view from the lobby.

“The refined atmosphere of the building was marred by its neighbor: a graffiti-covered tenement,” wrote Glenn Palmer-Smith in his book, Murals of New York City. To class up the corner, the developers of the Cielo asked the owner of the tenement if they could have a mural painted on the facade “to give the illusion that the neighborhood was upscale enough to justify the price of the apartments.”

The owner agreed, and Haas painted the mural “as a tribute to the Germanic history of the Yorkville neighborhood,” wrote Palmer-Smith. “He painted a side of the building rich in architectural detail, such as a three-story bay window and a clock with painted ‘moveable’ mechanical figures which, reflecting the city theme, are two New York City mounted policemen.”

Some of the images are a bit of a mystery. The sewing machine and dress form could represent industry, or perhaps the sense of home and family found in Yorkville. The gargoyles are similar to some of the gargoyles found on tenements like this one.

One of the painted images has the exaggerated face of a man grinding a mortar and pestle, suggesting a local druggist or medicine. Two hooded figures blowing horns might be referencing the rich tradition of German music halls and singing societies. The painted windows with a closetful of suits and a stairway are harder to decipher.

The tribute as a whole seems to tell the story of the neighborhood as it was a century or so ago: rich with the touchstones of an immigrant culture that has departed from the protective and insular world Yorkville once provided.

The teens who found splendor on the gritty East Side docks of the 1940s

March 7, 2022

The smokestacks and storage tanks of the East River waterfront of the 1930s or 1940s should be an unappealing place to meet friends. But painter Joseph Lambert Cain has captured a group of teenagers gathered on a pier here to sunbathe, talk, and pair off.

For these teens, perhaps from the Lower East Side or the Gas House District in the East 20s, the waterfront is an idyllic location—away from the critical eyes of adults and into the warm embrace of the working class city they likely grew up in.

Cain titled his painting “New York Harbor.” I’m not sure of the date, but my guess is about 1940. The riverfront industry surrounds them, but the modern city of skyscrapers is within sight and reach.

The steerage passengers immortalized in a 1907 landmark photo

February 14, 2022

In June 1907, photographer Alfred Stieglitz left New York for Europe with his wife and six-year-old daughter. His “small family,” as he wrote years later, had first-class accommodations on the liner Kaiser Wilhelm II and were headed toward Bremen, Germany.

But Stieglitz felt stifled by the atmosphere in first class. “One couldn’t escape the nouveaux riches,” he explained in his account, reproduced in the 2012 book, The Steerage and Alfred Stieglitz.

After three days he took a walk “as far forward on the deck as I could.” Looking down, he found a scene that left him spellbound: men, women, and children on the lower deck in steerage. These third-class passengers were biding their time by hanging laundry and playing on a staircase. Meanwhile, a man in a round straw hat watched the group amid the iron railings and machinery of the ship.

Stieglitz ran to get his camera. The resulting picture, “The Steerage,” wasn’t published until 1911. “I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life,” he said, per the Library of Congress (LOC) via Wikipedia.

Alfred Stieglitz in 1902, by Gertrude Kasebier

“The Steerage” has since become the most famous photo this pioneering photographer took, “proclaimed by the artist and illustrated in histories of the medium as his first ‘modernist’ photograph,” states Metmuseum.org, which owns a print of the photo. “It marks Stieglitz’s transition away from painterly prints of Symbolist subjects to a more straightforward depiction of quotidian life.”

The photo is also groundbreaking for viewers as well. It might be the first image offering a glimpse into what life was like in steerage class on an ocean liner. The people Stieglitz captured are headed back to Europe—possibly immigrants who were rejected at Ellis Island or “skilled craftsmen and their families heading home after working on temporary visas,” per the LOC.

[Images: Wikipedia]

This ‘offensive’ 1874 portrait of the Vanderbilts reveals their place in Gilded Age society

February 7, 2022

Seymour Guy was a UK-born painter who came to New York in 1854. After setting up a studio in the famed Tenth Street Studio Building in Greenwich Village, Guy made a living painting portraits of city residents as well as scenes of home interiors and children in the countryside.

“Going to the Opera,” 1873

In 1874, Guy got the commission of his life: William Henry Vanderbilt asked him to paint a portrait of his family. The portrait would be done in William’s spacious Italianate brownstone home on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street (below), across from the Croton Reservoir.

Guy accepted the commission and painted “Going to the Opera.” The portrait shows William, his wife, and their children in their opulent drawing room. An avid art collector, William’s paintings surround the adults and kids in the family, almost all dressed in formal attire.

The former W. H. Vanderbilt mansion at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, where the portrait was painted

Curiously, one non-family member also appears in the background.

“A closer look at the piece reveals a member of the household staff standing in the back of the room holding coats—an interesting detail to have included in this family painting,” states the website for the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the former family home of William’s son George Vanderbilt (and likely one of the boys in the painting). “The commission and future exhibition of ‘Going to the Opera’ was a definite statement reflecting the Vanderbilt family’s rise in society.”

Though the Vanderbilt family was rich and William was set to inherit his father’s estate, most individual family members were not household names in 1873. “In the early 1870s [William] Vanderbilt was not well known to the public, having yet to emerge from the large shadow of his father ‘Commodore’ Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), then considered the wealthiest man in the country,” according to americanartgallery.org.

William Henry “Billy” Vanderbilt, portrait by Jared B. Flagg, 1877

William’s children, however, would soon be all over the society pages. One of his nine kids was W. K. Vanderbilt—future husband of social climbing Alva Vanderbilt, whose desperation to break into old money society culminated in her 1883 infamous fancy dress ball. It’s unlikely Alva made it into the portrait; she and William didn’t marry until 1875.

Another son was Cornelius Vanderbilt II, husband of Alice Vanderbilt, wearer of the famous electric dress at sister-in-law Alva’s ball. Alice could be in the painting, as she married her husband in 1867. (Is that Alice and Cornelius in the background standing together as a couple, looking a little glum?)

Alice Vanderbilt, 1880, by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta

What the Vanderbilts thought of the painting isn’t clear. But when it was displayed a year later at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design, the critics howled. Guy largely escaped attack; the barbs were aimed at the family.

“Several [critics] mentioned that the room was simply too small to gracefully contain such a large group of figures,” wrote americanartgallery.org. “The critic for the Nation also thought that the room was poorly decorated, and criticized ‘the complete want of individuality in the furniture, the expressionlessness of every inch of background, the machine made look of the carvings, the iron oppressiveness of the black arched molding, completely at war with the wall decoration, etc.’”

Alva Vanderbilt dressed as “Venetian Renaissance Lady” at her infamous fancy dress ball in 1883

“The critic for the New York Evening Express felt impelled to mention Guy’s picture in the context of commenting that family groups ‘on canvas are abominations at the best, but when the figures are dressed up in spic-and-span new clothes, and introduced much after the manner of a fashion-plate they become doubly offensive,’” stated the site.

Guy’s career survived the critics. And the Vanderbilts? It certainly didn’t stop them from rising to Gilded Age New York’s most elite echelon.

William Henry Vanderbilt’s last and final NYC mansion, his “triple palace” on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street

In 1882, William, his wife, son, and two daughters decamped to the family’s new “triple palace” mansion on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street. Not only did it have plenty of space for his art collection, but the mansions were across the block from W. K. and Alva’s French chateau and down the street from Cornelius and Alice’s 57th Street showstopper.

[Second image: Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site/nps.gov; third image: Biltmore Estate; fourth image: wikiart; fifth image: MCNY, X2012.96.2.2; sixth image: New-York Historical Society]