Archive for the Thom. Ustick Walter Category

Aestheticism hits the White House, the Tiffany/Arthur collaboration 1882

Posted in 19th cent., Aesthetic Movement, Lewis Comfort Tiffany, Oscar Wilde, President Chester Arthur, Thom. Ustick Walter, White House on September 21, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Like a fragile St.John preaching in the desert, St. Oscar lands upon our barren shores on January 3rd 1882 ready to preach the Gospel of Aestheticism.

St. John the Baptist

Titian

1542

(the above completely gratuitous , hunky men never fail to please)

Oscar Wilde had intended to spend four months cultivating the Cave-people of North America, poor fellow found himself stuck here for a year.

cartoon of Wilde by Keller, 1882

I feel for Wilde, I doubt most Americans were open to his fey notions of  Aesthetic Beauty. We tend to favor a robust expression of architecture, the infestation of Richardson Romanesque piles providing suitable argument.

Yet his wit and taste clearly affected at least one very important dandy, President Chester A. Arthur.

21st President Chester A. Arthur

term Sep. 19th 1881-Mar.4th 1885

20th President James A. Garfield and his Vice President Chester A. Arthur

“Chet” finding himself  President after the tragic assassination of President James A. Garfield, was  confronted with a new home loathsome to his own rarefied tastes. Finding the White House and its decor  outmoded and decrepit; Arthur shed the house of 24 wagonloads of furnishings and 30 barrels of old china. Like many of my readers, I cringe at what was lost.

Foolish where it concerns our heritage, he was quite wise in hiring the young buck Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of his friend Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany the younger had recently formed the design firm Associated Artists. Arthur assigns them the commission to redecorate the Entry Hall, East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, and State Dining Room in 1882. The decision was made not to redecorate the Green Room. Furnishings were not to be commissioned, but architectural enhancements such as glass screens, lighting, and decorative finishes were to be employed to create this Aesthetic Palace we know as the White House.

a youthful Louis Comfort Tiffany

The Entry Hall

The Entry had long posed a problem in its draftiness. In 1837 President Martin Van Buren installs a decorative screen to combat the problem. In 1853 President Franklin Pierce hires the Philadelphian architect Thomas Ustick Walter to fashion a more agreeable screen. This screen was apparently handsome enough for Tiffany to fabricate his own wonder upon it’s skeleton.

This scene from 1881 shows the Walter screen of 1853

Tiffany transforms the Entry Hall into a harem worthy of any Pasha’s attention.

Entrance 1882

Tiffany’s jewel like vision was not to be long lived. The delicate red, white, and blue opalescent splendor  was not suitably American for Teddy and his Big Stick. Soon enough, that Big Stick would send crashing to the ground all that Aesthetic prettiness.

ca. 1889

either the Cleveland or Harrison administration.

ca. 1893

Cleveland administration.

The skeleton of the Walter’s screen very visible.

I like the eagle motif between the arches.

ca. 1894

Cleveland administration.

I particularly like the ungodly overmantle decoration. not sure if its Tiffany’s doing. Seems a bit un-Aesthetic, but is typical of my preference for the vulgar.

The Roosevelt Big Stick has entered the room!

ca.1902

The 26th President,Theodore Roosevelt’s

the McKim, Mead, & White renovation full steam ahead.

A tragic and beautiful image, reminiscent of Pompeii.

ca. 1903

Almost completed and ready for its close up.

As I mentioned Tiffany was in charge of the Red, Blue, Dining, and East Room, I will present a few glimpses.

Red Room

ca. 1883

Tiffany’s dreamy vision

ca. 1888

Mrs. Cleveland tainted the Aesthetic purity with conventional touches, the Asian vases selected by Tiffany, replaced with the following commonplace urns.

(do like the lampshade.)

The Blue Room

I’ve discussed this room before, but it’s worth revisiting.

ca. 1882

Note the patriotic shields in the ceiling decoration, proving  Aestheticism can indeed be red blooded American.

ca. 188g

digital reconstruction by Nest magazine.

The East Room

ca. 1883

I was unable to find any images of the State dining Room attributed to Tiffany, the following is dated the 1880’s. It may have been from the Garfield administration. It’s pretty conventional, so that is most likely.

ca. 1880’s

I’ll bet you a nickel it ISN’T Lewis Comfort’s work.

As I said this Eastern Splendor was short-lived.

The magnificent glass screen which had cost $15,000.00 to fashion, was auctioned off in 1902  for $275.00. The screen ultimately met its sad end when its new home the Belvedere Hotel in Chesepeake Maryland burnt to the ground. For more information concerning the ill-fated screen follow this link

As in all things, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Have a great week.


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