Old Money, New Money: Beaux Arts style grabs attention on HBO | New York News

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By LEANNE ITALY, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — “What an environment, Ms. Russell. We could be in Tsarskoye Selo,” Nathan Lane’s pretentious Ward McAllister exclaims upon his first look at his opulent Fifth Avenue mansion in “The Gilded Age.”

The social arbiter’s reference to an 18th-century palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia, is lost on the new Bertha currency, but the point has been made: the HBO Max series brought the revival to life post-Civil War American society and the cultural awakening of New York. in all its Beaux Arts glory.

The term, which translates simply to “fine art”, was anything but simple in the hands of the wealthiest figures in the city at the time – names like Astor, Carnegie, Frick, Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and more. again. Thanks to this powerful ruling class and its architects, the period extending roughly from the 1870s to the 1930s produced some of the finest structures in New York City.

Fine art at its finest includes buildings like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Morgan Library & Museum, Woolworth Building, Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, New York Public Library Main Branch, The Frick Collection, Grant’s Tomb and some mausoleums at Woodlawn Cemetery, where some of the players rest.

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The structures, or pieces of them, survived the advent of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and the Modernist movement as the country was radically transformed.

“Architecture is always a clear guide to how individuals or whole societies view themselves,” HBO show creator Julian Fellowes told The Associated Press, explaining why he needed to get the full picture. the details. “American Renaissance princes were no different. They saw themselves as giants, no longer inferior to the products of older overseas cultures, but as kings of the world.

Just as Fellowes began work on “The Gilded Age” several years ago after his hit “Downton Abbey,” architect, author, and educator Phillip James Dodd began his passion project about the same era. His “An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York City” (Images Publishing) is a massive, meticulous book that delves into the homes, monuments, and public buildings that robber barons and industrialists commissioned in an exaggerated vein as the city acquired its cultural anchorage.

The Beaux Arts style, characterized by classical forms, massive proportions and sumptuous details, generally symmetrical, was born from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some of America’s most sought-after architects trained there before joining the gold rush for commissions amid New York’s sea of ​​brownstones.

Their clients, the titans of banking, railroads and mining, sought to flaunt their fortunes and improve their social status, and that of New York in the process. As they accumulated art and antiquities in Europe, their architects, sculptors and muralists drew on a wide range of influences, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Renaissance and Baroque styles of Italy and France. Often all at the same time.

While the Beaux Arts style in France was grand, in America it was “on steroids,” Dodd told the AP.

“They wanted to create cities that could compete with big cities. They needed monuments,” he said.

Dodd’s book came out just four months before “The Gilded Age” series premiered. Fellowes wrote the foreword.

One of the best architectural firms of the time, McKim, Mead and White, makes an appearance on the show. His red-haired, mustachioed partner, Stanford White, is hired by Bertha and her husband, railroad magnate George Russell, to create their lavish home (a fictional mansion on Millionaires Row on Fifth Avenue).

The prolific White, designer of homes, college buildings, and the marble arch in Washington Square, also made headlines in 1906 for being shot on the roof of Madison Square Garden. His killer: rabid Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw, who was married to one of the architect’s former teenage lovers, Evelyn Nesbit.

When JP Morgan set out to build a new repository for its impressive book and art collections, it forgot about the flamboyant White and turned to its more suitable partner, Charles Follen McKim. McKim, however, had already signed on to oversee a White House remodel for President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. The Morgan and Roosevelt families were feuding at the time, and Morgan bribed McKim by offering lifetime funding of a pet project in Rome, writes Dodd. McKim also continued his work for Roosevelt.

The four-room Morgan Library (now merged with other Morgan buildings) was far from McKim’s biggest commission, but dealing with the mighty Wall Streeter caused a nervous breakdown for the overwhelmed architect, according to Dodd.

This was just one example of the titans of the era using their buildings as weapons against each other.

Dutch-born Joseph Raphael De Lamar, a mining magnate, bought a double plot at the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street in 1902, a surprising move for a newcomer looking to make his way into high society. since most of the wealthy had decamped north. to a stretch of Fifth Avenue between 59th and 96th streets.

The draw for De Lamar? His lots were opposite Morgan’s brownstone, and Morgan had consistently pushed the newcomer into business. De Lamar hired architect CPH Gilbert to make it the largest house in the neighborhood and one of the most spectacular in the city, but, more importantly, it had to literally cast a shadow over Morgan’s house, writes Dodd.

And that’s still the case today, although De Lamar was never accepted into New York society, in part because his young wife was considered too pretty to be tolerated by other married women. according to the book.

So what led to the decline of the Golden Age? Many factors changed the mood, including the introduction of an income tax, World War I, a stock market crash in 1893, and Theodore Roosevelt’s antitrust leanings.

“The unprecedented joy was gone,” Dodd said. “In a way, the elite that basically ran the country was all of a sudden obsolete.”

Follow Leanne Italy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/italy

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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