from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2012 |
On a spring morning in April 1926 a crowd stood transfixed on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street, watching a wrecking ball slam into the floors and walls of the Collis P. Huntington mansion (see Fig. 3). Among them was a tall mustachioed man, Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955), who stoically watched the destruction of his parents' house. The adopted son of railroad magnate Huntington and son of his wife Arabella, Archer, who had his own home uptown, had decided to demolish the house, a fact of life as Gilded Age mansions made way for commerce.1
He had saved as much as he could, including more than thirty murals by four important American painters-Edwin Howland Blashfield, Francis Lathrop, H. Siddons Mowbray, and Elihu Vedder-and donated them, along with French furniture and other decorative objects, to Yale University, which had granted him an honorary master's degree in 1897.2 After lying in storage for nearly a century, the Yale University Art Gallery, as part of its multiyear renovation, has reinstalled many of the murals in Street Hall, the first art gallery on a university campus, designed by P. B. Wight and dating from the late 1860s.3 Two of the largest murals, ceilings by Blashfield and Vedder, have found new homes in the ceiling of the Gilded Age Gallery on the first floor. On the second floor, at the entrance to the paintings galleries, are eight gold-ground lunettes by Vedder that formerly graced the Huntington dining room, while additional panels by Vedder and Mowbray are above the cornice line in the nineteenth-century paintings gallery. Slated for future conservation are a Lathrop ceiling and more paintings by Mowbray and Blashfield.