The Huntington murals at the Yale University Art Gallery

For the main hall of the Huntington house, Mowbray created lunettes inserted in the entablature above the second-floor balcony, which was supported by marble columns with Corinthian capitals and surmounted by a richly embellished coved ceiling. Each lunette contained a vividly rendered image of one of the Muses, repeating the theme developed by Bitter in the hallway. Of all the recently restored Huntington murals, these lunettes, with their commanding female figures and fresh bright colors, come as a revelation (see Figs. 6a-6g). In addition, their complex iconography reveals the artist's inventiveness. Only six of the Muses can be fully identified through their symbols; the other three seem to be of Mowbray's devising. For instance, while Erato, or Lyric and Love Poetry, holds her traditional lyre, Science and Electricity holds a light bulb with a long cord powered by electricity generated from an electrolyte solution in a glass jar-a device known as a Leyden (or Leiden) jar invented in the eighteenth century.

A parlor was to the right of the entrance vestibule in the mansion's northwest corner. With white marble floors and ivory and gold paneling furnished by the decorating firm of William Baumgarten and Company, it became known as the White room (Fig. 12).13 Blashfield was invited to create paintings for the ceiling, walls, and overdoors, the largest of which is the ceiling panel titled Triumph of the Dance (Fig. 11). Unlike his more sober later work for public buildings such as the Library of Congress and numerous state capitols, here Blashfield freely rendered nude and semi-clothed figures disporting themselves on a light gauzy field of blues and grays. Together with the overdoor and two vertical wall panels, The Archer and The Nymph, it helped make the room one of the most charming and intimate in the house.

The largest room, the salon, was on the east side of the house, separated from the main structure by a gallery and porte cochere. The richly decorated room was dominated by an eleven-foot-long octagonal ceiling panel by Francis Lathrop called The Wheel of Fortune (Fig. 13) in which nude and seminude figures float together with emblems of the zodiac.14 Of the four artists, Lathrop is the least well known. Yet during the 1880s he was regarded as an important decorative artist, one who could offer advice and technical assistance on the overall decor of a building.15 He had trained in England, where he studied and worked with the Pre-Raphaelite artists Ford Maddox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones-experiences and training that prepared him, after his return to the United States, to serve as John La Farge's chief assistant for the chancel of Trinity Church. In the 1884 Art Year Book he was mentioned as "one of the few American painters who have won a deserved reputation in the higher departments of decoration. As a decorative artist he stands at the head of his profession,"16 meaning that he could both create architectural decoration-stained glass and mural painting-and supervise the installation and coordination of such decor. At the time of the Huntington commission Lathrop was also at work across the street on the expansion and renovation of Cornelius Vanderbilt II's mansion, replacing La Farge whose design studio had gone bankrupt. He assumed a similar role for the Huntington mansion where, in addition to creating a mural and stained glass, he oversaw much of the decorative work.17

Between the salon and the vestibule was the dining room (Fig. 9), the north windows of which faced East Fifty-Seventh Street. Its decor included a carved and inlaid Sienese marble fireplace designed by Post and an elegant carved wood buffet by William Baumgarten and Company, which stood beneath a magnificent Gobelins tapestry. For this room Vedder was charged with creating a number of panels, including a large ceiling painting titled Abundance of the Days of the Week (Fig. 7), set in a coffered frame of gilded plaster designed by Lathrop (see Fig. 8). Vedder also painted eight gold-ground lunettes that were placed above the cornice line, and a larger lunette called Dea Fortuna, Resta con Noi (Goddess of Fortune Stay with Us) for the fireplace mantel (Fig. 10).

The most important of the Huntington murals is Vedder's ceiling panel, a complex design picked out in gold, deep blue, browns, and reds that has the appearance of an elaborate carpet. In the center is a large circle dominated by the standing figure of Apollo, or Sunday, who is surrounded by female personifications of the seasons. Attached to the frame of Apollo's circle are four colophons with Arabella and Collis's monograms, which serve to connect the central field to adjoining segments of circles-three on each end-that enclose representations of the other days.18

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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