|John Singer Sargent
George Washington Vanderbilt
engaged two of
the most distinguished designers of the 19th century: architect Richard
Morris Hunt (1828-95) and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted
to create a little bit of Eden on some 8,000 acre estate.
Hunt modeled the
the richly ornamented style of the French Renaissance and adapted
such as the stair tower and the steeply pitched roof, from three famous
early-16th-century châteaux in the Loire Valley: Blois,
Boasting 4 acres of
the 250-room mansion featured 34 master bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65
3 kitchens, and an indoor swimming pool. Priceless art works and
adorned its interiors. The surrounding grounds were equally impressive,
encompassing 125,000 acres of forest, park, and gardens.
Estate was very much a home. It was here that George pursued his
in art, literature, and horticulture, and also started a family. He
American socialite Edith
Stuyvesant Dresser (1873-1958) in June 1898 in Paris, and the
came to live at the Estate that fall after honeymooning in Europe.
only child, Cornelia (1900-1976), was born and grew up at Biltmore.
It took six years
to build it and
in December of 1895, at his grand opening party, it was still
(taking 3 additional years to complete).
were 6 total paintings
owned by Biltmore estate
From: Brian Hawley
B rian.Ha email@example.com>
Date : Thu, 4
Note -- Brian
sent two wonderful letters, the first was on the 4th and the second was
on the 8th. I have combined both meshing them together somewhat for
Natasha, I found
your fantastic site
about Sargent and have been avidly reading it recently. I
currently doing research on George Vanderbilt, and his amazing
Biltmore here in NC. As I am sure you know he owned 6 Sargent
Can you give me more information about these oils? So far I only
have been able to learn who the subject was, and about the time they
painted. Any help you can provide would be great! I
interested in the cost of a portrait such as those at Biltmore in 1890s
dollars. I have read the write-up you give to Sargent's time at
and enjoyed it immensely!
portraits at Biltmore
by Sargent consist of:
(Kissam) Vanderbilt 69" X 51 1/2" (his mother) painted around
so I am told. This I have noticed is not on your site. I
if it was painted along with her daughters Margaret Sheapard.
These next 3 were
painted at Biltmore
Washington Vanderbilt 42" X 26" painted around 1895.
This is the
smallest Sargent in
the home and I have always wondered why?
Morris Hunt, 91 1/2" X 60", the architect almost if not
life sized painted 1895
Law Olmstead also nearly life-sized 91" X 61 1/4, painted 1895,
this one is slightly smaller than the Hunt portrait.
surprised you don't
mention or have photos of these next two paintings.
Here is a bit more
Mrs. Benjamin P. Kissam and Mrs. W.H. Vanderbilt were sisters.
appear to have been painted around 1888, about the time Margaret
(Mrs. W.H. V.'s daughter) was painted. It appears that Sargent
the 2 sisters and one daughter all about the same time. I would
suppose that this is the first time George had contact with
George did not commission the Kissam portrait, he acquired it later
Mrs. Kissam's daughter Ethel. I am currently trying to find
out more about how, when and why he received this painting. Sadly
I am not currently able to get a good image for the Mrs. Benjamin
portrait. I do have OK images for the Mrs. W.H. Vanderbilt
and Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon. I will send those tonight.
5) His Aunt Mrs.
Benjamin P. Kissam
(I don't have the dimensions) painted around 1888.
6) His Cousin Mrs. Walter Rathbone
Bacon 81 1/2" X 38 1/2" (These last were acquired I
1896 but I am not certain of the date)
The Bacon painting
is a favorite
of mine with Mrs. W.H. V. coming second. Mrs. Bacon's portrait was also
enjoyed by Paul Ford the novelist who was a good friend of George
On his visits to the home he would blow kisses to the painting!
commissioned the Bacon painting which was completed in 1896. George
his mother's portrait apparently right after her death. I
send a photo have of the tapestry gallery taken in 1895 or 1896 that
both his Sargent painting and his mother's on the wall.
Also you mention
the wellhead that
Sargent painted Hunt standing next too might not have yet been setup or
even shipped down from NYC since the final flurry of construction was
on. However George Vanderbilt did own a 13th century unpolished
marble wellhead that is on the site today.
It is also certain
that the wellhead
in the Sargent painting is nearly if not completly identical to the
on the property today. See the photo of me taken in a Hunt
pose in the fall of 1998. it is my belief that the wellhead in
painting is that very one still on the property.
You may know that
inherited a HUGE three million dollar art collection from his father
Henry Vanderbilt). This collection was accumulated from the late
1870's until 1885. After some financial trouble in the panic of
George had to sell most of this art. Sadly his father had relied
on outside advice on the purchase of these works and by 1907 most were
worth less than the original purchase price. I surmise that
realized less than one million from the sales. It is however
that the family portraits and some cherished other works were not
These exceptions to the sale obviously include the Sargents. My
is similar to your essay concerning eBay and the possible Sargent
forgery. I have always found it sad that William Vanderbilt did
pick up the fantastic works available in the 1880s. Even with
resources and good advice, art collecting it seems can be a difficult
Have you had the
opportunity to go
to Biltmore and see the Sargent paintings?
Todd n NC@aol.com
I am a huge Biltmore Estate History junkie and have in my collection a
set of cards published in 1994 that I purchased at Biltmore House and
in the collection of cards (greeting type) is one of this wonderful
painting of Virginia Bacon [Mrs. Walter Bacon]. It is my favorite piece
in the house.
If your interested in joining fellow Biltmore History and Collector
fans join us at our growing club that I have started.
We try to discuss the history into a much more indepth way than your
Biltmore guide book will.