The Gilded Age. I live for this extravagant period of decadence beyond description at the end of the 19th century, where millions upon millions of dollars – unfathomable sums of money today – could be seen simply by strolling up and down New York’s Millionaire’s Row.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II house, 1882, designed by George B. Post, expanded in 1894, and photographed circa 1908, at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
From the colossal limestone faux chateaux that lined Fifth Avenue and their gilded interiors to the opulent fancy dress balls with no expenses spared thrown by the industrial titan’s wives, draped in strings of pearls and endless diamonds, each desperately vying to be crowned Queen of New York Society.
“Cornelia Ward Hall and Her Children” by Michele Giordigiani, 1880.
Revisiting the extravagant splendor of this era, a new book Gilded New York: Design, Fashion and Society, edited by Donald Albrecht and Jeannine Falino from The Monacelli Press, and a coinciding exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York tell the story of all the glitter and the gold during the Gilded Age in New York. The exhibition will also serve to launch the new Tiffany & Co. Foundation Gallery at the museum, which opened last week.
Within the pages of the book and the galleries of the exhibition, visitors will enter a world of lavishness that was once daily life for families like the Astors, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Goelets and Belmonts. Exquisite fancy costume dresses – including the “Electric Light” costume dress made by Maison Worth that was worn by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II (Alice Claypoole Gwynne) to her sister-in-law’s famous Vanderbilt Ball in 1883 – Venetian glassware and ornate sterling silver, decorative objects and antique furniture, photographs of glamorous social events and extraordinary residences and their interiors, and jewelry comprise some of the 100 works in the exhibition, all of which were created between the mid-1870s and the early 20th century.
Fancy dress costume by Maison Worth representing “Electric Light,” 1883 • Worn by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II to the Vanderbilt Ball •
Other items worthy of note include: a Marcus & Co. enameled pocket watch with sapphire fob, an ebony-and-silver dresser set that belonged to John D. Rockefeller; the “Rehan Jewel” — a cluster of translucent morning glories set in gold and enamel — named for then-famous stage actress Ada Rehan; American and French oil paintings of the era’s leading social and financial figures, including portraits of Cornelia Ward Hall and her children by Michele Gordigiani, Mrs. DeLancey Iselin Kane by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and Louisa Van Rensselaer Baylies by Carolus-Duran.
Tiffany & Co., Pendant brooch, ca. 1900 • Platinum, diamond, sapphire •
Gilded New York will be on view from November 13 to November 30, 2014. It is organized by Albrecht, Phyllis Magidson, the City Museum’s curator of costumes and textiles, and Jeannine Falino, an independent curator.
Gilded New York • © Julie Saad Photography
Folding fan by Duvelleroy, c. 1900 • Painted silk, feathers, mother-of-pearl •
“At the table” vignette which includes an Akos-style pitcher by Tiffany & Co.
Ingalls Photography, 2012. All objects from the Museum of the City of New York.
Photo courtesy of Town & Country
Tiffany & Co. necklace, 1904 • Gold, diamond, pearls, turquoise, enamel
“Mrs. William B. Astor” by Carolus-Duran, 1890.
“Ladies Toilette” scene including a swan-billed flask retailed by Theodore B. Starr, cases, and engraved glass and silver, 1885-1910.
Theodore B. Starr, Inc., Swan-billed flask, ca. 1890
Cased, engraved glass, silver
Gold caudle cup with cover on salver by Crichton Brothers, 1911.
Satin damask wedding gown by Maison Worth, 1878 • Worn by Annie Schermerhorn •
The library in the home of William H. Vanderbilt, printed in Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, circa 1883.
Tiffany & Co. brooch, 1900 • Platinum, gold, diamond, pearls, ruby, garnet, sapphire •
Alexandre Cabanel, Olivia Peyton Murray Cutting (Mrs. William Bayard Cutting), 1887, oil on canvas.
Ostrich plume and aigrette toque, Madame Virot, 1896.
Opal brooch, circa 1885. Gold, opal, diamonds, enamel.
“At the club” vignette includes a silver flask with a seahorse design by Tiffany & Co, 1882.
Voided velvet evening gown by Maison Worth, ca. 1894
Worn by Mrs. Stanford White
Dressed to the nines: William K. Vanderbilt Costume Ball. March 26, 1883. Vanderbilt’s father was a great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who founded the family fortune in railroads and shipping
Marcus & Co., Necklace, 1900 • Gold, natural pearls, demantoid garnet, enamel •
Mrs. DeLancey Astor Kane (Eleanora Iselin) 1888 Oil on canvas, with frame by Stanford White.
Silver presentation bowl by Tiffany & Co. inscribed “The Goelet Prize for Sloops 1889”
Tiara by Tiffany & Co., 1894. Gold, platinum, and diamonds.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II as Louis XVI, and Mrs. Vanderbilt (Alice Claypoole Gwynne), as “Electric Light” at the Vanderbilt Ball, 1883, photographed by José Maria Mora.
The exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York includes the dress that Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt wore to this ball. Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, the most famous Parisian couturier of the day, and made of satin, velvet, and silver bullion, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s costume was meant to represent “Electric Light,” in honor of Thomas Edison’s new power station in New York. “A Worth dress was a significant status symbol,” curator Phyllis Magidson explains. “He never did house calls, not even for royalty, so clients, if they were accepted by Worth, had to travel to Paris for their fittings. And they had to have the money to buy it; A Worth dress was the most costly garment of its day.”
Bodice back detail of “Electric Light” costume by Maison Worth, 1883.
Bonbonniére designed by G. Paulding Farnham for Tiffany & Co., circa 1889. Gold, platinum, and sapphires.
This 1896 portrait of Mrs. Joseph De La Mar, the wife of a wealthy Holland-born miner, is one of the many featured in the new gallery. Her look of entitled beauty perfectly summed up the new Gilded Age society, the millionaires and palace-dwellers who were soon to upstage the old guard of Mrs. Astor’s New York.
Tiffany & Co., Brooch, ca. 1900 • Gold, sapphires, zircons, enamel •
Thomas Wilmer Dewing
DeLancey Iselin Kane, 1887
Oil on canvas, with frame by Stanford White
Tiffany & Co., Perfume bottle, ca. 1895
Gold, diamonds, rock crystal, quartz, enamel
Byron Company, C.K.G. Billings Horseback Dinner at Sherry’s, 1903.
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York, Byron Collection.
Gilded New York • © Julie Saad Photography
Gilded New York • © Julie Saad Photography
Carrier & Ives, Grand Bird’s Eye View of the Great East River Suspension Bridge Connecting the Cities of New York and Brooklyn, c. 1892, lithograph.
And now for those mansions and interiors!
Mrs. William Backhouse Astor Jr. and John Jacob Astor IV house, 1895, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street. Ultimately, to consolidate their hold on high society, the Astors commissioned a new house farther uptown.
Ballroom in Mrs. William Backhouse Astor Jr. and John Jacob Astor IV house, 1895, at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street.
Ballroom and art gallery in William Backhouse Jr. and Caroline Astor’s house at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, photographed by Pach Brothers circa 1887.
A. T. Stewart house, designed by John Kellum, 1869, at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, photographed by H. N. Tiemann & Co. circa 1880.
1894, Manhattan The Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th Avenue, residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Home of Cornelius Vanderbilt showing a view from the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 58th Street. Part of a landscaped lawn and an entrance to the house on 58th Street featuring a huge stone arch can be seen
Grand Salon, Cornelius Vanderbilt II house, 1894, at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Salon designed by Jules Allard et Fils.
“Vanderbilt Row,” Fifth Avenue looking north from 51st Street, photographed by the Byron Company (includes William H. Vanderbilt [left and center, two similar side-by-side houses] and William K. Vanderbilt houses [right uptown house]).
Drawing room, William H. Vanderbilt house, at 51st and Fifth Avenue.
Dining room, William H. Vanderbilt house, at 51st and Fifth Avenue.
Photo by Courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York/The Monacelli Press
William K. Vanderbilt house, 1882, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, at 52nd and Fifth Avenue; photographed by Robert Bracklow circa 1900.
Drawing room, William K. Vanderbilt house, 1882, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, at 52nd and Fifth Avenue.