When it came to building, the newly minted industrialists and financiers looked to Europe, the old world, for architectural and artistic inspiration, but they built bigger.


Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania


Lynnewood Hall called “the last of the American Versailles” is a 110-room Neoclassical Revival mansion in Elkins Park, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Built for the streetcar tycoon and real-estate developer P.A.B Widener (1834–1915), it launched the career of Horace Trumbauer, a prominent American architect of the Gilded Age.

Completed in 1900 it was rumoured to have cost a staggering $8 million dollars, approximately $212 million in today’s money. Widener’s eldest son George died on the sinking of the Titanic, and Lynnewood passed instead to Joseph Widener who added to the extensive and valuable art collection said to be valued at $50 million and included The Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael, a dozen or more works by Rembrandt, as well as those by Johannes Vermeer, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others.

Joseph Widener was a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and in 1939 made a vast donation, announced by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Gallery’s opening ceremony.  Known as the Widener Collection, the more than 2,000 paintings and works of art went on display in 1942. The fine furniture and objects of Lynnewood Hall were sold at auction in 1942, and after a long period of neglect and decline the Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation has now been established to ensure the restoration of this American Versailles.


The Gold Room at Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island


The Gold Room at Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island. Designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt with interiors by Jules Allard, Marble House was conceived as a ‘temple to the arts’ and built between 1888 and 1892 for William K. Vanderbilt who upon its completion gave it to his wife for her 39th birthday.

William K. Vanderbilt was the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who founded what was Americas wealthiest family with a fortune made in shipping and railroads. William’s elder brother Cornelius II built another summer house or so called “cottage” nearby in Newport called the Breakers, and their younger brother George created Biltmore, the largest home in the US. What with their no less palatial fifth avenue mansions, the Vanderbilts are indisputably the greatest builders of the Gilded Age.




Maison Millet

An Impressive Belle Epoque Chandelier



The Great Hall at the Breakers, Cornelius II Vanderbilt’s Newport “cottage”, the architect Richard Morris Hunt purchased a copy of a book by Peter Paul Rubens, Palazzi di Genova (1622) which informed his Italianate design for this most magnificent of villas on the cliffs of Newport.


The Breakers, a neo-renaissance palazzo with 63,000 square feet of living space over three floors. It is spectacularly positioned on the cliffs at Newport and is the grandest of the summer houses, or so called ‘cottages’ in reference to the smaller early 19th century houses which were replaced by these Gilded Age mansions.


The dominant architectural style of the Gilded Age was the Renaissance Revival mixed with French classicism, as defined by the Beaux-Arts style.  The prominent architects of the mansions of the Gilder Age were Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), and the firm of McKim, Mead & White (active from 1879 until 1955). They generally collaborated with a relatively small group of interior decorators, most frequently either Baumgarten & Co., Herter Brothers, L. Marcotte, & Co., Pottier & Stymus, Ogden Codman or one of the Paris-based international firms such as Jules Allard & Sons.


A period photograph of The Petit Salon at The Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion, New York, circa 1895. The room was decorated in the Louis XVI style by Jules Allard & Sons, with furniture by the famous French ébéniste Alfred Beurdeley.


The Paris firm of Jules Allard and Sons opened premises in New York in 1885 and fast established themselves as the go-to decorators of the Gilded Age. As the pre-eminent source for “high-style” French architectural interiors, Allard sourced authentic wall-panelling, mirrors and chimneypieces as well as soft furnishings and accurate reproductions of Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture from the greatest Parisien makers of the day, including Beurdeley, Paul Sormani and François Linke.


Maison Beurdeley

An Exceptional Louis XVI Style Lacquer Mounted Commode À Vantaux



Prominent amongst the suppliers of furniture for the Gilded Age mansions was the French-born New York furniture dealer-decorator Georges A. Glaenzer of 33 East 20th Street in New York with a Paris office at 17, rue Caumartin. Glaenzer trade was in ameublement (furnishings) and was primarily a retailer of luxury Paris furniture to the American market. He is known to have applied his label to furniture made by Sormani, Linke and Zwiener.


Mrs Vanderbilt’s bedroom at Hyde Park with canopied state bed and furniture supplied from Paris, including the Louis XV style commode by Sormani.


The Astor residence, 840 Fifth Avenue, New York


Any commentary on the Gilded Age wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Astor family, and Mrs. Astor’s mansion at 840 Fifth Avenue which was completed in 1896 and was the largest of its kind. Like the Vanderbilt Newport mansions, Marble House and the Breakers, Richard Morris Hunt was the architect and here he adopted the early French Renaissance style from the Louis XII period and based on the Château de Blois. Mrs Lina Astor was head of New York society, termed ‘The 400’, reputedly based on the number of people she could host in the ballroom at her previous mansion at 350 Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. The new ballroom at 840 Fifth Avenue could accommodate 1,200 people. The Astors hosted a prestigious annual ball until 1905, after her last party Mrs Astor, the “queen of society,” aged 75, fell on the staircase and broke her hip. She never recovered her spirit and died in 1908, perhaps fortunately therefore didn’t live to see the loss of her son John Jacob Astor IV aboard the Titanic – he was the richest passenger aboard and among the richest people in the world at the time with a net worth of roughly $87 million when he died.



The Astor residence was demolised in 1926 but shortly before an auction of the contents was held, the magnificent offering included some fine examples of French 19th century furniture including this commode by Paul Sormani.


Paul Sormani

A Fine Pair of Transitional Style Gilt-Bronze Mounted Parquetry Commodes



The most famous art dealing dynasty of the gilded age was established by a dutchman, Joel Duveen, and his younger brother, Henry, becoming Duveen Brothers, Inc. (est. 1868, closed 1964). Fast becoming the “most sought-after decorator” in London, Duveen established additional premises on New York and Paris. The business built an unparalleled following with the American elite, counting amongst its illustrious cliental Henry Clay Frick, William Randolph Hearst,  Andrew Mellon, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller. The Duveen brothers’ firm became very successful in trading art and antiques and was taken over in 1908 by Joseph Duveen, 1st Baron Duveen (1869 –1939) whose success is famously attributed to his observation that “Europe has a great deal of art, and America has a great deal of money.” The works that Duveen shipped across the Atlantic remain the core collections of many of the United States’ most famous museums. Paintings and works of art bought by Duveen and sold to Gilded Age titans like Widener and Mellon famously enabled and enriched the creation of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. which lists on its website an astonishing 2,500 objects in its collection that Duveen once bought or sold.


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