Saturday, June 5, 2010

All Souls

Here’s one more from the Library of Congress:

You’ve likely driven past this church a dozen times (if not hundreds) but never saw it like this. The photo of the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village was taken in 1902 by the renowned William Henry Jackson, 1843-1942. (I posted a story on his WNC travels a couple of months ago - )

Richard Morris Hunt designed All Souls and it was one of his own favorites from a long career in architecture. I've only set foot in the church once, long ago, but the space Hunt created was memorable.

From NC Architects and Builders, A Biographical Dictionary:

One of Hunt's least known but finest churches, the brick and pebbledash edifice embodies in powerful and sophisticated form the church planning ideals Hunt had long advocated, including the central tower over the crossing and the equality of the four wings of narthex, apse, and transepts forming a Greek cross to maximize the congregation's participation.

As construction on the chateau neared completion in the spring of 1895, Hunt traveled to Biltmore to join [Frederick Law] Olmsted and [George] Vanderbilt in having their portraits painted by the fashionable artist John Singer Sargent. The full-height portraits of the two great designers hang at Biltmore. That summer, after a period of declining health, Hunt died, having seen his masterpiece essentially complete.
( Article by Leland Roth, )

And here’s that portrait of Hunt:

Richard Morris Hunt
Biltmore Estate, near Asheville, North Carolina
Oil on canvas
91 1/2 x 60 in.

Richard Morris Hunt (1828-1895) was an architect who is widely credited as the one of the fathers of American architecture. He started the first studio in America to formally train young architects in New York and took a prominent role in founding the American Institute of Architects, of which he became president in 1888. Much of his work is eclectic and designs were borrowed from many European historic styles -- some derivative of 19th century French traditions of the Beaux-Arts, having witnessed first hand the stunning transformation of Paris through city planning and beautification. When he returned to America he became part of the City Beautiful Movement.

George W. Vanderbilt hired Sargent to paint the renown architect who was designing his country chateau at Biltmore. When Sargent arrived, the building's facade was covered with scaffolding, the grounds were nothing but mud, and hundreds of construction workers were busy working everywhere. There was no background to paint. The whole place was a mess. But he was instructed to envision what it might be.

For Sargent, the whole commission was a disaster. Even Hunt's wife was giving him problems. Insisting that her husband (who was in extremely poor heath) should be depicted, not as he looked, but as she wanted him to look.

You can clearly see the painting wasn't working for Sargent. Hunt, as the central subject, is the least interesting figure of this painting. It seems Sargent felt more comfortable painting the Venetian well-head than his central figure.

When Sargent first met Hunt is unknown. They were both alumni of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts though Hunt had studied there some 25 years prior to Sargent. It's possible that they ran into each other at Hunt's 10th Street Studio in New York were John's friend William Merritt Chase also had a studio.

When John finally painted Hunt, he was at the height of his long career that spanned four decades.

( Source - )


Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post! I love seeing the church without all the clutter that surrounds it today. It's an amazing building.

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks. I remember visiting the Alamo years ago and expecting to see a monolithic building out in the wide-open, but in fact it was hemmed in by city streets much like All Souls is now. Not what I had anticipated!

Anonymous said...

Extremely unusual for any Sargent portrait to not be compellingly interesting. The portrait of Olmstead is wonderful, so I dont think that JSS was having an off month.


GULAHIYI said...

Thanks for mentioning that, '74. FLO is a favorite of mine, so I'm going to post that portrait. His two stints in WNC fascinate me - how he traveled through in the 1850s as a young journalist and then returned in 1890s as a venerated landscape architect.