72nd Annual International Conference, Society of Architectural Historians
Providence, RI, April 24–28, 2019
Gilded Interiors: Modern Identity and ‘The Historical Tradition’
In their authoritative treatise The Decoration of Houses (1897), Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr. attributed an advance in American architecture and decoration to the study of the “best models” and the application of these to the “requirements of modern life.” This is the basis of what the authors denominated “The Historical Tradition.” While Wharton and Codman insisted on French supremacy in this matter, in the Gilded Age interior one would have encountered a number of historically and culturally themed rooms, some of which were meticulously assembled, others of which bore little resemblance to the sources from which they drew inspiration, and all of which relied on modern technology for realization.
This paper will examine the role of historicized decorative interiors in the formation of an elite American subject at the end of the nineteenth century. Focusing on eighteenth-century French-style interiors and the private mansion, it will analyze the ways in which wealthy patrons, along with their architects and decorators, adapted rather than adopted historical styles and objects, customizing historical forms and ornament and reimagining concepts of comfort and domesticity for a new, elite social space. Challenging the perception of decorating practices in this period as primarily backward-looking, it will underline the ways in which Gilded Age Americans drew on historical meaning in order to situate themselves within a developing narrative of progress and civilization, and will highlight an important and under-researched aspect of architectural practice and the American market at the turn of the century.
PS21 Fantasies of Aristocracy: England and the American Renaissance (Room 551B)
H. Horatio Joyce, University of Oxford, Session Chair
Richard Guy Wilson, University of Virginia, “Finding a Style for America: The Colonial Revival and McKim”
Patricia L. Ricci, Elizabethtown College, “On the Englishness of the American Renaissance”
Tamara Morgenstern, Independent Researcher, “Flagler’s Whitehall: Beaux-Arts Grandeur in the American Tropics”
Katherine Solomonson, University of Minnesota, “Gilded Age Architecture in the West”
See the full program here.