2 December 2011

Newport and The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age (1865-1914) was a rich and complex period in American culture; a time of Vast industrial fortunes and monumental architecture.  By the turn of the 20th century, many of the nation's wealthiest families were summering in Newport, including the Vanderbilts, Astors and Widener family who constructed the largest "cottages", such as The Breakers.They came for a brief social season to grand, gilded mansions with elaborate receiving, dining, music and ballrooms
This is national trust on a grand scale, there are 9 houses all in this one town that are now beautiful museums: The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, Chepstow, The Elms, Hunter House, Isaac Bell House, Kingscot, Marble House, Rosecliff. Many of the cottages were demolished and converted into apartments or offices in the 1930s when the owners could no longer afford their tax bills.(before income tax came along, people could keep all the the money they earned)

We visited the 3 grandest houses: The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House

The Breakers and Marble House were Vanderbilt Houses were both completed in 1895 costing Millions of Vanderbilt money (of which they had oodles, as railway tycoons) and the Elms for the was built by coal baron Edward Berwind in 1901. (You're not supposed to take photos inside the mansions so I don't have half as many pics as i'd like to show you, but I managed a few sneaky ones.....

All three 'cottages' were a joy to look around, on a far grander scale than anything i've seen before, but as always with such historical houses, the lives of the people that lived in them were just as fascinating as the houses themselves, in no particular order here are a few biopics of the women that lived in these houses:

Formidable pioneering feminist Alva Vanderbilt Belmont played a key role toward the ultimate success in women winning the right to vote. (she's also responsible for the chinese tea house in teh grounds of Marble house, photo above)

Alvas' daughter Conseulo Vanderbilt married the Duke of Marlborough and moved to Blenheim palace in the UK. These american heiresses were called 'Dollar Princesses' as the aim was to marry them off to european aristocracy, the husband got the money and the wife gets a title.

Gertrude Vanderbilt,was 19 years old when she first stayed at the Breakers, and describes in her memoir  "I am an heiress. When I first realized this, I was terribly unhappy. I wanted people to want me for myself."
She wanted to be an artist, which was not a typical role. She took sculpture lessons, and set up studio in Greenwich Village and Paris. She married Harry Payne Whitney, who had own fortune, became a renowned sculptor and founded Whitney Museum of Art. (Her room was one of my favorite of the rooms because her sculptures and paintings are displayed in there).

Gladys Vanderbilt had her "debut" to society at the Breakers. As was the custom of the time, these American heiresses were raised to marry European royalty in order to attain the title and prestige: Gladys became a Hungarian countess in1908; she inherited Breakers 1934.

Well, I hope this has been educational and inspirational! There is so much to learn about Newport and families like the Vanderbilts, I couldn't even scratch the surface! but I did take some nice photos and now you know what to do if you ever find yourself around Rhode Island!