Vanderbilt’s House of Dreams

  • Posted on May 03, 2010 by

In 2007, The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library established the Center for the History of Collecting in America. An important resource for the study of the history of collecting is the collection catalog, which documents items held by an individual, family, or institution at the time of its publication. The Frick Art Reference Library, as well as the other NYARC partners, holds many catalogs related to prominent and not-so-prominent art collections from around the world that are rich with useful information for the researcher piecing together provenance. These catalogs answer questions related to how and when works were acquired, as well as how and when such holdings were dispersed.

One collection catalog that has close ties to Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and the Frick is Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collection described by Edward Strahan (1838–1886). This multi-volume, limited edition catalog was first published from 1883 to 1884 by G. Barrie, Boston. The Frick family moved to the neo-Grec brownstone mansion of William H. (Henry) Vanderbilt (1821–1885), located in New York on Fifth Avenue (640 Fifth Avenue) between 51st and 52nd Street, in 1905. Frick rented the mansion for ten years for an annual rent of $50,000. The Herter Brothers built and decorated the mansion between 1879 and 1882. Soon after its completion, the lavish oversized, leather-bound Mr. Vanderbilt’s House was published. The catalog acts as a virtual tour of the exterior of the mansion and of the rooms within. The text is heavily illustrated with engravings and photoengravings documenting rooms in situ and the individual objects occupying the rooms. As a young man, Frick purchased a copy of Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and hung copies of pictures in the Vanderbilt collection on the walls at Clayton, the Frick family homestead in Pittsburgh. The copy held at the Frick Art Reference Library is number 279 of 500 of the edition published for Japan and was given to the Library by Helen Clay Frick (1888–1984) as a gift in 1941. The last two volumes are exclusively devoted to the description and illustration of Vanderbilt’s paintings and watercolors. Besides being available at the Frick, the catalog can also be found at the libraries of the Brooklyn Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


former site of the Vanderbilt Mansion, 2010

Former Site of the Vanderbilt Mansion, 2010 (Photograph by the author)

The Vanderbilt mansion was demolished in 1947 to make way for a commercial office building. Today, 640 Fifth Avenue, is home of the H&M clothing store.

Suz Massen, Chief of Public Services, Frick Art Reference Library


Thanks for this very informative blog about this important series which has been for many purposes over the years. Recently at the Brooklyn Museum, we used an image from it in the exhibition catalog entitled "The Furniture of George Hunzinger: Invention and Innovation in Nineteenth-Century America". The image entitled "Chimneypiece in Boudoir", appearing on page 83 in the catalog, documents Mrs. Vanderbilt's boudoir and depicts a worktable in the style of Hunzinger.

This beautifully illustrated multi-volume set is well used by decorative arts specialists and those who are interested in interior and exterior views of New York's architectural past.


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