The era that falls between colonial times and the Gilded Age is often overlooked in Newport’s architectural history. And yet the John N.A. Griswold House, completed during this period (1864), was the catalyst for Richard Morris Hunt’s Newport career. Now known as the “dean of American architecture,” Hunt’s marriage, his wide circle of friends, and his own passion for the world of arts and culture resulted in commissions for a very large number of wooden cottages built in Newport during the years following the Civil War, and before his more grandiose designs such as Marble House and The Breakers. Most of his early work no longer exists – except for the Griswold House, now home to the Newport Art Museum.
In honor of the Griswold House Sesquicentennial, the Newport Art Museum presents “ ‘Very Simple Charm;’ The Early Life and Work of Richard Morris Hunt in Newport, 1858-1878.” This exhibition is the first of its kind to focus on Hunt’s early career. At the center of the exhibition are 14 original Griswold House drawings on loan from the Library of Congress. Also included are photographs of other early Newport homes, many now razed, as well as artwork by Richard’s brother, William Morris Hunt, and family friend John La Farge. Five lectures by Hunt scholars are scheduled during the exhibition.
Richard Guy Wilson, Ph.D., the Commonwealth Professor’s Chair of Architectural History at the University of Virginia, will speak on the breadth of Hunt’s work, in both Newport and New York. “Although many years and different styles separate Hunt’s early work such as the Griswold House from Marble House,” writes Wilson in his essay for the catalog that will accompany the show, “these buildings are connected in many ways. One may be defined as “simple charm” and the other as a “white elephant,” but they had similar intentions: to bring the best architecture and art to the United States.”
Ronald J. Onorato, Ph.D., Professor/Department Chair, Art and Architectural History at the University of Rhode Island, will address Hunt’s early drawings of what would become the Griswold House. Several were sketched during Hunt’s honeymoon in Paris, where he became friendly with the Griswolds, also in that city on a holiday.
In studying Hunt’s work, the interiors are just as important as the exteriors. Paul Miller, Curator of the Preservation Society of Newport County, will address early interiors of homes designed by Hunt. A reconstructed interior will feature prominently in the exhibition, as will ephemera and decorative objects on loan from the Preservation Society, including scrapbooks of the Hunt family and Hunt’s set of drafting tools.
James L. Yarnall, Ph.D., Professor of Art History at Salve Regina University, will speak on John La Farge’s portrait of Richard Morris Hunt’s son Dickie. La Farge and Hunt became acquainted when La Farge rented studio space in the building that housed Hunt’s architectural practice. La Farge later studied with William Morris Hunt in Newport – this is where the odyssey of the portrait of “Dickie” Hunt began. The portrait is included in the exhibition, on loan from Thomas Colville Fine Art in Guildford, Connecticut.
Curator Nancy Whipple Grinnell will give a gallery talk about Hunt’s artistic and social connections in Newport, where he spent his summers and where his brother occupied an art studio before moving to Boston.
The exhibition, lectures, and catalog comprise a comprehensive look at the Griswold House and its place in the history of Richard Morris Hunt and American architecture. It is made possible with support from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Skinner, Inc., the Providence Journal Foundation, the Hamilton Family Foundation, and Edward and Wendy Harvey. See the full lecture schedule at left.
Richard Morris Hunt, American, 1828-1895
John N. A. Griswold House (now Newport Art Museum), Southeast Elevation (Detail)
Watercolor on paper
Library of Congress Prints & Photographs AIA/AAF Collection, Call Number Unprocessed in PR
13 CN 2010:100. AIA/AAF Call Number 79.3317