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Monday, August 9, 2021

5th Anniversary Weekend Getaway, Part 2: The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC - Interior


It's cooler in Asheville, and the day started out at a cool 61 degrees, but by noon it was 80, so we took Brookie back to the hotel and changed into cooler clothes for our reserved tour time.

Now, as promised, the interior of the Biltmore Estate - in order of the rooms seen on the self-guided audio tour :)

Keep in mind, our better camera went kaput during our vacation in June, as well as it was crowded and you had to shuffle through quickly, so these were the best photos we could get quickly with an iPhone, and there's usually somebody else ahead of us in them! lol.

First, a little video of the outside before we walked in ... 

Just a heads up, first - I have no idea what that lady was screaming about, in the middle of my video -  only that she first demanded someone to  "Take a funny one now," screamed, and then demanded them to "Go ahead, take another one!   Take a good one!" (like they had intended on taking a bad photo or-?)  and that they sell liquor in the courtyard, which probably had much to do with it ;)   

Oh well, she was having fun, can't fault her for that - but at the same time, despite the high price, we are not, in fact, at Disney World, riding spinning teacups!

We're at a privately owned estate that the Vanderbilt-Cecils were kind enough to let us visit; thus, at least a minimal amount of appropriateness and respectful decorum is expected, rather than crazy, obnoxious, loud, selfie time - and I really wish she hadn't screamed all crazy, like that, all over my video?   ;)

Winter Garden/Reception  ... 

Yes, despite being vaccinated, of course we wore masks indoors (only pulling them down for this photo)!

North Carolina is in the top 10 for new COVID outbreaks, especially with the delta variant, so we wore our masks whenever indoors, even our hotel lobby.  

We noticed only about 50% of the people on the tour wore them and respected social distancing, which was unfortunate, because at times, you're in pretty close, crowded quarters.

Wear your masks inside, people!  Because the last thing the Vanderbilt-Cecils want and need, I'm sure, is to have a COVID outbreak traced to The Biltmore lol

In fact, here's me, checking the tightness of my mask, while waiting to enter the billiard room.  Mark was actually trying to get a shot of the frescoes on the wall, but my big fat face somehow got in it with my eyes closed, it makes me laugh lol.  One day we'll all look back on these photos, like, "Ugh, remember when we wore them everywhere?" - and hopefully laugh? Or not :/

Also, during COVID, you want to make sure you make good use of the hand sanitizers found everywhere, considering the audio device you're holding has been held by hundreds of people each day!  They do sanitize them after each visit (I saw them doing this), but you also want to make sure your hands stay clean while touching them, to help them out.

To help with navigation, here is the floor plan of the first floor (though not all rooms were open to the public).

Okay, so after the Winter Garden in the middle, you being the tour kind of counter-clockwise around it, with the next room on the tour  being to the immediate left (in the 5 o'clock position) of the winter garden, at the front of the manor - the billiards room, which also served as the hunting and game room.  

You'll also note that more plentiful than the authentic artwork by 19th century artists such as Renoir, Singer-Sargent, Whistler, Boldini, and Zorn, are the prints, because George Vanderbilt was an early adopter and personal fan of black-and-white art prints on paper backgrounds, with black frames, much like we do today -  simply because he liked the look of them in the home.  

HOWEVER, back then, you couldn't just take a picture and make a print or fax it - prints were done on lithographs, wooden blocks - a very expensive and painstaking process, in which wooden blocks were used to copy the image in reverse/backwards, and artists had to essentially recopy/reproduce them back into the correct position on paper.

Of course, being that the Vanderbilts descended from (poor) Dutch immigrants, many of them feature Dutch artwork ... 

Next on the tour, on the middle right of the winter garden (at about the 3 o'clock position, was the room the Vanderbilts were most proud of -  their formal banquet/dining hall, which included tapestries from the 16th century, as well as artifacts from Medieval European churches, including an entire pipe organ ... 

The next room on the tour, still on the right of the winter garden, but now at the back of the manor, at about the 2 o'clock position, is the breakfast room, for smaller parties and daily dining.   

Though the art is often rotated in this room (or even taken off display for a time), some photos always remain, being some of the most prized and priceless pieces in the Vanderbilt private collection. 

For example (keeping in mind, you can't cross the ropes, so this is the best I could do, quickly) ... 

 "Young Algerian Woman" and "Boy With an Orange,"   Pierre-August Renoir

Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt, Jared Bradley Flagg, 1879 

Two other treasures, sometimes rotated to other rooms, include two portraits by John Singer-Sargent, of George's cousin and aunt  ... 

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon (George's cousin), John Singer Sargent, 1896 

Mrs. Benjamin Kissam (George's aunt, mother's sister), John Singer Sargent, 1888

After leaving the room, immediately to the left -  in the 12 o'clock position behind the winter garden -  is the salon, which was also  only partly completed at the time of George's death.

What is a salon?

During Victorian times, it was an after-dinner retirement area, where the ladies would gather, while the men went to the smoking and gun room for cigars and brandy; however, considering it was unfinished, the ladies most often to sitting in the winter garden after dinner, instead. 

The room contains a chess set that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as one of the two authentic Ming-dynasty vases in the home (the other one is featured in the upcoming library).

It also contains the most panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from indoors, and a terrace (which you can't go on), to match the exact spot on which George and Richard Morris Hunt stood, when first designing the home :)

To the left of this room, now to the right of the winter garden, in about the 11 o'clock position, is the Music Room.  

Though this room was not completed by the time George passed, it came into use in the 20th century, in what would later become the most famous use of the home.

During WWII, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as well as the bombing of palaces and museums in Europe, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. came up with a plan to protect the nation's art collection.  They decided to display fake reproductions at the museum, split up the real collection, and hide the art pieces at various secret locations.  

Knowing her appreciation for fine art and the extra state-of-the-art fireproof precautions that the Vanderbilts had taken at the estate, as well as the remote, unsuspecting location,  they asked Edith Vanderbilt if she would secretly store and hide the more precious nationally owned works of art at Biltmore, such as Stuart's famous portrait of George Washington, as well as Venus by Titian, and Bindo Altoviti, by Raphael, among others. 

Edith agreed and knew exactly where to put the pieces - in the unfinished, locked music room.  She reinforced the room with steel doors covered with decorative wood, so that nothing would appear out of the ordinary to passers-by on public tours, as well as steel girder beams in the ceiling, also covered with decorative/painted wood. 

She refused to charge a penny for doing so, believing this was doing her part for the war effort - and passersby never knew that priceless nationally owned art was sitting right o the other side of the wall, right on the main first floor of the Biltmore :)  

There were armed guards stationed 24/7 at the estate, but tourists assumed the Vanderbilts had hired them to protect the estate during the depression and rationing during the war.  

Then in 1944, the art pieces were returned to the national gallery, replacing the fakes, and no one but Edith, the administrators at National Gallery of Art, and the U.S. Government,  was any the wiser :)

(Edith was also supposedly a very patriotic-but-compassionate person anyway, apparently giving away to the poor more than she ever spent). 


In addition to antique instruments such as an early 20th-century Steinway, as well as the 12 apostle Meissen figurines, there is also a rare 18th century wood-cut  print (remember George's love of prints) of Duhler's 16th-century "Triumph of Holy Emperor Emperor Maximillian I"  over the fireplace.

Upon leaving the music room, before entering the nearby tapestry gallery, is an extended patio or loggia outside, also featuring a fantastic view of the nearby mountains ... 

After returning  inside, a sharp right - at the 6 o'clock position in relation to the center winter garden room - is a long hall with windows to the patio/loggia, which is the tapestry gallery.

Now, there are 16th tapestries throughout the home, but these three are the rarest and  most valuable. 

No one knows who the original artists were, but they are part of the priceless Flanders (Flemish, now in Belgium) tapestry collection of  of "The Triumph of the Seven Virtues" from the 16th century.

No one is entirely sure of the artists, and though several were created of each virtue, as far as we know, there are no surviving tapestries of the "The Triumph of Temperance" remaining  in the world. 

Other tapestries hang in Paris, London, and San Francisco, in museums, and a few others in private collections, and they also include two of the three virtues featured here ... 

"The Triumph of Prudence" 

"The Triumph of Charity" 

HOWEVER - this one, the middle one, with Mary at the top, is "The Triumph of Faith" - and as far as we know, this is the last remaining tapestry of its kind in existence. 

"The Triumph of Faith" 

At the end of this gallery, there are three portraits surrounding the wooden double doors to George's favorite room, the library  - George's mother, Maria, on the left, painted by John Singer-Sargent, a portrait of George above the door, also painted by John Singer-Sargent, and on the right side, a picture of Edith by Giovanni Boldini.

I took a picture of all three, but because you can't cross the ropes, I took a quick pic of Maria and George, as there were people behind me, but both close-ups came out blurry -  so these two are NOT my photos, they came from the net ;)

George Vanderbilt III, (builder/owner of Biltmore) John Singer Sargent 

Mrs. William Henry Vanderbilt (Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, George's mother), John Singer Sargent, 1888.

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt, Giovanni Boldini, 1900. 

Isn't she fabulous?  :)

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Why did she have Boldini paint her rather than  Singer Sargent, like everyone else in the family?"

Erm - well, first of all, I mean, take a look above at George's mother's portrait (Zzzzz) versus Edith's -  wouldn't you want Boldini to paint your portrait as a woman in the Gilded Age, rather than Singer Sargent, if you had the money? :) 

And because she was Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt, and like her husband, she was very progressive and independent-minded, marching to the beat of a different drummer, in many ways.  

(I already dug her, from what I had read about her - like her husband, she was an avid reader, a sponsor of rural literacy programs and of craft programs for women to support themselves and their children if widowed, etc.  Also, her compassion was legendary, to the degree that she supposedly gave away to the poor more than she ever spent personally, and many said you never would've known she was mistress of the manor, if you met her in town, she was so warm, charitable and friendly.)

Also, she had fabulous fashion sense and taste, so when it was time for her portrait - well,  nothing against Singer Sargent, the portrait master du jour of the realism period - but he was also and always very stoic - and Edith just - wasn't? 

I think she ultimately made the right choice.

Because John Singer Sargent was better at capturing the majesty of men in their element, and what inspired them, IMO, capturing the slightest twinkle in their eyes.  

However, with women, rather than also being painted in environments that inspired them, they're all just sitting very  properly, but unnaturally, in chairs or against walls, doing absolutely nothing, looking overly matronly and imposing, with either the same blank expression on their faces, as if there's no light on upstairs, or a mean one.  

I don't think Singer Sargent understood women very well, if at all.  

We are inspired by certain environments, too, the same as men -  and there's a reason we like to dress up, make up, and do our hair -  and that reason is definitely NOT so we can look like witless, lifeless, sexless, sad or mean old matrons in our portraits made for all time lol.  

Perhaps he had mommy issues and was in dire need of therapy? ;) 

Giovanni Boldini, on the other hand, had a unique way of finding and bringing out and forward the elegance, beauty,  whimsy, and even sexiness from any woman, even during Victorian and Edwardian times,  no matter how homely she might've been considered otherwise, and no matter her age :)

Despite also being considered part of the realist period, Boldini was clearly more influenced by the waning impressionist and incoming Art Nouveau  styles, creating an interesting mix of all of the above - particularly when painting women. 

In fact, here are some other Boldini portraits or other socialites of the day - these are NOT my photos, nor are they found at Biltmore -  but just to show you Boldini's work, mostly of socialite women in America and around the world - with a few famous American socialites names added below ;)   

Consuelo Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and her son, John Spencer-Churchill -  first cousin to Winston Churchill, and third (?) cousin to Princess Diana.

Elizabeth Wharton Drexel 

Concert Pianist, Rosina Lhevinne, as "Madame Juilliard in Red" 

Back to the Biltmore, after passing by these portraits around the wooden double doors to the library, upon entering, you immediately realize why it was George's favorite room - and why it immediately became my favorite room as well :)

It's the wood, the Pellegrini painting on the ceiling, the bust statues of famous international thinkers, the rare book collection (which is why George's portrait portrays George with a book in his hand, as he was never found without a book in his hand).  

You could spend years in just this room alone!

That is the second of the two Ming-dynasty vases found in the home, by the way. 

After leaving the library, then the tapestry gallery again, a sharp right takes you to the next part of the tour - the grand spiral staircase, leading to the second floor, and the private living quarters of George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt :)

After ascending the staircase, you arrive on the second floor, into the main living quarters of the  original Vanderbilts.    

Again, just to hep navigate where we are in the home, here is a floor plan of the second floor :)

Here, you will be immediately greeted by two nearly life-size John Singer-Sargent portraits of Biltmore's architect, Richard Morris Hunt, as well as the gardens landscape architect, William Law Olmstead. 

Though it was considered unusual, at the time, to commission a portrait of your architect and your landscape architect (and raised many an already high brow), that was George and Edith being George and Edith, wanting to honor them both :)

Again, unable to cross the ropes, it was difficult to get a close-up, so here's another photo that's not mine, just so you can see the detail ... 

Richard Morris Hunt, architect of The Biltmore Estate, the pedastel for the Statue of Liberty, several private NYC residences on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, the main hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New NYC, several buildings for Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton.

William Law Olmsted, considered the father of American landscape architecture, landscape architect for The Biltmore Estate, Central Park in NYC, The United States Capitol grounds, Belle Isle Park in Detroit, and many more famous city parks in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and even here in Kentucky (Louisville), as well as several university campus grounds like Stanford, Cornell, and Columbia. 

To be honest, the room was fairly unremarkable otherwise, with simply a few more chairs and a bench, so that you could pay closer attention to the artwork.  In addition to the Singer-Sargent artwork was this masterpiece, Anders Zorn's "The Waltz" (1891) ....

Anders Zorn's "The Waltz" (1891)

Once more, since I couldn't get too close and was moved along quickly, here's another photo that isn't mine, just so you can see the detail - this was my second favorite painting in the manor :)

A portrait of the Vanderbilt family at their former main Vanderbilt residence on 5th Avenue in New York, featuring a young George at the table, entitled "Going to the Opera," Seymour Guy, 1873 

"Going to the Opera" (The Vanderbilts at their 5th Avenue home), Seymour Guy, 1873

For a who's who, they conveniently provide a little plaque identifying each person in the photo - note that George, as a young boy, is sitting at the table, and that he and his mother, Maria, are the only two interested in/looking at the artist ;)

And the last known family portrait of the current owners, the Vanderbilt-Cecil family, "The William Amherst Vanderbilt Family," Stone Roberts, 1991

Off of the main living hall were the two separate bedrooms of George and Edith Vanderbilt, separated by a common sitting room, because that's what wealthy people did, back in the day, have two separate bedrooms, like the Queen :)

George Vanderbilt's bedroom ...

The bed may seem small, as it did live, but it's actually a regular double bed, just dwarfed by its surroundings. 

And their private sitting/breakfast/team room, AKA the Oak Room, in which they spent most of their time, reading, writing, or playing with Cornelia :)

The room features more portraits of the Vanderbilt family by various artists, another John Singer Sargent, a portrait of George's father, William Henry Vanderbilt, and the few remaining Rembrandt etchings that the Vanderbilt that were not sold to JP Morgan, years ago, and a few private antique photographs of later members of the  family adorning the desks ... 

Then onto Edith Vanderbilt's bedroom ... 

After several adjoining guest rooms, it's up a back staircase to the third floor, which features several more Victorian-decorated guest bedrooms, and a more comfortable (and more modern, as it was used as the living space for the Vanderbilt-Cecils in the 1950s) ...

After which we descended down the grand staircase once again ... 

Down a back staircase ... 

To the basement, a tour which begins in what's called "The Halloween Room," which is a misnomer by later members of the Vanderbilt family.  It was so named because all that was known about the paintings in the room was the room that it was painted by the guests at a party, and the theme appeared to be primarily around bats, black cats, and a witch  ... 

But after much research by one of the estate's curators, it was recenlty discovered that the room was actually painted at a New Year's Even party,  in which the theme was "Gypsies," and many of the guests had just seen a a Russian Cabaret/theatrical troupe in New York, called La Chauve-Souris, which translates to "The Bat," which features gypsies and superstitions - thus, the paintings are the guests depictions of the characters and stories within the show :)

A quick trip down the hall reveals the obligatory white rich-people bowling alley ... 

An indoor pool and gymnasium, complete with dressing rooms  ... 

Then the home's three kitchens, including a rotisserie kitchen, and featuring the home's original copper cookware ... 

Four seasonal decor closets ... 

An early refrigeration closest, and four  laundry/ironing rooms ... 

Then a quick trip up another set of back stairs, revealing the "Smoking and Gun Room"-  (the place where the men gathered after dinner for cigars and brandy, and apparently gun talk?) - while the ladies retired to the salon ... 

Which we retitled "The Smoking Gun Room," and gave an alternate  use of this back-corner room being the place where they hid the evidence after killing their  business competitors and the local peasants for sport ;) 


After this, the tour concluded, and we went to the courtyard for ice cream, but being that the line was too long, we settled for drinks - Mark had the new Biltmore gin, and I had a sangria made from a mix of Biltmore wines and fruit ... 

... which was delicious and refreshing!

After which we retired on the left patio of twisted trees to watch the sun set :) 



Hey, who's this handsome guy?

Why, that's my happy, handsome husband, super relaxed and at home in this romantic environment, on our anniversary :) 

And there's me, feeling the same way - one of the best weekends of my life :) 

On the way out, just a few more pictures of the pond gardens, before the lilies closed their blooms for the day ... 

And on the way out, we noticed the transplanted bamboo.  This was a big thing, in 18th century America, to transplant trees from all over the world onto your estate ;)

Then we bid adieu to the Biltmore with the setting sun ... 

Then a last quick stop at the gift shop at the gate ... 

Where I continued my tradition of picking up at least one Christmas ornament from anywhere I travel - but I bought three that day :) 

Goodbye, Biltmore - we'll see you again, some day - with hopefully a new camera ;) 

Next up, photos from around Biltmore Village, downtown Asheville, and the River Arts District :) 

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