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The Down East Dilettante has been very under the weather for the last few days, and will be back to posting as soon as the nasty medicines work their magic.

In the meantime, a view of the iconic demi-mountain, just a few feet shy of the 1,000 required to make it official,  that gives our village its name.  The painting is by the artist formerly known as Fitz Hugh (now Fitz Henry) Lane, in the 1850's.   A few more buildings, a few more trees, a few more boats, otherwise the scene is unchanged today.  Coming into the harbor by boat, the hill silhoutted blue against late afternoon sky, was always one of the  thrilling experiences of my childhood, and in adulthood nothing has changed.  It still takes my breath away---every time.


JCB and the Purple Chair

JCB Sat Here:
The tedium of renovation, of meeting deadlines, and of dealing with the insurance company was splendidly broken a few days ago by a visit from JCB and The Gentleman, bearing wonderful wine and even better conversation (click here for her photos from the visit).  What felicity that the mile between her parent's house and my shop is punctuated by an excellent wine store. In a normal year, one in which I haven't just moved shop and blown up cars, I always have wine glasses on hand for just such visitors, but they were not to be found, so we took some ruby goblets from inventory, and settled in to a variety of chairs----I in a shabby Directoire knock-off, The Gentleman in a Russell Woodward wire chair, and Janet in a bergere upholstered in somewhat startling purple velvet. Elegant she was, green sweater draped around her neck, against a black chinoiserie screen----my camera refused to appear for this Kodak moment while they were here (I think JCB hid it), so instead I can only offer a glimpse of the recently vacated chair.

For the Lady, A purple bergere

For the Gentleman, a Russell Woodward Wire Chair

The Purple Chair

After I took the photo, I started thinking about that purple chair: Who else had sat there? A chair like this one has witnessed many lives.  Usually we can but guess the stories, but in this case, I had some knowledge of the last seventy years of the chair’s history.

I first met the purple chair nearly 40 years ago in the Down East drawing room of Mme. Pierre Monteux, widow of the great conductor who had so famously introduced Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps to a not entirely receptive world. The chair had come to Hancock, Maine, Mme. Monteux’s hometown, by way of San Francisco, where Monteux conducted the San Francisco symphony, after leaving France on the eve of World War II. Left behind in their house at Versailles were most of their furnishings, confiscated and vandalized during Nazi Occupation, and back in America, Mme. Monteux, a woman of great and bold style,  acquired new furnishings for their San Francisco apartment, chic and smart in the style of the day---pale mauve, with jabs of black lacquer and emerald green satin and the chair, upholstered in its unlikely deep purple. After they left San Francisco, everything was shipped to their solid old village house in Hancock---the Venetian chandelier, the lacquer screens, the black and red and green Bessarabian rug, the shimmering mauve satin curtains and pelmets, the French paintings....first time visitors were always stunned, for like Alice through the looking glass, one walked up to the door of this typical Maine house, and passed through to this urbane fantasy, always ready for the tinkle of champagne glasses..

Pierre Monteux
Short and plump, Monteux was known in his family as Chummy, and I remember Mme. once referring to the chair as 'Chummy's Chair'. So, Monteux had sat there. As a young musician, he had met the elderly Brahms. So, a man himself famous in the 20th century, who had known one of the greatest composers of the 19th century had sat in this chair. Who else? Monteux had engaged Marian Anderson to sing with the San Francisco symphony. They had a party in her honor. Had she sat in this chair? Who knows? The Monteuxs entertained many of the leading musicians and society figures in their day----they knew San Francisco bon vivant Whitney Warren, son of the architect of Grand Central. Had he sat here? Monteux's students, Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn--had they? Monteux's brother-in-law was the society bandleader Meyer Davis. Surely he'd sat here. And I'd sat more than once on a mauve satin love seat, talking to the Monteux's lovely, kind, daughter Nancie, one of my favorite people, as she sat in the purple chair.

I went to dozens of gatherings in that room over the years; many distinguished guests attended. Think Dilettante, think, who sat in that chair then? Sculptress Chenoweth Hall? Maestro Charles Bruck, who carried on Monteux's tradition of teaching at the summer school bearing his name? Hmmm, maybe a certain socialite, distantly related to me by marriage, of whom I think far better now than I did then, when I just saw her as brittle and chic, pursuing shallow ambitions in her Bergdorf perfection?

I'm sorry I don't have a picture of that stylish and improbable room, a bit of 1940's movie set glamor  transported from another time and place to Down East Maine.   I first entered it, for my first grown up party, as a late teenager, only a couple of years after Woodstock, and I can conjure it in my mind still, every objet de vertu, every fold of the curtains, and the wonderful people who were there. Still, I wish I had taken a picture....when one is young, one takes it for granted that the people and places one loves will always be there. Now that I'm older, I know sadly better, but how glad I am that they were----and that for the moment, the purple chair is here to remind me of them on the way to its next act.



Lanterne, or Not Lanterne, That is the Question

This is territory which has been covered before by other bloggers, but being the Down East Know-It-All,  I want to set the record straight on a small point.  As the regular reader knows, I am fascinated by design inspiration and sources, and strive for accuracy in noting those sources.

The Original:  Pavilion de La Lanterne at Versailles

One of the most perfect, and most admired, houses of 18th century France is Pavilion de la Lanterne, so called because of the transparency effected by its many windows combined with its shallow depth.  Architect unknown, attributed to Louis Le Vau, it was built as a hunting lodge at the edge of the Park at Versailles by the Prince de Noailles, head of the Royal Hunt and governor of Versailles.

As the palatial French Beaux Arts styles that had been the standard for grand houses in America fell out of fashion in the early 1900's, simpler French styles came into favor, based on smaller chateaux and manor houses, and La Lanterne was a popular source, with many adaptations built from coast to coast.   Herewith a few of those copies, plus my point of disagreement with previous attributions.

 Entrance Front

 Garden Front

(Above) The Carolyn Morse Ely house in Lake Bluff, a brilliant but not slavish adaptation by David Adler

The Carolyn Morse Ely House in Lake Bluff, Illinois, designed by David Adler in 1923, is generally considered the finest of the adaptations, and the Dilettante does not argue. Adler makes the design his own, with graceful scale and well chosen details.  The house is of buff brick rather than the stucco of the original, the first floor windows are gently arched, and the second floor windows do not go to the floor, as in the original.  Neo-classical porches flank the garden facade, and mansard roof wings flank the entrance court, as in the original.  The facade of the Ely house is more rustic than in the original, with pared down detail, and punctuated by oeil de bouef dormers in the carefully textured roof.

La Lanterne on steroids.  Horace Trumbauer's huge version, based on both the original and the Adler version, for banker James Clews, built on the eve of the Great Depression

Next up is the Brookville, Long Island estate of James Clews, head of the banking house of Henry Clews & Co., designed by Horace Trumbauer in 1929, called, originally enough, La Lanterne.  Trumbauer may have given up the palatial beaux arts style of his earlier palaces, such as The Elms in Newport, but the scale of this house was, as typical of the architect, enormous, with huge rooms and over size doors and windows.  The wings are two full stories, and larger than the original.  Trumbauer copies the Oeil de Bouef windows from the Adler version, which he would have known from architectural publications.  The Dilettante is convinced that Trumbauer's measuring tape showed a foot as 18 inches.   After years as a convent, the center section of the house was torn down, and the wings became two large and separate country houses, the one on the left home of stylish Thelma Chrysler Foy's daughter Cynthia Rupp.

 Ker Arvor, the Snowden Fahnstock residence in Newport, Rhode Island, the closest adaptation of La Lanterne.

In Newport, Rhode Island is Ker Arvor, built for Snowden Fahnestock in the early 1930's.  Its stucco facade suffers much  from heavy applications of white paint.  Here we come to one of the Dilettante's Don'ts.   Don't paint stucco.  Let it age.  Really. 

 But, I digress.   Also in Newport is  the pretender that is my bone of contention.  Champ Soleil, a lovely French manor house designed by Polhemus and Coffin for Mrs. Drexel Dahlgren, is often called, especially by realtors, a copy of La Lanterne.  It is not.   The entrance pavilion is based on that of La Lanterne, as are some window lintels, but there the resemblance stops.  The house itself has steep roofs, and is composed in three parts.  It is modeled on any number of French Manor houses and chateaux of similar composition, and its type was also a favorite from the Beaux Arts onward to the Champ Soleil.

 Entrance Front

 Garden Front
(Above) Champ Soleil, in Newport, designed for Drexel Dahlgren by Polhemus & Coffin in 1929See the difference?.

 The Chateau Courances, in France, shows the three-part steep roof composition, typical of French architecture of the era, that inspired many American houses of the early 20th century.

So, are we clear on this?  To recap:

 La Lanterne

House in Newport which does copy La Lanterne

 House in Newport which does not copy La Lanterne

Class dismissed.

 Advanced Seminar:  Six Degrees of Separation:

The Library at Champ Soleil, as decorated by Jansen for the Goelets

In 1947, Champ Soleil was purchased by Robert Goelet, who was seeking to downsize from Ochre Court, the 60 room French Medieval chateau in Newport that he'd inherited from his father years before.  He immediately upsized Champs Soleil, adding a ballroom wing and hiring the uber fashionable firm of Jansen to do the interiors.  Years earlier, Goelet's first wife, Elsie Whelan, had left him for sculptor Henry Clews Jr., first cousin of James Clews, owner of the Brookville 'La Lanterne'.  Elsie & Henry fled Newport for the French Rivera, where they renovated the Chateau de la Napoule, which gloomy pile was decidedly not inspired by La Lanterne, so we can stop here.

Now, who else tells you these things?


Going, going.....

I snapped these pictures of a graceful early 19th century house with my phone camera on a rainy day last year.   I know nothing about it, but have admired it for years.  It sits across the Route 2  from the Deerfield River in Charlemont, Massachusetts.  This is Asher Benjamin territory, near his hometown of Greenfield, and as all over New England, many houses in the region bear his mark.

 Nothing more than is needed:  Good proportions, spare planes, and few, but beautifully wrought details.

In recent years, Charlemont Academy has sprung up in its grounds, and as the Academy has grown, the beautiful house has grown ever more ghostly, apparently unused and unloved, its maintenance not the highest priority.  It's condition is so  unsullied by attempts at prettifying, or the modern curse of plastic shutters and replacement windows, that I can't but but admire its purity.   On this visit, I noticed that there were broken panes in the arched windows in the gables, never a good sign.

Less is more.  Sometimes these houses look best with minimal plantings, allowing the house to speak for itself.

It's hard to absorb.   I grew up admiring these pre-industrial age houses, graceful and spare, often built by untrained carpenter architects using nothing more than their good eyes and handbooks like Asher Benjamin's American Builder's Companion to create these buildings. They are potent symbols of the country whose birth and early years paralleled their own.   Almost since they were new, they've been admired and coveted, and suddenly, a decade ago, tastes changed, what people want changed (thank-you, HGTV, for all the destruction you've wrought), and  across New England, one increasingly sees forlorn examples---too old, too big, too small, too close to the road, no great room----the reasons are many, but what I do know is that they are disappearing, or being tamed into McMansion-Easy-Maintenance submission, and we are poorer for it.


In Search of Alfred

1.  The Dilettante Can't Take the Heat
The Dilettante, living the dream of his good friend Helen Bass, decided to get lost last Thursday.

 Turning off the main road to Hamilton House, the pace slows immediately, crossing the falls past this old mill.  At the next turn, one is on a narrow country lane between hedgrows, feeling rather like Toad on a summer drive.

On the way home on a business trip, with work left to do, driving in staggering heat and traffic ('traffic' being a euphemism for almost endless interstate highway road construction slow-downs through Massachusetts and New Hampshire), I cracked, and rather than continue responsibly on my way to the day's final destination, at 3:49 PM I veered left, off  I-95 at exit 2 and up Rte. 127 to South Berwick and Hamilton House, one of the loveliest destinations in Maine.

At the end of a narrow country lane, the grassy drive to Hamilton House. 

So, you thought this was going to be a post about Hamilton House?  Fooled ya.  I took lots of pictures, but that will be another day.  After leaving Hamilton House, considerably refreshed, and too late to resume my business schedule, I decided to take a long route to Portland, and detour through Alfred, Maine, in search of a distinctive house I saw on a family outing forty years ago and had never forgotten.

The gate to a Friends cemetary in North Berwick on the way to Alfred

 A classic early 19th century Federal in North Berwick village, based on Asher Benjamin designs, in need of some tlc and shrubbery removal, but blessedly spared the plastic shutter/replacement window curse---so far.  Notice the elegant globe tracery of the fan over the door.
2. Finding Alfred
The road running northeast from South Berwick to Sanford is a mostly lovely one, with only a blessedly brief incidence of strip malls, winding through an old landscape of farms, and the charming village of North Berwick.  After North Berwick, signs became confusing, and obviously I misread them, because rather than arriving in Alfred, I wound up in the city of Sanford, an interesting old company town, prosperous and neat, still bearing the name of its industrial patron, Mr. Goodall, on most of its public buildings and former factories.

Downtown Alfred, Maine, arranged around its tidy village green, the horse watering trough now used as a planter for flowers.

Eventually, I was headed straight again, and in the waning afternoon light at last arrived in Alfred, a neat little town arranged around a village green surrounded by mostly 19th century buildings in good repair, and a few small businesses.  I was surprised to find that this rural little town, on Bungamut Lake, and site of a former Shaker settlement, is also the Shiretown of York County.

Seen in the early evening light, everything about 'downtown' Alfred speaks of friendliness and pride in the village. Not too polished, not too gritty, but just right, and friendly.  How can one not fall in love with a village whose library sports a 'Summer Reading Party, Tuesday Evening' sign on its lawn?

This unusually long 18th century house was once the village tavern

 The inscription on the war memorial on the village green charmingly troubles to mention that it is made from locally quarried granite

I particularly liked this early 19th century Federal with 1850's Italianate enhancements, maintained with pitch perfect understatement

A Barn at the edge of the Shaker village on the outskirts of town is now a museum.  The rest of the Shaker village, for many years a Catholic retreat, has been so thoroughly vinyl sided and cinder block dormitoried as to be un-photographable

At  first I couldn't find the house that had sparked my drive to this lovely place, and finally it emerged, hidden in semi-desuetude behind overgrown Hemlocks (when young, Hemlock trees are among my favorites, yet when mature, nothing spells 'gloom' better).   And missing from the house was the distinctive feature that had captured my imagination as a teenager.

 The Holmes house

3.  Missing parts
The house in question is the Holmes House, built in 1802 by John Holmes, the first senator from what was then the District of Maine, still part of Massachussets.   It is a most unusual house for the time and place, with a portico of 14 columns, each turned from a single pine trunk.  Such porticos made very rare appearances in New England before the Greek Revival style took hold in the second quarter of the 19th century.   A few such houses were built in suburban Boston, then countryside, in the late 18th century by a group of Boston merchants with connections in the Barbadian rum and sugar trade, where they picked up the ideas for columned porches.   One is tempted to wonder whether seeing these, or perhaps images of America's most famous portico, Mt. Vernon, inspired Holmes to build his, certainly the first in Maine. Oddly proportioned, folky and naive, it is undeniably more interesting as an anomaly than  it is beautiful, but lovely in its details.

Depression-era photographs of the front & rear elevations of the Holmes house, from the Historic American Buildings Survey.  The rear view demonstrates the 19th century custom, still in evidence in my childhood in the 1960's, of painting the rear elevations in a cheaper color, with the front elevations in more expensive white.  Modern paint manufacture has leveled the playing field, and this charming detail is rarely seen anymore.

 The Adamesque parlor mantel, with applied composition ornament likely imported from Boston or England, a rare refinement in rural Maine in the early 19th century.

The legend surrounding the bow and arrow panels in the roof balustrade is that Holmes was believed by racist political enemies to have Indian blood, and though he did not, his response was to have the local blacksmith fashion the bows and arrows as his response.   As sad as this sort of story makes the modern listener, the fact is that they are beautiful examples of early American ironwork, and a most distinctive design feature.

Drawings of the Holmes House from the Historic American Buildings Survey.  The tightly curved stair has a shallow dome at the second floor level.  A singular blend of sophisticated ideas and naive design execution, the Holmes house is a one-off in the story of Maine architecture, and it is sad in the extreme that it is not surviving well in the 21st century.

The house was originally built around a small courtyard, although demolition of the original kitchen long ago has changed the shape to an 'L'.  Inside was a curving staircase, and a mantel decorated with imported composition ornament, a relative rarity in rural Maine in this era. (for the ultimate example in Maine, visit the Ruggles House, here).

4.  An Arrow Through My Heart
 And now for the shock:  The balustrade is gone.  The house, neither well maintained nor totally neglected, lacks its signature feature, the balustrade, unique in Maine.  And while the Dilettante understands all too well the economics of such things, and has not been able to determine its fate (although I have a sinking feeling that the extraordinary  iron bow & arrow that I saw at an Antiques show last year, reminding me strongly of the ones at the Holmes house, may well have been one from the Holmes house.

The entrance of the Holmes House.  Gone from the entry are the shutters and louvered overdoor fan that echoed the upstairs door to the balcony.  Seeing painting in progress, and repaired clapboards, one hopes that it is merely in storage for painting, and not lost also.

One can't save everything, and of course one man's treasure is another man's trash, but to see one of the important early architectural features of Maine possibly lost is a sad thing.  Preservation is an iffy thing in America, and too much goes unappreciated.   One can only hope that the balustrade is stored and waiting to be replaced....but if even Samuel Yellin's studio cannot be preserved, and is raped for salvage and profit,  what hope for the work of an anonymous Maine blacksmith of the early 19th century?

Postscript:  Coincidence

 Senator John Holmes, anonymous 19th century portrait

As I was typing the first draft of this post earlier today, the estimable and ever entertaining architectural historian Christopher Monkhouse happened to pay a call.  When I told him what I was writing, he replied how funny it was that I should mention it, as he had recently thought about a Gilbert Stuart-ish portrait of the same John Holmes, painted in the early 19th century, that he had once owned.