Victorian art, collected for patriotism and profit, finds a home in a New York hotel 19
There is a stretch of some twenty blocks or so on upper Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile, where art collections of every description fill former turn-of-the-century mansions that have been converted into galleries open to the public. Now a fashionable twentieth-century hotel has joined Museum Mile: it is the fifteen-story Stanhope that faces the Metropolitan Museum of Art directly across Fifth Avenue. When new owners took it over 1980, they added American both to its name and its decor, fitting out the public and private rooms with fine examples of nineteenth-century American paintings and furniture.
Searching for authentic pieces has led the hotel’s designers, Mimi Russell and Arnold Copper, to scour auction houses and galleries across the country. While the 276 guest rooms are being systematically repainted and papered, booty piles up in the hotel’s second-floor office, which has come to resemble a Victorian attic.
The Americanization of the Stanhope marks a break with the traditional approach to hotel design, in which red plush, gold brocade, and fake Constables blend to celebrate a glorious European past. Indeed, the Stanhope began life in 1926 along muddled Anglophile lines, with a crest of a rampant lion carved over the entry way. A journal of the time praised the hotel’s eclectic decor, especially its “Georgian” lobby, “delightful Adam reception room,” and “Jacobean” private dining room. For the main dining room the decor jumped across the Channel for a treatment “adapted from an especially distinguished French mode.”
In the 1920's, guests might have scoffed at the homespun native art now seen on the hotel’s walls; they surely would have considered the furniture old hat. But nowadays, with Victorian art and architecture once more on the cutting edge of style, the American Stanhope welcomes an enthusiastic clientele to the only ‘gallery on Museum Mile willing to rent a room for the night.—C. D.