And the Winner is… Titanic

Please enjoy this archived content from 2018.

Our newest exhibition, Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, features costumes from the iconic production, which holds the record for the most Academy Award® nominations and the record for the most Oscars® won by a single film.

The 1997 movie was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying All About Eve (1950) for the most Oscar nominations. Additionally, it won 11 of those awards, tying Ben Hur (1959)—and later matched by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)—for having won the most Oscars.

Titanic’s Academy Awards include:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Dramatic Score      
  • Best Original Song
  • Best Sound        
  • Best Sound Effects Editing           
  • Best Visual Effects

Needless to say, the award we’re most excited about is “Best Costume Design”—which means that each and every costume on display in our exhibition is a true Academy Award-winner!

Here’s a sneak peek at the detailing on a few of those fabulous pieces:

1. Rose DeWitt Bukater’s yellow Breakfast Dress will be on display in the Oak Sitting Room.Rose DeWitt Bukater’s yellow “Breakfast Dress”

2. Rose’s red shoes, along with the famed Jump Dress, will be on display in the Library.Rose’s red shoes

3. Rose’s iconic Boarding Hat from the start of the film will be on display near the Winter Garden.Rose’s iconic “Boarding Hat”

Join us February 9–May 13 to discover the first large-scale exhibition of fashions from Titanic on display in the grand rooms of Biltmore House

Remembering the Headlines Twenty Years Ago When “Titanic” Made Cinematic History

Please enjoy this archived content from 2018.

It has become a tradition that movie buffs look forward to in December: A bevy of major motion pictures arrive in theaters in time to be considered as Oscar® contenders when the Academy Awards® are announced soon thereafter. In December 1997, one word seemed to sum up the collection of movies that year: “Titanic.” 

As Biltmore gets ready to exhibit more than 40 stunning costumes from the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, in its newest exhibition Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, we look back at a few of the reactions from film critics when it was released 20 years ago.  

The well-known film critic Roger Ebert declared that James Cameron’s film “is in the tradition of the great Hollywood epics. It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted and spellbinding…” 

“A Spectacle As Sweeping As The Sea”
The headline atop critic Janet Maslin’s sparkling review in the The New York Times on Dec. 19, 1997, cued readers in a not-so-subtle manner of her delight.   

Ms. Maslin wrote: “What a rarity that makes it in today’s world of meaningless gimmicks and short attention spans: a huge, thrilling three-and-a-quarter-hour experience that unerringly lures viewers into the beauty and heartbreak of its lost world. Astonishing technological advances are at work here, but only in the service of one spectacular illusion: that the ship is afloat again, and that the audience is intimately involved in its voyage.”

Titanic went on to become the most Oscar-winning film ever, raking in a record 11 Academy Awards, including the trophies for Best Picture and Best Costume Design.

Titanic is a fantastic voyage,” wrote Dave Kehr in his review for the New York Daily News. “But Titanic is not merely good. It is a magnificent object, a feat of engineering and an overwhelming visual, aural and emotional experience …”

We look forward to showcasing the luxurious costumes designed by Deborah L. Scott, and worn by actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and many others. Seeing them throughout the rooms of Biltmore House, our guests will experience perfect examples of the wardrobes favored by transatlantic travelers like George and Edith Vanderbilt in the early 1900s.

Titanic soars with charismatic performances, spectacular effects.” – Margaret A. McGurk, Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 19, 1997.

Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie begins on February 9, 2018, and will remain on display until May 13, 2018.

Featured image: Rose and Jack (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) in the dining scene in “Titanic.” @1997 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

Second image: Rose admires Jack’s artistic talents while aboard the Titanic. @1997 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Uncorked: Meet Biltmore’s Sommelier

If you’ve ever wondered how to choose the perfect wine to accompany your meal, a professional sommelier can help you uncork the “secrets” of selecting something special.

Speaking from experience

Artur Loli, sommelier for The Inn on Biltmore Estate™, knows that great wine is part of what makes fine dining so memorable.  

Guests at The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

“The Dining Room of The Inn is world-class,” said Artur, “and Chef Eckman’s culinary skills are legendary, so the wines we offer must also be outstanding enough to elevate the entire experience.”

In fact, The Dining Room of The Inn was recently named a new Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Restaurant. According to Charles Thompson, General Manager of The Inn on Biltmore Estate, these illustrious stars are a remarkable achievement.

“The award speaks to the dedication of our talented staff who truly offer our guests an exceptional travel experience” Charles noted.

Rigorous training

Training to become a sommelier is not an easy process, and often requires years of study to understand and appreciate the nuances of the world’s wines.

Some would-be sommeliers opt for courses through organizations such as the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) to gain a solid foundation in wine knowledge before pursuing further certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers, the American Sommelier Association, or hospitality schools. Others choose to work in the industry, seeking a combination of hands-on experience and mentorship by working in vineyards, wineries, and wine-driven restaurants.

“You can certainly learn a lot in the classroom,” Artur said, “but there’s no substitute for working in the hospitality industry where you discover what real guests like and dislike. 

Good listener

Artur, who began working in the hospitality field in Santorini, Greece, 25 years ago and has spent the past 16 years with The Inn, knows that good listening skills are one of the most important tools a sommelier can offer.

“Helping someone choose a wine that complements their meal is as much about listening to them as it is about knowing which varietal has good acidity or which vintage is preferable. All our Biltmore wines are outstanding,” he said, “so it’s never about selling more wine or pushing the most expensive wines we offer. What really matters is earning a guest’s trust with wine selections that appeal to their palate, even when that means non-traditional pairings.”

For Artur, the most rewarding thing about being a sommelier is that he become part of the guests’ experience–especially when they choose to celebrate a special event at The Inn

“It is my pleasure to offer a warm welcome to all our guests, from those who have never joined us before to those who have spent more than 500 nights at The Inn. Helping guests select a bottle of wine, for me, is more than a service standard and a job requirement–it is a passion of mine. Countless times, uncorking a bottle of wine sparks a conversation that is the beginning of creating loyal guests for decades to come.”

Plan your getaway today

Ready to experience the four-star elegance of The Inn on Biltmore Estate? Reserve your special getaway today, and be sure to include The Dining Room–with its impressive new Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Restaurant designation–in your plans so that Artur Loli and other members of The Inn’s knowledgeable staff can help make your visit more memorable!

Blog images
— Featured image: Artur Loli serves sparkling wine to guests at The Inn
— First image: Guests enjoying wine at The Dining Room of The Inn
— Second image: Artur brings wine to guests at an outdoor event at The Inn
— Third image: A sommelier is an expert at opening wines as well as choosing them

Explore Our Favorite Outdoor Rooms

Every season offers a wonderful reason to explore our favorite outdoor rooms at Biltmore, but summer is an especially perfect time to do so.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Known as the “father of American landscape architecture,” Frederick Law Olmsted had definitive ideas about landscape design.

You can see many of his innovative ideas in New York City’s Central Park and here at Biltmore, which was his last professional project before his death in 1903.

Enjoy the outdoors, by design

View of the Approach Road in spring
The Approach Road, which Olmsted designed to achieve a “sensation passing through the remote depths of a deep forest,” only to have “the view of the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, to break suddenly, fully upon one.” Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.

For the magnificent estates he landscaped, Olmsted preferred longer-than-usual approach drives and separate garden spaces or “outdoor rooms” that were distinct from one another with no blending of styles.

The methods Olmsted used for creating special spaces are very noticeable in spring and when the gardens and grounds begin to bloom with color.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms

When Biltmore employees were asked to share their favorite outdoor rooms around the estate, their answers were a tribute to all that Olmsted envisioned to enchant the Vanderbilts and their guests more than a century ago.

Italian Garden

Italian Garden at Biltmore
The Italian Garden is spectacular in summer

Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, has a favorite spot tucked away in the Italian Garden.

“There’s a terra cotta cherub fountain in the last little turf area near the end of the garden,” said Parker. “Most people miss this treasure because they don’t walk all the way down there.”

Spring Garden

The Spring Garden at Biltmore
Some of the earliest blooms at Biltmore appear in the sheltered Spring Garden

Cathy Barnhardt, former Floral Displays Manager for Biltmore, is now retired and enjoying the estate as an Annual Passholder.

“The Spring Garden is like a little valley that opens up off the beaten path. The grass gets green there first and flowers bloom early,” said Cathy. “It’s a great place to spend time with your family.”

Azalea Garden

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

Another special location mentioned by several staff members is a bench at the top of the Spring Garden. From this vantage point, you can look down into the Azalea Garden and also have a view of the distant mountains.

Another not-to-be-missed favorite outdoor room is the Azalea Garden with all its varieties, colors, and sweet fragrances of azalea to enjoy.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms
Stone steps in the Azalea Garden invite further exploration

“Although the Azalea Garden wasn’t part of Olmsted’s original plan, it makes perfect use of a wooded space,” noted Parker. “The blooms are spectacular in late spring, so be sure to take time to walk down the stone steps—another technique Olmsted used to divide outdoor rooms—and stroll down the path there, noticing the stream lined with wild flowers and unusual conifers.”

Bass Pond Boat House

Boat House at the Bass Pond
The view of the Bass Pond from the Boat House is worth the walk!

Below the Azalea Garden, Hope Wright of A Gardener’s Place–one of the charming shops on the estate–loves walking down the path to the Bass Pond.

“I stop on the bridge going toward the Boat House and sit on the bench,” Hope said. “This is a favorite spot of mine in the spring and summer as I look back upon the stunning beauty I have just witnessed.”

Plan your getaway today!

Family activities for spring at Biltmore
Explore our glorious gardens and grounds during Biltmore Blooms this spring

Ready to explore our favorite outdoor rooms and discover which ones you like best?

Plan your summer Biltmore visit now to enjoy Biltmore Gardens Railway, a botanical model train display in Antler Hill Village, or consider becoming an Annual Passholder so you can return and discover something new in every season.

The Legacy of John Cecil

Of all the romantic celebrations held on the estate, none has been quite as spectacular the April 29, 1924 wedding of Cornelia Vanderbilt to British diplomat John Francis Amherst Cecil. Hundreds of invitations were extended to friends and family, and the guest list included many well-known public and diplomatic figures of the time.

The Honorable John Francis Amherst CecilThe couple first met in Washington, D.C. where Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt spent a great deal of time in the years following George Vanderbilt’s death. The Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil was a career diplomat stationed at the British Embassy, and was the third son of Lord Cecil and the Baroness Amherst of Hackney. He was a descendant of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was lord high treasurer to Queen Elizabeth 1. Ten years older than Cornelia, John Cecil was one of a group of eligible gentlemen known as the “British bachelors” in the capitol’s social circles.

Cecil grew up in the English countryside of Norfolk. He studied history and international law at the New College of Oxford University before becoming a member of the British diplomatic corps. Cecil served in Egypt, Spain, and Czechoslovakia before being posted to Washington where he rose to the position of first secretary at the British Embassy. Shortly before his marriage to Cornelia Vanderbilt, he resigned his position, announcing that after the wedding he would make Biltmore his primary residence and would take an active role in managing the estate.

Cornelia Vanderbilt (front center) and John Cecil (back right) at party with friends in front of Biltmore House, 1925

The couple lived at Biltmore, continuing the legacy of hospitality for which the estate was known, as well as managing the property and farming operations. During the Great Depression, in a bid to boost the local economy and bring tourists to the region, the Cecils worked with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to open Biltmore House to the public. 

Although the Cecils divorced in 1934, John Cecil remained at Biltmore, enjoying the life of a country gentleman as well as taking an active role in the management of Biltmore House and becoming involved with several community organizations from the Biltmore Hospital to All Souls’ Church. Together with Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Judge Junius Adams, John Cecil provided leadership for The Biltmore Company, which was organized in 1932 to manage the estate. He returned to his native England during World War II as Minister of Information, but took up residence at Biltmore again when the conflict ended.

According to an excerpt from the book Lady on the Hill, John Cecil “had a deep appreciation for the treasures in the house and entertained his guests by translating the Old Latin woven into the tapestries. He brought a sense of British propriety to the chateau’s new role as tourist attraction with an approach that was both Old World and Madison Avenue. For example, he insisted that the staff place fresh-cut flowers in the rooms opened to visitors to discount the appearance of a dusty museum. His philosophy became a standard throughout Biltmore’s public life.”

John Cecil changing a tireToday, we honor John Cecil’s contributions to the legacy of Biltmore with the John Francis Amherst Cecil Scholarship established in his honor. His great contributions to the estate after the war enabled the property to remain private and intact. This scholarship is a tribute to his devotion to the preservation and well-being of Biltmore and its employees, and the scholarship helps assist the dependents of Biltmore employees with the rising costs of higher education.

Featured image: John Cecil driving in front of Biltmore House
Above right: John Cecil photographic portrait
Above left: John & Cornelia Cecil with unidentified friends in front of Biltmore House
Right: John Cecil changing a tire

Solving a Mystery in the Kitchen Pantry

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry at Biltmore took some detective work, but our Museum Services staff finally cracked the case!

“Among the many place settings of china in the Biltmore collection, one set had remained a mystery for many years,” said Lori Garst, Curatorial Assistant.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry
A cup, saucer, and plate from the collection of unidentified china

While the set was often referred to as “the Christmas china” because it was used during a 1931 holiday party, or “the employee china” because it was later used by staff members, the origin of the china—and its original purpose in Biltmore House—remained unclear.

Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt's monogram
Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt’s monogram

“Most of the china in Biltmore House was chosen by George Vanderbilt,” Lori said. “He selected an elegant white china with a burgundy and gold pattern, manufactured by both Minton and Spode-Copeland. It features his monogram and was used every day for family and guest meals.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china matches her father’s pattern but includes her own CSV monogram.

China featuring Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
While Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china closely matches the pattern her father selected for use in Biltmore House, their monograms distinguish one set from another

“We know that Edith Vanderbilt ordered Cornelia’s china in 1923,” said Lori. “And Mrs. Vanderbilt requested that Cornelia’s monogram be in the same style as her father’s.  I think it is sweet that her service blended in with the style her father had chosen.”

But what of the mysterious china collection on the shelves of the Kitchen Pantry in the Basement?

Museum Services began to look for clues about its history. While not as fine as the monogrammed Vanderbilt china, the gold-trimmed white pattern rimmed in crisp navy was definitely elegant and the amount of it suggested it had been purchased with a large number of people in mind.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry of Biltmore House
Trimmed in gold and rimmed in navy, this china is elegant, but more sturdy than the monogrammed family china in the collection

“We began with the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom of each piece,” said Lori. “Kniffen & Demarest Co. manufactured hotel and steam ship supplies, so the china was well-made and rather sturdy to stand up to use by guests and passengers in public settings.”

Biltmore conservator shows manufacturer's mark on the bottom of a china saucer
A conservator shows the Kniffen & Demarest Co. name on a piece of the so-called mystery china

While Museum Services was researching details for our Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film exhibition, they finally discovered written references to the china in conjunction with Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s wedding. 

“This set was also sometimes referred to as ‘the wedding china,’ but we never knew which of its three names was correct until recently,” said Lori. “The pieces came together at last, and we realized that this was the china that had been ordered for the buffet at Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil’s wedding breakfast.”

After the ceremony at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village, the wedding guests and additional reception guests (500 people were invited to the ceremony and reception; another 2500 were invited only to the reception) arrived at Biltmore House.

John and Cornelia Cecil wedding party at breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House
John and Cornelia Cecil and their attendants at the wedding breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House

The newlyweds and their attendants were served at a table in the Winter Garden, and all the other guests enjoyed a buffet in the Banquet Hall, which featured this china.

As the years passed, the Kniffen & Demarest china was still used, but its original purpose was forgotten.

Today, it’s stored in the Kitchen Pantry where it receives the same care and attention as all the other china in Biltmore’s collection.

Enjoy your own Vanderbilt china service

China pattern based on an original set used by the Vanderbilt family
Porcelain tea set from the Vanderbilt Service

Whether you prefer a tea service or an entire place setting, this beautiful porcelain serveware is based on a Sevres pattern, circa 1888, that the Vanderbilt family once used at Biltmore. The original is on display in the Oak Sitting Room, but you can now enjoy the reproduction set in your own home.

Remembering our Christmas past

Christmas has always been celebrated in grand style at Biltmore, beginning with the opening of Biltmore House on Christmas Eve 1895 and continuing today with Christmas at Biltmore. The festivities have always included friends and family, plus a special party for employees of the estate.

Creating traditions

While George Vanderbilt was still a bachelor, he enlisted the help of Mrs. Charles McNamee, the wife of his friend who assisted in purchasing land for the estate, to provide Christmas gifts for 300–500 guests, including estate workers and their families. Mr. Vanderbilt greeted everyone in the Banquet Hall on Christmas afternoon, and members of his own family helped distribute the gifts which included Christmas trees and trimmings for estate employees to decorate their own homes.

In 1897, Biltmore’s Christmas celebration took place at All Souls Parish in Biltmore Village because George Vanderbilt was away from home. According to a report in the Semi-Weekly Citizen, there were “toys and candy and cakes and oranges for the little ones, and books and articles useful and ornamental, dress goods and jerseys, ties and gloves, for the older folk. As in previous and future celebrations, refreshments were served, including ice cream, cake, and bananas.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt and her cousin John Nicholas Brown in 1905

Cornelia Vanderbilt and her cousin John Nicholas Brown, 1905

Celebrating with friends and family

George Vanderbilt married Edith Dresser in 1898, and she took an immediate and active interest in the estate’s annual Christmas festivities. In 1905, when George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only child Cornelia would have been five years old, the New York Times reported the following details about the holiday cheer at Biltmore:

“Mr. and Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt this afternoon provided for nearly a thousand children of Biltmore estate employees a big tree in the banquet hall of the chateau. The little ones were loaded with useful gifts and toys…bought in Asheville in the last week…Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt welcomed each of the little guests, many of whom came twenty miles from the coves and mountain tops of the Vanderbilt forest domain, some walking, some by ox team and some mule back…. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt…personally distributed all the gifts, aided by Mrs. Edith Wharton, Mr. Wharton, and Mrs. Ernesto G. Fabbri (George Vanderbilt’s niece].”

In her oral history, Edith Cauble, whose parents worked on the estate, recalls:

“Christmas parties where Mr. Vanderbilt stood on one side of the front door of the House in tails, and Edith stood on the other side wearing a long velvet dress giving out oranges and candy. In the Banquet Hall there was music and Cornelia would run around with the other children.”
 
Biltmore Employee Christmas party in 1916Employee Christmas party at Antler Hall, ca. 1916

Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt continued the employee Christmas parties even after George Vanderbilt passed away in 1914. In 1916, the event took place outdoors at Antler Hall—a large home originally located where The Inn on Biltmore Estate™ now sits. In the archival photograph featured here, you can see Edith Vanderbilt just to the right of center wearing a dark hat, and Cornelia to her left in a white hat.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at the entrance to Biltmore HouseSanta and Mrs. Claus welcome guests to Biltmore

The tradition continues

Today, more than a century after the first holiday festivities at Biltmore, we continue to host our annual Christmas party for employees. It is still a grand occasion with gifts for the children, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and delicious refreshments—and a wonderful opportunity to see America’s Largest Home® lit by the glow of candles and firelight during Candlelight Christmas Evenings.

Featured blog image: Photographs of George Vanderbilt’s parents (William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt) 

Preserving Generations of Biltmore China and Crystal

Preserving generations of Biltmore china and crystal is a delicate job.

If you have fine china or crystal handed down in your family, you can imagine the care it takes to clean and preserve all the fragile place settings and glassware in the Biltmore collection!

Generations of fragile china and crystal

Preserving generations of Biltmore china and crystal
Gevevieve Bieniosek opens the china cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry

There are three generations of china and crystal stored in Biltmore House, and much of it is more than 100 years old.

These fragile pieces of the collection are stored in glass-front cabinets in the two-story Butler’s Pantry, and a comprehensive inventory system helps our conservators keep track of each object.

A unique identification number is assigned to every dish and glass, the location of the piece is recorded, and a digital photo of it is included in an inventory database.

Cleaning generations of Biltmore china and crystal
Genevieve cleans saucers that bear George Vanderbilt’s monogram, while the floral patterned plates on the left were chosen by Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, for Biltmore’s centennial celebration in 1995

Cleaning all the china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry is a process that takes several weeks to complete. Each piece is dusted, wiped with a mixture of ethanol and water, and dried with lint-free cloths. All the objects are inspected for unstable cracks.

“Most of the cleaning and dusting is done in the Butler’s Pantry, because the less we move such fragile pieces, the better,” said Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator.

Preventing problems

Caring for a fragile part of Biltmore history--crystal glassware
Delicate crystal glassware with George Vanderbilt’s monogram in the Butler’s Pantry

During a recent cleaning project, the conservators noticed that some of the crystal on display was suffering from ‘glass disease.’ According to Genevieve, this is a condition where components in the glass structure leach out over time, causing the glass to appear cloudy.

“If left untreated,” Genevieve explained, “it will eventually create a fine network of cracks over the piece.”

The glasses were treated by washing them with mild soap and water, drying them with soft towels, and letting them air dry for several hours.

“By treating them now, we avoid permanent damage from the glass disease,” said Genevieve.

Improving the process of storing crystal and china

China cup with Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
This fluted cup and saucer bear Cornelia Vanderbilt’s monogram

In addition to careful cleaning of these fragile pieces, our conservators are always looking for ways to improve the overall process for preserving the china and crystal.

“We recently looked into different types of padding material to keep the china safer, and placed sheets of polyethylene foam between each dish. The material is very stable, so the sheets don’t break down and create chemicals that could harm the china,” noted Genevieve.

Take a behind-the-scenes guided tour

Biltmore House Butler's Pantry
The Butler’s Pantry, as seen on The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Plan a visit to America’s Largest Home today, and treat yourself to The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour. You’ll experience an in-depth look at servant life at Biltmore with this 60-minute guided tour, including rarely-seen areas such as the Butler’s Pantry as you hear fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate in the Vanderbilts’ era.

Featured blog image: Biltmore conservators Genevieve Bieniosek and Renee Jolly clean china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry of Biltmore House

The Art of Biltmore’s Open-Air Museum

Frederick Law Olmsted selected the major plantings at Biltmore with the utmost attention. Each had a specific purpose: to provide a certain color, texture or function, such as shade or height. But the manmade features of the gardens−statuary and planters−are more like the icing on the cake, hitting graceful notes throughout the landscape. So, what do we know about the artwork in Biltmore’s open air museum?

“To our knowledge, Olmsted did not specify any statuary at Biltmore,” says Bill Alexander, Biltmore’s Landscape and Forest Historian. Research shows most of the statues were purchased in the late 1800s in France and Italy by George Vanderbilt and Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore’s architect. It’s likely that Olmsted did play a role in the placement of the statues because the three men worked so closely on every aspect of the design of Biltmore House and Gardens.

Classic Influences

Walking through the gardens, you’ll notice a number of statues featuring characters from Greek myth. The four terra cotta figures on the South Terrace—Faun, Adonis, Venus, and Hamadryad—are modeled after originals created by Antoine Coysevox, a prolific sculptor from the 17th century. If you look closely at the figure at the far right end of the Terrace, you’ll see Coysevox’s maker’s mark.

In the Italian Garden, you’ll find several variations of late-19th-century putti—winged figures that were popular in both statuary and painting during the Italian Renaissance. The small terra cotta angel located at the end of the Italian Garden is based on a work of art that’s housed in the Louvre. Although there’s a fountain bowl in front of this putto, Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist, says there is no record that water was ever used in the fountain.

Aging Naturally

Whether made from bronze, marble, limestone, granite, or terra cotta, each outdoor statue has to weather the elements. Storms and environmental pollutants have taken their toll of them over the last century. According to Kara, some repairs and restorations date back to 1934.

“Reading the descriptions of repair work from our archival records is like having a mini history lesson. Each repair documents the care the statue received over the year. Today, we occasionally need to repair the repairs, replacing corroded iron elements with stainless steel or replacing mortar that has crumbled over time,” she continues.

Near the stairway leading from the house to the Italian Garden, you’ll notice the Italian white marble statue that’s known as “The Dancing Lesson.” The original, made of terra cotta, was replaced by this copy in the 1970s after it was damaged in a storm.

Perhaps Biltmore’s most famous statue, Diana, goddess of the hunt, located on the hill overlooking the house, met a similar fate. The original terra cotta work, based on a marble housed in the Louvre, was replaced with today’s marble version carved by H. Whinery Oppice in the 1970s.

In Harmony with Nature

As you walk through the gardens, statuary sometimes plays a supporting role to the ever-changing natural beauty that takes center stage. But each garden element is an important part of this living landscape that has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

National Historic Landmark Designation Illustrates U.S. Heritage

Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina was officially nominated as a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1963.

The original landmark designation was based on the theme “Conservation of Natural Resources.” The description for Biltmore was:

At Biltmore, the George W. Vanderbilt estate near Asheville, Gifford Pinchot demonstrated for the first time in the United States that scientific forest management could be profitable and was, thus, good business practice. Another ‘first’ in forestry occurred here in 1898 when the first forestry school in the United States was opened, the Biltmore Forest School, headed by Dr. Carl A. Schenck. Nearly 87,000 acres of the estate’s forest land is now included in Pisgah National Forest. The building in which the school was conducted is owned by the city of Asheville and used today for offices.

Dr. Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900*
Dr. Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900. Image courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, NC.

Beginning in 2000, Biltmore began an effort to expand the landmark designation beyond conservation to include the themes of architecture, landscape architecture, and social history, and to extend the period of significance to 1950 to include the contributions of Chauncey Beadle, estate superintendent, and improvements and significance of the Biltmore Dairy during those years. The Secretary of the Interior approved this expansion on April 5, 2005. 

Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle, 1948
Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle, 1948

Bill Alexander, Biltmore’s former landscape and forest historian and participant in the five-year project of gathering additional documentation for the expanded designation, said that Biltmore has to submit periodic reports to the National Park Service to describe any changes occurring to the property, including natural disasters and damage such as the floods and tree loss caused by Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2005. 

He also noted that the building referenced in the original nomination is located in Biltmore Village.

“The office building at 1 Biltmore Plaza was where the Biltmore Forest School held its fall and winter classes for a number of years,” Bill said. “It was the first new, permanent structure completed in Biltmore Village after George Vanderbilt purchased the village in 1894, followed by the passenger train depot in 1895 and All Souls Church in 1896, all designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt.”

1 Biltmore Plaza in Biltmore Village, 1895
1 Biltmore Plaza in Biltmore Village, 1895

“Biltmore sold the office building to the City of Asheville in 1929, and leased the downstairs for corporate offices while the upstairs was used as a substation of the Asheville Fire Department.”

Biltmore eventually repurchased the building and currently uses it for office space.

The National Park Service lists more than 2,500 historic properties “that illustrate the heritage of the United States.” National Historic Landmarks include historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts, with each landmark representing an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

Plan your visit to Biltmore today and enjoy the splendor of this National Historic Landmark.