With his deep appreciation and understanding of arts and languages and his vision for a self-sustaining country estate, George Vanderbilt could easily be called a “Renaissance man;” a description given to individuals who possess many talents or areas of knowledge and are considered versatile and well-rounded in a number of fields.
Patron of the arts
George Vanderbilt did more than simply collect and appreciate art, however; he was also a passionate patron who befriended artists such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, commissioning their works for his home and corresponding with them far beyond the particulars of portraiture.
Literary authors including Edith Wharton and Henry James were welcomed at Biltmore, and George Vanderbilt’s close friend and author Paul Leicester Ford spent several weeks at the estate while working on his novel Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution.
In addition to his personal friendships, George Vanderbilt was a great proponent of public access to the arts, using his philanthropic values to ensure that others could benefit from institutions such as free lending libraries.
While most libraries of that era required patrons to pay for the books they borrowed, Vanderbilt provided funding to build the Jackson Square Free Circulating Library of the New York Public Library System and filled it with books that he donated. This library was one of the first open to the general public.
One of George Vanderbilt’s most significant donations was to The American Fine Arts Society in support of young artists. In 1892, Vanderbilt donated $100,000 to pay for the property and construct the building that the Society would use for exhibiting members’ work.
Named the Vanderbilt Gallery in his honor, the inaugural exhibition was a show of Rembrandt and Durer prints, plus prints based on the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds, all from George Vanderbilt’s personal collection. While the Rembrandt prints are no longer part of the collection, some of the Durer prints and those after the style of Reynolds remain at Biltmore today.
Living the legacy
We continue George Vanderbilt’s passion for the arts today by hosting exhibitions such as Chihuly at Biltmore featuring the monumental glass sculptures of artist Dale Chihuly. Awe-inspiring by day, the installations are also breathtaking during Chihuly Nights at Biltmore with the effects of dramatic evening lighting upon the luminous colors and graceful forms of these spectacular installations.
Chihuly at Biltmore
Featured: Bronze bust of George Vanderbilt by Mary Grant
First image: Photographic portrait of young George Vanderbilt
Second image: George Vanderbilt's personal bookplate
Third image: Rhinocerous print by Albrecht Durer in Biltmore's collection