Behind the Scenes: Big Reveal Set For Fall
Written By Leeann Donnelly
Two rooms inside the 250-room Biltmore House – the Second Floor Living Hall and the Salon – will re-open this fall after the estate’s Museum Services team restores them to their appearances as they were when George Vanderbilt opened the home in 1895.
In recent years, the Second Floor Living Hall has been used as an exhibition space; prior to that, it was interpreted as a sitting area. An early 1950s photo offered a glimpse of the original furnishings of this space—gilded sconces, paintings and a suite of oversized Baroque furniture placed around the perimeter of the room. Additional research led curators to determine that the room’s primary function was intended as a picture gallery and formal hallway.
“We’re constantly striving to interpret the house authentically as it appeared during the Vanderbilts’ time,” said Darren Poupore, Chief Curator.
Bringing the room back to its original state includes conserving all the furnishings, recreating elaborate window treatments and making structural changes.
“We discovered that the original upholstery was a gauffraged fabric—a rich wool velvet with a pattern pressed into it—in a striking gold color,” said Poupore. “We had it reproduced in France by Prelle, the same company that made many of our historic fabrics for the Louis XV Suite project.”
Green velvet draperies will adorn windows featuring exact reproductions of four pelmets (or valances). For two years, local textile artist Heather Allen Swarttouw painstakingly embroidered and appliquéd each pelmet to match the originals.
As appropriate for such a prominent space, several notable paintings are being returned to their original locations. John Singer Sargent’s portraits of Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted and Anders Zorn’s painting “The Waltz,” which have been hanging temporarily in the Salon, will once again hang where George Vanderbilt intended. The restored room will be completed and re-opened September 1st, 2013.
Relocating the paintings from the Salon has led to its reinterpretation, centered on the fact that the Salon was one of the few first floor rooms not completed during Vanderbilt’s lifetime.
“Draperies were placed in the archways to prevent the Vanderbilts’ guests from seeing inside the room,” Poupore said. “It had bare brick walls, a rough subfloor and a structural tiled ceiling without its finished treatment. In the 1920s, Edith Vanderbilt turned it into a Turkish sitting room, but in 1930 everything except the 1920s ceiling treatment was removed and it became a space to display special objects.”
Curators decided to tell the story of how the room has changed through the years. Removal of a wall revealed an original firebox and brick walls. A section of the fabric ceiling treatment is being removed to show the terra cotta tiled ceiling above. Information panels will explain the new interpretation of the room when it re-opens October 1st, 2013.