The Story Behind the Art- The Biltmore Estate Art

Hello friend,

Happy Wednesday! Last week I was on an epic vacation with the fam, nestled in a quiet cabin surrounded by bear-inhabited woods in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC. Yes, we saw quite a few bears, which was exciting but scary when they lunge towards your vehicle! (For more information, respond to this email and I’ll send you the video!)


The #1 reason for the trip was to fulfill a dream! The lifelong dream of my daughter-in-law, Haley was to visit The Biltmore Estate. Yes, I go to great lengths to reach awesome mother-in-law status! And I may be exaggerating a bit. She just said she wanted to go.

Haley and I at the Biltmore Estate


If you don’t know much about the Biltmore, the nearly 180,000 square foot châteausque-style mansion was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt II, grandson of the railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. 


I learned quite a lot about ole’ George as I was touring his home. One thing was when you inherit millions of dollars (billions in modern currency) and don’t have to work because your older brother is running the company, you can pretty much indulge in any pursuit that interest you. This guy was truly living his best life! 


Two of his main interests were books and art collecting


Be still my heart George! We are kindred spirits! 


The library in the Biltmore contains more than twenty thousand books, all handpicked by George himself. I wonder if he read them all. Probably! He seemed to have had the time.


And the artwork

Ten minutes or so into the tour we are taken into the breakfast room. Side by side hang two portraits by impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Algerian Girl and Child with an Orange, both painted in the 1880’s and were among the first of his paintings in America. George acquired both paintings in 1892, at a time when most French Impressionists painters were not so popular.  That George! What a visionary! 

I found interesting two portraits in the Second Floor Living Hall, commissioned by George himself.  One of Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect of the Estate and more famously of New York’s Central Park and the other of Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of the estate, both painted by John Singer Sargent. In the late 1800’s, Sargent was considered the best in his field. I read somewhere he charged upwards of $100,000 for a commissioned piece. I could be way off on those numbers, but I wonder, what kind of man spends that kind of dough on portraits of his hired help? I think it says a lot about his character. 


Lastly, another cool tidbit of information you will learn in visiting this grand estate, is in the winter of 1942, sixty-two paintings and seventeen sculptures were crated and delivered to the Biltmore from Washington D.C. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed  and American leaders feared an attack on the mainland. Word got out that Hitler had been seizing and stockpiling art throughout Europe (remember the movie The Monuments Men?) To protect the nation’s most important pieces of artwork, the director of the National Gallery of Art contacted Edith Vanderbilt(George died in 1914) to discuss hiding the art. She agreed. The art was stored in the unfinished Music room until 1944. Guests touring the home would walk past this room, closed off by curtains, unaware that some of the world’s greatest art was secretly hidden on the other side. 


If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Biltmore, I hope you do. There is so much more than I wrote about here, like the Halloween room that doesn't have anything to do with Halloween, but has a lot to do with art, the large collection of prints Vanderbilt collected, the one-of-a-kind tapestries, the paradisiac gardens, and let's not forget about the ice cream at the Biltmore Ice Cream Parlor! It was hands down the best! 


 And I didn’t see any bears! That was only by our cabin!