This house, designed in the style of the high Italian Renaissance was built for Payne Whitney, well-known for his racing and breeding stables on Long Island and in Kentucky. His daughter Joan, was the first woman, the owner of the New York Mets.
At their marriage in 1902 Payne Whitney, just graduated from Harvard Law School and Helen Hay, who had written several books of poetry, received the gift of Payne Whitney's uncle, former Standard Oil Company treasurer Oliver H. Payne. Oliver gave Payne Whitney $75 million.
The famous architect Stanford White designed an imposing granite house with a full southern façade looking over a garden plot. "The gracious curve of the light gray granite front, about forty feet wide, rises through five stories and is emphasized by entablatures between the stories. The pitched tile roof has a deep overhanging stone cornice supported on paired stone brackets; it further emphasizes the curve of the façade."
Stanford White also selected furnishings, sculpture and paintings that drove the final cost to about $1 million.
The house was completed in seven years in 1909, but White never saw it finished - he was killed in 1906 by millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw over White's affair with Thaw's wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. It was White of McKim, Mead, and White, who designed Washington Memorial Arch and New York Palace hotel, Colony Club and old Tiffany building. The house built for Payne was filled with tapestries, furniture, architectural elements and paintings.The mansion's lavish interiors were used in the film Rebecca.
Visible on the old photograph of the foyer of the house is a marble fountain topped by the damaged figure of a nude boy with a quiver. White bought the statue in Rome and put it at the center of a circular room right in line with the main entrance.
Payne Whitney died in 1944, only ten years after his uncle at age 51, leaving the largest estate ever probated in the United States. Helen Hay Whitney lived in the house (part of the time) on Fifth Avenue until her death in 1944
In 1946 there was a three-day art auction, and anything moveable was sold, including an entire Italian Renaissance ceiling. But the statue of the boy was not sold. In 1952, France bought the building and now it serves the French Cultural Services, a division of the French Embassy.
In October 1995 Kathleen Brandt, a professor at New York University and a permanent consultant for Renaissance art to the Vatican Museums , was in the house for an exhibition of French decorative art. Under strong lighting, she took a second look at the statue that she had walked past many times before. "I resisted it with might and main," she said, but she eventually concluded that the small statue is the work of Michelangelo.
The statue was visited and examined by a series of experts including director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chief curator for the Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery in London. All experts verified that the statue was done by Michelangelo Bounarotti.
After first suggesting a possible loan to the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum was chosen for a deposit. A 10-year agreement was signed in 2009 between the museum and “the French government – Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.” In exchange, the Met offered a cast (produced by computerized 3D modeling, so without touching, thus possibly damaging, the work) which replaced the original, thereby maintaining the rotunda’s original aspect.
Upon arrival at the Met in 2009, the Young Archer was displayed as a work “attributed to” Michelangelo Buonarroti, indicating a degree of doubt—or at least, a prevailing lack of consensus—among experts regarding its authorship.
In early December 2012 James Draper, the Met’s Curator of European Sculpture, had dropped the “attributed to” from the label—upgrading it to a full . The label now reads:
|Original Statue in Metropolitan museum|
Young Archer, 1490 by Michelangelo Buonarroti is in now on view in Gallery 503 - Italian Sculpture and Decorative Arts, 1500–1600 in Metropolitan Museum. And I'll continue story about Albertina in my next post.