Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Second life of the old mansoin on 5th Avenue. Part 1 - Michelangelo

http://albertine.com/New York's Albertine book shop , opened less than year ago, on the 5th avenue at the corner of 79th street, easily could be one  of the most beautiful bookstores you'll ever see.  The store's opening offers New Yorkers and the visitors  the chance to explore part of this beautifully restored  townhouse in the center of the Museum Line,  just on the opposite side of the south end of the Metropolitan museum,    which has been occupied by the French embassy for more than 60 years.
 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
Many scholars believe that Michelangelo made this statue as a precocious teenager living in the Florentine palace of his first patron, Lorenzo de' Medici. It is first cited in 1556 at the house of Jacopo Galli in Rome, identified as an "entirely nude Apollo with quiver and arrows." The idealized pre-pubescent youth has been interpreted as both Apollo and Cupid. By 1650, being called "Cupid," with arrows "tied up in the skin of wild beast," the figure occupied a garden niche in Villa Borghese, Rome. In 1902 it was offered at auction in London, again as a Michelangelo, by the dealer Stefano Bardini. It was later purchased by the architect Stanford White and installed on a fountain at the Fifth Avenue mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, today the office of the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in New York.

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.