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Richard Morris Hunt Photo

Richard Morris Hunt

American Architect

Born: October 31, 1827 - Brattleboro, Vermont
Died: July 31, 1895 - Newport, Rhode Island
Movements and Styles:
Beaux Arts Architecture
,
Gothic Revival
"You have not got long to live, you won't live half long enough to be a really accomplished architect. You have got to work at day, and you have got to work at night. When you wake up at night, you have got to think about it."
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Richard Morris Hunt
"It's your clients' money you're spending. Your business is to get the best results you can, following their wishes. If they want you to build a house upside down, standing on its chimney, it is up to you to do it and still get the best possible result."
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Richard Morris Hunt
"We should be most conscientious in our endeavors to faithfully serve the interests of our clients to the best of our ability; to do so even should it at times be necessary to sacrifice some of our artistic preferences."
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Richard Morris Hunt
"If you can't draw anything else, draw your boots, it doesn't matter, it will ultimately give you a control of your pencil so that you can the more rapidly express on paper your thoughts in designing. The greater facility you have in expressing these thought the freer and better your designs will be."
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Richard Morris Hunt

Summary of Richard Morris Hunt

Hunt is widely credited with transforming American architectural design into a venerable artistic profession. Working with the monied classes of America's so-called "Gilded Age", he emerged as the most recognized architect in America on the back of a number of extravagant residential mansions. But Hunt, who was happy to adapt his style to suit the preferences of his patrons, proved to be a highly adaptable designer and was a pioneer across a range of less ostentatious styles including the picturesque - or "stick-style" - villa, the apartment house, the municipal building, and the national monument. Referred to by his peers as the "Dean of American Architecture", Hunt was also a key figure in the advancement in architectural education and was a co-founder of the American Institute of Architects.

Accomplishments

  • Hunt's most ostentatious and resplendent structures were based on the lavish French Beaux-Arts and Renaissance designs and were renowned for the richness of materials, and the creativity of their design. His best known (and, for many modern critics, most tasteless) residential mansion, such as The Biltmore Estate (thought at the time to be the largest private residence in America) and The Breakers, were set in vast grounds decorated with classical sculptures and featuring sprawling terraces and arcades perfectly suited to outdoor dinner parties, balls and other high-society events.
  • Throughout his later career Hunt worked on designs for several memorial monuments and public buildings, most notably the base for The Statute of Liberty and the Fifth Avenue entrance to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. To these (and others like it), Hunt brought a variety of classical columns and arches. The prestige of these commissions was such that they symbolized, in the words of Curator Morrison H. Heckscher, "the ultimate triumph of French classicism over the English High Victorian Gothic that had dominated American public buildings during the 1860s and 1870s".
  • Hunt designed what was known as the "Stuyvesant Apartment" building. It was a five story multi-resident block and, based on the model of "French flats", the Stuyvesant was considered a first of its kind in America and gave rise to the style that became known as the "apartment house". The façade of the apartment house was (as the name suggests) designed to look like a row of houses, while the apartments themselves were affordable and especially popular with young couples who were just starting out on building a family.
  • Bringing his European training to bear, Hunt was one of the pioneering figures in the development of the architectural profession in America. As a key figure in the newly formed American Institute of Architects (AIA), he helped set new precedents for architectural education that moved it beyond the apprentice system by establishing a set of stylistic, technical, intellectual and professional principles. The AIA put in place the foundations for the first academic architectural training programs that would spread throughout America.
  • By way of contrast to his excessive Beaux-Arts designs, Hunt produced several "stick-style" domestic wooden residences featuring pointed roofs, gables and decorative wooden frames. Based on the model of the Swiss chalet, Hunt's cottage designs brought a distinctive look to Newport and enhanced its status as summer resort. Hunt had inadvertently initiated a style that became known amongst American's as the Colonial Revival style.

Biography of Richard Morris Hunt

Portrait of Richard Morris Hunt painted by Thomas Couture sometime between 1844 and 1855.

In order the reach highest professional standards in architecture, Hunt told his peers: we "must be most conscientious in our endeavors to faithfully serve the interests of our clients to the best of our ability", and to apply that value, "even should it at times be necessary to sacrifice some of our artistic preferences".

Important Art by Richard Morris Hunt

Studio Building, 51 West Tenth Street (1857)

One of Hunt's earliest jobs, the building effectively launched his career. He received the commission from James and John Johnston who wanted to create a space dedicated to artists and their work. Hunt biographer Paul R. Baker explains how "the dramatic fenestration, the huge recessed studio windows extending almost from floor to ceiling [....] The four small balconies, with elaborate black iron grillwork, the first-story brickwork panels, with decorative circles set in square frames, the brick piers topped with Greek crosses, and the boldly defined entrance surmounted by a triangular pediment and the word "Studios" chiseled directly above the door all made for an interesting play of surface elements ". The interior of the building was equally impressive as it consisted of twenty-five large studio spaces some with adjoining rooms that were to serve as bedrooms, and a large exhibition room for communal use. It was the first building of its kind in New York City.

Baker explains, "the Studio Building was an immediate success. The first tenants, including some of the best-known painters of the day, moved into the building early in 1858 [...] Many of the painters were members of the National Academy of Design, and for years works by tenants of the Studio Building dominated the exhibitions of the Academy ". Among the artist residences were Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, William M. Hart, Winslow Homer, and Emanuel Leutze. Hunt himself was so taken by the finished building he rented a studio on the third floor shortly after the building opened and remained there until 1870. Sadly, the building was demolished in the 1950s.

J.N.A. Griswold House (1863-64)

J.N.A. Griswold House (1863-64)

Griswold House is an elaborate domestic wooden residence featuring pointed roofs, gables and a decorative, partially exposed, wooden frame. As professor Sarah Bradford Landau explains, Hunt was "inspired by the contemporary revival in Germany and France of half-timber houses, the Swiss chalet, and other vernacular styles of wood architecture ". One can see that here in Hunt's use of the "stick style" which became popular in both America and Europe at the time and is evident in the overall verticality of the house's design features and visible frame elements.

His first commission for a project in Newport, Hunt was hired to build a summer residence for the wealthy merchant John Griswold. This house marked the start of a series of cottages designed by Hunt which energized and elevated the look of Newport and its reputation as a summer resort area. Landau cites the architect Alfred Janson Bloor who stated "in Newport Hunt was one of the first to invest comparatively inexpensive cottages and villas with some of the attributes of an indigenous and coherent art [....] Bloor rightly credits Hunt with having stimulated a new development in American domestic architecture, a development that would culminate in the vernacular expression known as the Colonial Revival ". The Griswold house marked the first of several elaborate residences he would design for clients in Newport, although in later years, he would move away from the cottage "stick style" and favor more ornate, decorative and sculptural structures.

Stuyvesant Apartments (1869-70)

Stuyvesant Apartments (1869-70)

Hunt's elaborate multi-resident building, known as the Stuyvesant Apartments an impressive five stories. Aesthetically pleasing the buildings front façade, according to Landau, was deliberately designed, "as if to suggest the parlor floor of the New York row house, the second-story windows were longer than those of the other floors [...] Partition walls, visible on the roof, as well as the pattern of the fenestration of the floor immediately below the roofline contributed to the impression of a row of houses ".

Groundbreaking in its design, the Stuyvesant was one of the first apartment buildings built in America. In describing the legacy of this project, Landau states, "it was probably the first American building to be called an apartment house, and was certainly the first to be recognized as such; and it did stimulate the building of 'French flats' (the popular term in New York for the apartment house) in the 1870s ". The building was positively received by the public and according to Baker, even "before the Stuyvesant Apartments were finished, several prominent people had subscribed for flats there, many of them young couples with small families who considered the apartments particularly suited to their needs ". In this way, the apartment building owed its origins in no small part to Hunt's architectural vision.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Richard Morris Hunt
Influenced by Artist
Artists
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    Samuel Darier
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    Hector Martin Lefuel
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    Karl Theodore Bitter
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    John Quincy Adams Ward
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Thomas Rossiter
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    James Lenox
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    George K. Vanderbilt
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    Frederick Law Olmsted
Artists
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    Henry Van Brunt
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    Frank Furness
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    William R. Ware
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    Charles Gambrill
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    Henry Louis Sullivan
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer
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    Charles Follen McKim
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    Richard Upjohn
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Richard Morris Hunt Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 14 Jul 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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