ABOUT THE BOOK • ABOUT THE AUTHOR • BOOK TOUR • IMAGES
SAN MARINO, Calif. — If Downton Abbey had been an American country house, this family might have inhabited it. A groundbreaking new book about to be released by the Huntington Library Press,
the publishing arm of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and
Botanical Gardens, provides powerful new insights into the lives,
remarkable wealth, collecting, and philanthropy of the Huntington family
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The book examines the
life of four Huntingtons: Railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington
(1821–1900); his widow, Arabella (1850–1924); her son, Archer
(1870–1955); and Collis’ nephew Henry Edwards Huntington (1850–1927),
who subsequently married Arabella and went on to create the institution
bearing his name.
|Collis P. Huntington, ca. 1860. Hispanic Society of America. more
||Arabella D. Huntington, photograph by W. Kurtz, Madison Square, New York City, ca. 1880s. Hispanic Society of America. more
||Archer M. Huntington at age 20, 1890. Hispanic Society of America. more
E. Huntington, photograph by Theo C. Marceau, New York City, 1907.
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. more
The Art of Wealth: The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age,
by Shelley M. Bennett, former curator of European art and senior
research associate at The Huntington, is slated for release in early May, with an author speaking tour scheduled for the United States and Britain.
the story seemed to be about four very different individuals, their
money, tastes, and proclivities,” says Bennett. “But over time, in
unearthing new material we weren’t aware of, including important
correspondence among them, it became a heavily interwoven narrative.
This was one amazing family—even as they were so very independent from
one another, they held a remarkably consistent set of values out of
which emerged a powerful sense of ambition, responsibility, and,
Illustrated with more than 200 photographs, many never before published, the compelling narrative of The Art of Wealth challenges much of the previous literature on the four, particularly Archer and Arabella.
an art historian by training, writes sweepingly about the Huntingtons’
art acquisitions along the way, the purchasing and building of large and
lavish homes, luxurious travel, and, ultimately, each of their desires
to leave something significant behind. While scholarly in intent, the
book also reads as a fast-moving family drama. It provides riveting
details about Arabella’s monumental rags-to-riches rise and American
high society’s unwillingness to accept her into it; Henry and Arabella’s
prenuptial agreement; and the extent to which he, and his uncle before
him, worked to please the woman at the center of it all.
thread is a familiar one, as any number of successful entrepreneurs of
the time made large sums of money, lived extravagant lives, and then
sought to leave their mark on the world through the establishment of
institutions devoted to serving the public: Andrew Carnegie established
libraries and institutions of higher learning; Andrew Mellon contributed
the initial art collection and funding for the National Gallery of Art
in Washington; and Henry Clay Frick and J. P. Morgan established New
York museums to make their personal collections publicly accessible.
this is the first time the lives of all four Huntingtons and their
combined legacies have been examined. Moreover, says Steve Koblik,
Huntington president, “It’s also an examination of the development of
American society and high culture in a period of substantial turbulence
and growth. Their stories form a spectacular prism through which we get
to see the history of a time—at once fascinating, horrifying, dynamic,
and complex. There is much to learn here.” The backdrop is indeed
dramatic—it spans the U.S. Civil War, the industrialization of America,
the decline of the European economy, and World War I.
Collis P. Huntington
P. Huntington was not born into money. As a young boy, local
authorities took him from his destitute parents and placed him with a
family that could provide for him; he later became a peddler, then
traveled to California to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush.
He would, through determination, drive, and with a penchant for
adventure, become one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad
Co., the firm that would build the U.S. transcontinental railway and
establish the foundation for the family’s wealth.
known about his robber baron years and financial motives. He was
ruthless and power-hungry and displayed his wealth prominently through
land purchases, opulent residences, and fine art. And yet, he also
displayed deep convictions about specific social ills. He was an ardent
abolitionist and a supporter of African American education. From 1874
until his death in 1900, he was a strong supporter of Hampton Institute
in Virginia, one of the first schools dedicated to higher education for
African Americans. The 1903 library building on campus, built with
funding from Arabella, was named in his memory. Bennett’s book describes
Collis’ relationship with the school as much more than a check-writing
exercise. He “took a close personal interest in the achievements of the
He was also a strong supporter of Booker T.
Washington’s efforts at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington
wrote, after Collis’ death, “I have wondered how a man who was burdened
with such tremendous responsibilities could find the time to talk with
me at so great length about the welfare of our school and the race.”
Bennett’s book notes Collis’ selective reasoning: while he actively and
publicly supported African American education and progress, “his motives
were complex.” The book provides a fascinating window into the
Huntingtons’ emerging, if uneven, social consciousness.
unlike other philanthropists of the time, Collis financially supported
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and ultimately bequeathed his
art collection to it. He willed one of his homes to Yale University and
made gifts to New York’s Natural History Museum as well.
perhaps, says Bennett, his most significant act of philanthropy was the
establishment of the Huntington Free Library in Westchester, N.Y., “open
to all races and creeds, to share and share alike.” It set an important
precedent that Archer and Henry would later follow.
story may be the most complicated,” says Bennett. “He’s been seen for so
long as a one-dimensional robber baron. But, in fact, he’s interested
in other cultures and appears to have a very global perspective. He
helps fund the acquisition of African artifacts for the Museum of
Natural History. He supports efforts to explore and preserve the
vanishing languages of the American southwest. He is quite a
The Art of Wealth provides
something of a behind-the-scenes look at what motivated the family’s
actions along the way, with details culled from Bennett’s
fine-tooth-comb examination of emerging tax laws, correspondence,
invoices and accounting records, photographs and blueprints, and news
reports and diary entries. It is a tour-de-force drawing on
Bennett’s 27-year tenure on staff at The Huntington and from research
conducted at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, in archives at
Syracuse University, and the Hispanic Society in New York, in an effort
to connect the dots and assemble a narrative never before attempted.
wealth at the time meant building spectacular homes, and these fine
homes called for fabulous décor. The Huntingtons all did their part to
engage the art market accordingly. In the 1870s, Collis began serious
collecting by commissioning Albert Bierstadt’s Donner Lake from the Summit,
a work that would go on to achieve wide renown. As Bennett notes, his
acquisitions then “gradually increased in price, volume, and quantity.”
book documents an evolving art market—from the private commissioning of
art from the artist himself, to the very public “battle of the titans”
at large art auctions, to the entrepreneurial, and very successful,
efforts of art dealers serving as middlemen.
Arabella happily got
in on the act. Even before they were married in 1884, Collis was
financing homes and furnishings for her, as well as art. Her past is
hazy; her birthplace is not known, and she worked hard to keep her age
secret. What is apparent is that she met Collis, who was married at the
time, on either one of his trips to New York City or Richmond, Va., when
she was in her late teens. She reportedly was married to John Worsham, a
man who ran gambling houses. But the details are not completely clear.
What is known, however, is that by 1869, she was pregnant, and, as
Bennett notes, asking Collis for assistance. He complied with her
requests, Bennett says, “as he would often do in the future.” Archer was
born in 1870, shortly after which Arabella and baby, along with her
mother, moved to a more suitable house, all underwritten by Collis. Over
a period of just a few years, Arabella herself was buying and selling
property in the city. She was strategic and a quick study—mastering
massive amounts of information about real estate, art, the French
language, and high culture. “By the time she was 27, Arabella, a single
mother, owned property in her own name that today would be worth about
$6.5 million,” Bennett writes.
Collis’ first wife died in 1883; he and Arabella married a few months later.
acquisitions seemed to come naturally. On trips to Europe in the 1880s
and ’90s Collis and Arabella purchased Vermeer’s iconic Woman with a Lute
as well as portraits by Joshua Reynolds, Gobelins tapestries, and works
of decorative art. Back in the United States, they purchased mainly
from New York art dealers, spending today’s equivalent of $4.6 million
in 1899 alone.
Following Collis’ death in 1900, Arabella
continued to spend lavishly—on homes, furnishings, jewelry, and art. She
also gave generously to the Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute,
Harvard University, and the hospital that would become the Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
was referred to as Archer Milton Worsham in his youth, then as Archer
Milton Huntington following Arabella’s marriage to Collis in 1884. His
paternity remains a mystery. Newspaper reports from the period referred
to him as Collis’ adopted son. Indeed, they called each other as father
and son, and Bennett notes a strong physical resemblance between the two
men. But, she says, “the truth may never be known without DNA testing.”
doted on Archer with abandon and supported his philanthropic interests,
particularly the establishment of the Hispanic Society of America.
Archer’s interest in all things Spanish began with his first trip abroad
with his mother when he was 12 years old. He was also inspired by a
trip to Mexico five years later, traveling by rail with Arabella and
“Mexico was a revelation,” he wrote about the trip.
“This, of course, was my first encounter with something which was to
fill my whole life, and all at once I felt a curious, feverish
eagerness.” He had known at that time that his lifelong goal would be to
build a museum, and so he began collecting rare books and manuscripts
in Spanish as well as Spanish art. Collis was supportive. He noted in
his diary in 1892, “A further talk with my father raised the question of
extra expenditures and again he was generous. It was the matter of
books. ‘Buy what you want,’ he said. I pointed out that rare books were
expensive. He repeated, ‘Buy what you want.’ Could anything have been
more encouraging!” When it opened in 1908, the Hispanic Society library
in New York contained more than 100,000 books, 1,000 manuscripts, as
well as paintings by El Greco, Diego Velasquez, and Francisco de Goya.
was not his only philanthropic undertaking: Archer, with a deep
intellect and drive all his own, would work to develop John James
Audubon’s estate in New York City into a complex of nonprofit
organizations that included the Hispanic Society, the American
Numismatic Society, the American Geographical Society, and the Museum of
the American Indian. With his second wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt, he
established Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina and the Mariners’
Museum in Newport News, Va.
Henry E. Huntington
the dawn of the 20th century, Arabella, now a widow, was being wooed by
Collis’ nephew, Henry, who had inherited about a third of his uncle’s
estate—perhaps the equivalent of more than half a billion dollars.
Huntington, also deeply involved in the transcontinental railroad
enterprise and a tremendously ambitious businessman in his own right,
was quickly establishing himself as a major figure in Southern
California—purchasing real estate, utilities, and establishing light
rail lines connecting communities, creating a new metropolitan
experience. He was also building a spectacular home on his new property
on the San Marino ranch and was eager to involve Arabella in decisions.
1913, Henry and Arabella married in Paris (he had divorced his first
wife in 1906). Marrying her nephew was a wildly scandalous move—perhaps
even more than her first marriage to Collis (with whom she had been
associated well before his wife’s death). She would never find a secure
place in high society America so indulged herself in the European
equivalent. And she would join Henry in building a home in Southern
California where she found more acceptance, far away from the Stanfords
and Vanderbilts who had ostracized her.
And build he did. He had
been purchasing books for the library, thousands at a time. Aside from
such icons as the Gutenberg Bible and the Ellesmere Chaucer, his
purchases included important and expansive holdings on George
Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as rare
books and manuscripts from England that dated back to Queen Elizabeth I,
and before. The New York Times reported in May of 1917 that
Huntington had spent today’s equivalent of $101 million over six years.
Huntington, the reporter enthused, had the “distinction of possessing
today the finest private library ever gathered together.”
mansion, he bought spectacular furnishings, including a set of Beauvais
tapestries for the equivalent of $14 million today, more than he paid
to build the house itself. Together, he and Arabella, with the able
assistance of notoriously ambitious art dealer Joseph Duveen, assembled
among the most important collections of European art in the United
States west of the Mississippi, the most celebrated piece of which was
Gainsborough’s Blue Boy—purchased for today’s equivalent of
about $9 million. The painting’s shift from its native England to
western America created an international sensation, making countless
Over time, the art and furnishings had matured into a
collection of great range and depth—works by Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua
Reynolds, J. M. W. Turner, and Thomas Lawrence as well as by Rogier van
der Weyden, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Houdon, among others. There were
exquisite carpets and clocks, silver, and fine Chinese porcelain. And
all the while, large quantities of antiquarian books were coming in by
the rail car.
But spending and acquiring at this level was not
simply to satisfy a passion for collecting. Henry had, some years
earlier, declared that he would “give something to the public” before
his death. But it was Archer and Henry’s trusted friend, astronomer
George Ellery Hale, who ultimately encouraged him to create an
“intellectual center . . . of broad scope” controlled by a board of
trustees and situated in Southern California. The Los Angeles Times
announced the founding of the institution in September 1919: “The
largest individual contribution for the advancement of literature and
art ever made in the West was announced yesterday, when Henry E.
Huntington . . . recorded a trust indenture in which he gave to the
public his private library . . . and to convey home and pictures to the
public, for an art gallery, at the time of his death.”
Huntington attracts more than a half million people to its grounds and
galleries each year. Henry Huntington’s endowment to the institution
provides $1.7 million annually in fellowships to scholars for advanced
humanities research through a rigorous peer-reviewed process. And each
year, some 1,600 scholars come to The Huntington to conduct research
using its rare books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, paintings, prints,
sculptures, decorative arts, and related materials.
About the book
The Art of Wealth: The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age
350 pages, hardcover, 220 illus., b/w and color, 8 1/2 by 11 in.
Publication date: May 1, 2013; List price: $40.00
Huntington Library Press
1151 Oxford Rd. San Marino, CA 91108 USA
About the Author
M. Bennett holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los
Angeles. She began her career in academia, before assuming a curatorial
position at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical
Gardens, serving for 27 years as Curator of European Art and then Senior
Research Associate. Her publications include British Paintings at The
Huntington (Yale University Press, London 2001) and Eighteenth-Century
French Art at The Huntington (Yale University Press, London 2008). Her
current book, The Art of Wealth; The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age,
focuses on Collis, Arabella, Archer, and Henry E. Huntington, their
patterns of collecting, and the development of modern cultural
philanthropy in America.
Shelley M. Bennett. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
||The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
||The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
||The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
||The Frick Collection, New York, NY
||Hispanic Society of America, New York, N.Y.
||Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn.
||Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Calif.
||Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, Calif.
||Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London
||National Portrait Gallery, London
||The Wallace Collection, London
|Arabella D. Yarrington with her son, Archer, ca. 1871. Hispanic Society of America.
||Arabella and Collis Huntington's Homestead Residence, Throggs Neck, Westchester County, N.Y., n.d. Hispanic Society of America.
M. Huntington on his first trip to Spain in 1892, with his photographer
and a cart used to carry photographic equipment. Hispanic Society of
||Exterior, Arabella Huntington's West 54th Street residence, New York City, n.d. Hispanic Society of America.
|Rogier van der Weyden, Madonna and Child, ca. 1460. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
||Master Bedroom, Arabella Huntington's West 54th Street residence, New York City, 1882–84. Hispanic Society of America.
|Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, ca. 1770. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
CONTACTS: Susan Turner-Lowe, 626-405-2147, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thea Page, 626-405-2260, email@example.com
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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use.]
About the Huntington Library Press
Established in 1920, the Huntington Library Press
is one of Southern California's oldest book publishers. Its current
publishing agenda includes a quarterly journal for scholars and a
mixture of scholarly books, conference papers, exhibition catalogs,
facsimiles from its collections, and visitor publications. These are
distributed worldwide. The Huntington also issues books in cooperation
with other publishers in the United States, England, and Japan.
About The Huntington
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a
collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars
and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be
found online at huntington.org.
Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles
from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday,
Thursday, and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Sunday, and
Monday holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Summer hours (Memorial Day
through Labor Day) are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major
holidays. Admission on weekdays: $15 adults, $12 seniors (65+), $10
students (ages 12–18 or with full-time student I.D.), $6 youth (ages
5–11), free for children under 5. Group rate $11 per person for groups
of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission on weekends and
Monday holidays: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students, $6 youth, free
for children under 5. Group rate $14 per person for groups of 15 or
more. Members are admitted free. Admission is free to all visitors on
the first Thursday of each month with advance tickets. Rates subject to
change. Information: 626-405-2100 or huntington.org