When I visited Newport a few weeks ago, our main goals were to (1) go sailing and (2) walk the Cliff Walk. What we didn’t know was how many great things we’d find in between! We ended up making an impromptu stop at the Breakers because we wanted to see the view from their back lawn and, well, I am an architectural historian. It did not disappoint. Let me tell you: there is a reason they call it the Gilded Age.
The Gilded Age, for a select few, was a time of astronomical wealth (naturally, at the expense of others). One of those families was the Vanderbilts. Cornelius Vanderbilt made the family fortune through steamships and the railroad during the late 19th century (note the industrial theme in the photo above–a train can be seen above the left cherub’s arm). The Breakers, on the coastal cliffs of Newport, Rhode Island, was the Vanderbilts’ summer home. It is telling of one’s wealth when even the ceilings are ornately decorated and the ceilings at the Breakers were varied and eye-catching. The dining room ceiling (with the chandeliers, below) would require almost continuous dusting. The ceiling above the grand staircase features Tiffany glass. Other ceilings show carefully painted details and scenes.
One can say many things about the Gilded Age, but one thing is clear: if you paid a visit to the Vanderbilts, there is no surface you can rest your eyes on without seeing their wealth.
Do you have a favorite ceiling? Let me know in the comments, below!
Sources and Further Reading:
Read more about the Breakers on the Preservation Society of Newport County website.
For a different view on the Gilded Age, check out the Atlantic’s article, the Dark Side of the Gilded Age.