Chanler Fireplace: Overview
The New York Studio School occupies a group of four mid-nineteenth-century townhouses at 8, 10, 12, and 14 West 8th Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, each with a carriage house behind it opening onto MacDougal Alley. The properties were acquired and combined from 1907 to 1929 by sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the eldest surviving daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1872–1942), as her salon and an artist studio space for herself and numerous fellow artists. Whitney’s first purchase was the carriage house behind #8 in 1907, a three-story building with a stable below and hayloft above, where she established her personal studio. She bought the townhouse in front of it in 1913, followed by #10 in 1923 and #14 in 1925. In 1929, in order to consolidate the complex into a whole and create the Whitney Museum of American Art, she purchased #12 from sculptor Daniel Chester French. French had first introduced her to 8th Street and maintained his own studio next to hers from 1913 on. The Whitney Museum opened in 1931 and operated at the site until 1954. When Whitney bought the townhouse at #8, she retained architect Grosvenor Atterbury to redesign it and connect it to her carriage-house studio. Atterbury built an enclosed stairway from the third floor of the townhouse to the second floor of the studio in the courtyard between the two buildings, added a copper-clad enclosed balcony to the courtyard wall of the studio, and a large northfacing skylight. In 1917 Whitney commissioned her close friend, artist Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872–1930), to decorate the interior.
Chanler designed an intricately detailed room, with a fantastic, polychrome ornamental plaster ceiling and 20-foot-tall bronze and plaster chimney. Painted standing screens and stained glass windows (now removed but accessible in private collections) completed the ensemble. It was completed in 1923. Whitney used the studio, along with another studio at her country estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, until her death in 1942. The Greenwich Village studio was her most private space. When the Whitney Museum of American Art moved to new quarters in 1954, the complex of conjoined townhouses was sold to the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), which occupied it until 1967. At some point during the NRPA’s tenure, the original finishes of the studio’s ceiling and fireplace were completely obscured by several layers of white paint. During that period, Whitney’s studio was rented to Herbert Matter, a photographer. Seeking to establish an art-education alternative to Pratt Institute, Matter’s wife Mercedes and a group of artists purchased the complex in 1967 to establish the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. Due to its significance as the original home of the Whitney Museum, its association with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and the extraordinary work of Robert Chanler, the New York Studio School was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The accompanying report identifies the school’s most significant original features as the façade, entry foyer, and the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Studio. A Historic Structure Report on the studio was completed by preservationist Wesley Haynes for Li/Saltzman Architects in 1993. A master plan for the entire school was undertaken by architects Diane Lewis and James Rossant in 2003. Located in the heart of the National Register and New York City-designated Greenwich Village Historic District, the New York Studio School is part of the rich bohe