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Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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RI Archives: Style

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The Wandering Eye: Local Boy Makes Good

Our blogger, interior designer Carey Maloney, and his partner Hermes Mallea, an architect, are principals in the M (Group).


In the upper Dutchess/lower Columbia world, “Rokeby” looms large as the river house, more because of its former glory and current lore than the building itself. For the 20 years we’ve been around, when you see a house hanging on by a thread — pantry walls stained and still wet with rainwater, a dining room floor sporting a hole under the threadbare carpet — there inevitably comes a muttered, “Very Rokeby.”

But hang on it does, and former glory it certainly had. The grand house began its life in 1811, and grew over the 19th century, culminating with a major Stanford White renovation in 1895. The beautiful 450 acres were landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers. The Astors, Chanlers, Aldriches and their offspring have kept the house and the property alive. Check out this 2010 New York Times article on the house and family, written when Alexandra Aldrich wrote her book, The Astor Orphan.

Robert Winthrop Chanler, looking arty.

The subject of this little blog is Robert Winthrop Chanler, one of the ten children who were known, after their parents’ deaths in the 1870s, as the Astor Orphans. Born in 1872, died in 1930 (the New York Times obituary headline mentioned that he “entertained on a large scale” — a claim to fame!), Robert Chanler was a brilliant artist. He worked in a variety of media — paint, lacquer, plaster — and a variety of formats — folding screens, murals, canvas. In New York and Europe, he ran with a swell crowd of influential aristos and bohemians. The iconic Greenwich Village house of his friend, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, features a spectacular Chanler fireplace. 

In a new book edited by Gina Wouters and Andrea Gollin, Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic (The Monacelli Press, 2016), Chanler’s life and work are detailed in a series of excellent essays by art historians, museum curators (the book is co-published with the Vizcaya Museum ) and family members. For more information on the Deering Florida houses, check out Hermes’s book, Escape: The Heyday of Caribbean Glamour.

Chanler’s work, although incredibly “decorative,” is also intelligent, fanciful and dense. Dense as in not facile. To quote the book, “The archaeologist Dr. Lao Chin described him as an East-West hybrid, ‘an Occidental body with an Oriental mind, an American brain with Mongolian imagination.’” Sounds pretty dense to me… flamingos, porcupines, hares, peacocks and zebras, all featured in various screens and paintings. I love a decorative menagerie.

The Armory Show of 1913 was a major career launch. The book explains it was his coterie of lady supporters, all members of the Colony Club, that paved the way to the Armory. The book is full of beautiful photographs of the artist’s work and entertaining snapshots of his life. There are lots of Hudson Valley photos to entertain us locals. 

The amazing flame motif fireplace for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s studio, and animals cavorting.

All in all, Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic is a great addition to your Hudson Valley bookshelves, your decorative arts shelves, or your cocktail table.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/25/16 at 01:54 PM • Permalink