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Huntingdon leadLibrary Designed by Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959)

While in Los Angeles, California, this writer had the privilege to visit in the Huntington Library and Art Collection, San Marino, California. On a previous visit to the Huntington Hotel in 2002 courtesy PBS, it was not possible to fit it in, so this trip was long overdue mission to see this museum. It was worth the wait and all of the anticipation associated with it.

The approach is easy enough, just get off the freeway and head to 1151 Oxford Road via GPS, along the way one goes through Pasadena and San Marino suburbs, as one gets closer, despite the construction, it feels like going back into time, to an earlier southern Californian when this area was a series of farms and not housing tracts.

The Library was created by Central Pacific railroad heir Henry Huntington (1850-1927), whose uncle was Collis Huntington (1821-1900), one of the “Big Four” who created the Central Pacific railroad, the western end of the transcontinental railroad effort of the post Civil War time period in American history. Despite being one of the Big Four, Collis was ruthless on his own and created the southern Pacific Railroad. After Collis' death in 1900, his widow Arabella Huntington (1851-1924) was enough of an outcast that she married Collis’ nephew and relocated from San Francisco to southern California.

Once freed from social distractions the Huntingtons devoted their energies to making southern California something important. Arabella collected fine art and pushed Henry towards rare books. Henry also worked in real estate, after having been the backbone of railroad development in the western United States, his local endeavor was to build a small city named Los Angeles into a larger entity than San Francisco.

I am a foresighted man, Henry Huntington said at the turn of the century, and I believe Los Angeles is destined to become the most important city in this country, if not in the world.

His real estate efforts bore fruit and as such could afford almost any artwork available in the world at the time. It was after the First World War that the Huntingtons worked with Joseph Duveen at buying high end European art. This fortuitous moment (think Downton Abbey in time) has been described as when Europeans were ready to sell anything, and this was when the best known Gainsborough painting in the world, The Blue Boy sold for almost a million dollars. Despite the outcry in London, the painting has belonged to California ever since housed in a world class setting.

Huntingdon 2Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), The Blue Boy, Painted Circa 1770

It is in the former home of Henry Huntington, now known as the Huntington Art Gallery, designed by Myron Hunt, that the painting by Thomas Gainsborough, “Blue Boy” hangs along with a select group of similar works by other 18th century British artists. This collection has been described as the finest British collection of 18th century portraiture assembled by one man. Most portraits are looked down on by art dealers, not these works. The Portrait Gallery is a single large room on the west side of the original home. Dimly lit except for a few spot lights on the faces of each subject, its appearance is almost theatrical.

 Huntingdon 3Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Pinkie, Painted circa 1790

 Huntingdon 4Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Edward Viscount Ligonier

Huntingdon 5Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Lady Ligonier

Huntingdon 6Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Juliana, Barness Petre, 1788

They also have the best Gainsborough landscape, “The Cottage Door,” which far and away exceeds in light, color and draughtsmanship the recent batch of copies attributed to the artist that surfaced on the London market six thousand miles from the only proper comparison.

Huntingdon 7Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), The (Real) Cottage Door

The landscape theme continues west in another building on the Huntington campus, this one is called the Virginia Steel Scott Galleries of American Art and that is where they have their first rate collection of American paintings. Unlike the Getty which suffers from amnesia as to how European art got to the Pacific rim, the Huntington did not forgotten their American roots. The NY Times wrote that the Huntington’s specialty is Anglo American.[1] The modern structure housing the American collection opened in 1984 and underwent renovations as recent as 2008-2009.

Huntingdon 8Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827), George Washington

Huntingdon 9Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Chimborazo


Huntingdon 11Fitz Henry Lane (1806-1865), Sailboats off the Coast of New England

Huntingdon 12Francis Augustus Silva, (1836-1886), Sunrise, Governors Island, NY Harbor

Huntingdon 13William Merritt Chase (1849-1917), In the Tenth Street studio 

Huntingdon 14George Luks (1867-1933), The Boxing Match, 1910

Huntingdon 15George Bellows (1882-1925), Fantasy Scene, Hudson River, 1924

Huntingdon 16Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Yankee Driver, 1923, Painted in Marthas Vineyard

Huntingdon 17Edward Hopper (1882-1966), The Long Leg


Huntingdon 18Georgia O'Keeffe (1886-1986), Ghost Ranch Cliffs

Huntingdon 19Arthur Dove (1880-1946), Lattice and Awning


Huntingdon 20Sam Francis (1923-1994), Free Floating Clouds, 1980

Huntingdon 21Harry Bertioa (1915-1978), Untitled

Huntingdon 22Hunt Diederich (1884-1953), antelope and Hound

Also on the 500 acre campus is a world class arboretum as well as botanical gardens, as this place truly has something for everyone in a family on vacation.

Huntingdon 23Arboretum

First published 24/19/2014


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