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Gothic Revival in the Hudson Valley, 1830 – 1870 in Americana at Stair

The architecture, furniture, and decorative arts of the American Gothic Revival period, which spanned roughly four decades from 1830-1870, is easily recognizable today by its applied Gothic motifs. Homes and country estates for noblemen were built to resemble grand castles. The American adaptation of the Gothic was influenced by the romanticized Gothic tradition in England. Hudson River School painters also influenced the rise of the movement in America the 1830s, particularly the artist Thomas Cole, who promoted the appreciation of America’s natural landscapes. Gothic Revival Style reflected this American appreciation of nature, as well as freedom in design for the newly wealthy as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and nostalgia for Medieval times as depicted in Romantic art, architecture and literature of the period. In Gothic interiors, the style was prominent in libraries and studies, places where learned men were influenced by the Romantic writings of authors such as Sir Walter Scott. Libraries were adorned with hall chairs, straight-backed sofas and armchairs with pointed arches and backs carved to resemble rose windows. Clustered column legs were a regular feature on chairs and table bases. Center tables were decorated with arched skirts and applied trefoils and quatrefoils on tripod bases. While examples of Gothic furniture of the period were few or non-existent, new furniture forms emerged to reflect modern comforts, such as highly carved and decorated hall umbrella stands. The movement flourished in New York thanks to two principal architects, Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis, its romantic appeal, inspiration from writers and painters such as Thomas Cole, and several commissioned homes and estates in the Hudson Valley.

Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) and Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) were the two Hudson Valley architects influential in the popularity of the movement. They worked together closely in the 1840s and early 1850s and designed homes for gentlemen of influential families, or those who were newly rich thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Both men promoted the Gothic style as ideal for “men of taste.” Downing published several reference guides in the 19th century which are thought to have been used as a guide for furniture makers such as Thomas Brooks in Brooklyn and John and Joseph W. Meeks in New York City. Davis and Downing’s designs reflected the Romanticism of the period. They sketched and built asymmetrical buildings with arched columns, clustered-column chimneys and often had fantastical layouts which recalled the castles idealized in Romantic poems such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Perhaps one of A.J. Davis’s most well-known commissions today is the site of Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York. It was commissioned by gentleman and politician William S. Paulding in 1838 and was subsequently expanded and changed over the next three decades. Much of the furniture that exists at Lyndhurst today was designed by A.J. Davis himself. This country estate was sensible, practical, designed for comfort, and a prime example of how Davis and Downing thought gentlemen should live.

Romanticism in art, architecture and literature further fueled the Gothic Revival. The renewed interest in the Medieval Ages arose from antiquarian research and the work of literary men who idealized this period in history. The wealthy believed they should live as the noble families did in the past. Poets and painters who returned from their tours of Europe in the early 19th century depicted charming cottages, villas with turrets and battlements, and castle ruins nestled in fantastical landscapes. Thomas Cole (1801-1848), founder of the Hudson River School, was one such artist. He felt the castles and rustic landscapes complemented the American perspective of nature.

The Gothic Revival in America was relatively short-lived and waned in popularity during the time of the Civil War. However, the iconic homes and their interiors, furnished with Gothic-inspired furniture, paintings, and decorative arts, stand as a tribute to this influential period in American architectural history.

Time & Location

Gothic Revival Furniture in the Hudson Valley, 1830-1870 in Americana at Stair on September 8 at 11am

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