The Gilded Life of Richard Morris Hunt

USD $54.95



ISBN: 978-1-913875-81-7

312 pages

254 × 190 mm (7 ½ × 10 in)

200 colour illustrations

In association with the Library of Congress, Washington DC

October 2024


The illustrated story of the life and times of architect Richard Morris Hunt, his 40-year career and his impact on American culture after the Civil War.

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Celebrated internationally in the 19th century as America’s premier architect, Richard Morris Hunt (1827–1895) is best known for his opulent Gilded Age Vanderbilt mansions, including Biltmore, the Breakers, Marble House and other landmark works. Yet Hunt’s impact on American culture after the Civil War ranges far beyond his lavish palaces. In The Gilded Life of Richard Morris Hunt, historian Sam Watters reveals Hunt’s remarkable influence in creating institutions and conventions that transformed Old World traditions into his generation’s idea of an American civilization through architecture, interior design, sculpture, painting and the ardent advocacy of artisan trades.

Watters repositions Hunt and his 40-year career in light of new discoveries and connections made through his meticulous study of the Richard Morris Hunt Collection at the Library of Congress. Featuring 200 illustrations, including Hunt’s drawings, images he collected, portraits of his privileged New York and Newport inner circle and new photographs and plans, this dynamic biography follows the contours of American thought that shaped Hunt’s life and work among the ruling one percent.


“Sam Watters has composed a thoughtful, complex and startlingly haunting memorial, in images and words, to the life and work of Richard Morris Hunt—the patrician architect who more than any other single builder and taste-maker set the look and feel and architectural tone of the Gilded Age. Alert to what is most aspirational and most troubling about Hunt’s astonishing career, Watters has created a crucial and in many ways definitive account of the master builder of America in its ascendant age.”—Ric Burns, filmmaker


“In the wall of Central Park, on Fifth Avenue, at 70th Street, is a colonnaded exedra and seat. This ornate edifice is the Richard Morris Hunt Monument. Undoubtedly, no other architect in America is commemorated with such magnificence. With The Gilded Life of Richard Morris;Hunt: Architecture and Art for an American Civilization Sam Watters explains all the things that make this shrine so well deserved.

With a profusion of illustrations, with care and insight, Watters relates the full impact of Hunt’s innovative design. He was born in a land with relatively modest buildings of wood, brick, cast iron and brownstone. Inspired by study in Europe, adding marble, granite, limestone and steel, Hunt produced buildings with as much charm or grandeur as anything he encountered abroad.

Aesthetically and culturally, Hunt didn’t just make New York more imposing. Succeeding in a mission to elevate and ennoble American architecture, he transformed the look of the entire nation.

With the same erudition, Sam Watters succeeds in showing us how. “—Michael Henry Adams, writer, lecturer, historian, activist, and author of Harlem: Lost and Found

Author biographies

Sam Watters lectures and writes about forces that shaped American art, architecture and landscape before World War II
Michael Froio is a photographer and educator in the Philadelphia metropolitan area

Table of Contents

    • Foreword by Carla D. Hayden, Librarian of Congress
    • The Players
    • Introduction
    • 1. No Small Potatoes
    • 2. Soldier with a Crayon
    • Sketchbook Portfolio
    • 3. A Robust and Vivacious Temperament
    • 4. Desirable Elements for Wealth
    • Scrapbook Portfolio
    • 5. Les Palais Hunt
    • 6. Afterword
    • Acknowledgments
    • Sources and Abbreviations
    • Notes
    • Illustration Credits
    • Index