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Money, Beauty, Power: The Transformation of Taste in America’s Gilded Age

30th Anniversary Lecture/Luncheon at The Water Club - Cos Cob

Invitations will be mailed separately.

Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator, Curator of Decorative Arts
Newark Museum

The idea of the way in which wealthy Americans should live was forever changed by the explosion of wealth in the aftermath of the Civil War. At first, newly-minted American millionaires sought out things that were luxurious, costly and modern. They also insisted on the American-ness of the houses they built and the interiors with which they filled them. By the late 1880s, however, those at the top of the American social pyramid began to see that old foreign things with aristocratic histories were even more desirable than anything modern, no matter how opulent, because they were rarer and had an aura of power about them.  Thus, by 1900, even as the Arts & Crafts movement is getting underway in America, America’s financial elite turned their back on modern and embraced everything old and European.  Not only did this dramatically change the way their houses looked, but it changed the way American museums evolved. Even after World War I ended the party, the idea of what “good taste” was in America had changed for the next century..



Moorish Smoking Room

1881 Arabella Huntington Smoking Room, NYC

1915 Frick House, Fifth Avenue