Stanford White’s architectural legacy of beauty and sophistication is celebrated throughout New York City. Inspired by European architecture, White was a founder of the City Beautiful movement that spread across the country at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1878, as a young artist, White had traveled throughout Normandy and Belgium by train in order to visit art collections and historic sites. By the end of the year, White had “filled six large folio scrap books with drawings and watercolors” in order to document a “tangible reminder of the buildings” he encountered.[1] Sketch of Church of St. Nicholas, Caen, France is a beautiful watercolor from this period and accentuates the distinct simplicity and beauty of the Romanesque architecture in Caen. The church was built during the reign of William the Conqueror, and from his chosen vantage point, White captures the complexity of the building’s design. Architectural features within the drawing offer the only form of decoration. The dark shadows of the arches create a rhythm on the sheet as the reddish-brown roof punctuates the overlapping structures. Green trees in the foreground, and highlights of blue in the sky, denote beauty and a sense of inspiration. It is precisely this skill—as a draftsman who could seize the imagination of the viewer—that allowed White to win commissions by presenting similar watercolor sketches of proposed buildings to prospective clients.

Today White’s interest and appropriation of Normandy’s religious Romanesque architecture can be recognized both within the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department at Cooper Hewitt, as well as, on the façade of the Goelet Building at 900 Broadway Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Josephine Rodgers is a former Research Assistant for American Art in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

 

[1] Charles C. Baldwin, Stanford White, (New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1931), 85.

 

 

 

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