Inside the walls of America’s finest grand dame hotels, priceless art collections capture the personality and spirit of each timeless institution.
By Jennifer Pappas
We live in an era of immediacy and efficiency—where small gadgets and lightweight technology reign over anything large or unwieldy. We’re encouraged to value sleek and supposedly simple design. Yet, once in a while we’re reacquainted with the striking details and unique craftsmanship associated with artistic movements of yore through beautiful works that have survived the tests of time and changing tastes. Some of these artworks are housed in museums or private residences, while many find lodging in the nation’s most celebrated grand dame hotels.
\Imbued with indelible presence, grand dame hotels are timeless. For many visitors drawn by inspiring architecture, immaculate grounds and impeccable service, the artwork found within is pure icing on the cake. Carefully curated and maintained, five hotels in particular boast impressive art collections that range from 19th-century still life paintings to impressionist landscapes and modern Indian art.
One of coastal Georgia’s Golden Isles, Sea Island was founded in 1928 by visionary magnate Howard Coffin and his younger cousin, Alfred W. Jones Sr. In 2006, The Cloister at Sea Island underwent a massive revitalization thanks to a $350 million initiative. Longtime art aficionados, the Jones family took great pride in the resort’s collection and selected pieces that capture the spirit and history of The Cloister. Curated by Bill Jones III—former Sea Island chairman and CEO and grandson of A.W. Jones Sr.—and interior designer Pamela Hughes, the Sea Island collection includes “Still Life With Plate of Fruit” by Carl Albrecht; “Retreat Ruins” by Frederick Pawla (commissioned for the original Cloister building); “Road in Woods” by contemporary artist Jim Jones (also a grandson of A.W. Jones Sr.); and tapestries from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Weaving through the entire resort, the variety and sheer number of works at The Cloister is at times overwhelming. Visitors can view classic examples of “La Belle Epoque” (French for “the beautiful era”) style alongside pre-impressionist landscapes and American contemporary works that celebrate the lush, natural beauty of the Georgia coast. Primarily 19th- and 20th-century American and continental European artwork, it stays within the design aesthetic of the original Cloister building’s architect, Addison Mizner.
Sea Island archivist Mimi Rogers explains the inspiration behind the collection in more detail: “The paintings, tapestries and historical photographs—all of these create the right ambience for the interior of The Cloister,” she says. “Even though it’s a grand setting, the artwork gives it the warmth of a home. The idea was to make the hotel as beautiful and inviting as possible.”
Often touted as “The Grand Dame of the Rockies,” The Broadmoor, located in Colorado Springs, Colo., refuses to rest on the laurels of its spectacular surroundings. Given the hotel’s unique location associated with the migration to the Western frontier, however, it’s no wonder that its artwork tells a wild story firmly rooted in time and place.
Re-envisioned and reconstructed in 1918 by entrepreneur Spencer Penrose, the art collection at The Broadmoor is part history lesson, part pulp fiction. Surprisingly, most of the collection consists of works by self-taught artists—paintings that originally were conceived for documentation purposes, not as art. Think Native Americans on horseback, idealistic gold-seekers, wary fur-traders, fearless cowboys, and mountain men whose most defining characteristics were a bushy beard and a well-oiled gun. Each larger-than-life painting, such as Alfred Jacob Miller’s “The Lost Greenhorn” or William Ranney’s “Trapper’s Last Shot,” reveals a slice of historical narrative.
Playing off the dramatic light and grandeur of the Rockies, The Broadmoor’s collection also includes works by famed Hudson River School artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, whose influential landscapes were huge commercial successes and inspired many Eastern landscapists to make the dangerous trek West.
Often called “America’s Summer Place,” the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island transports visitors back to an era when horse-drawn carriages were a common mode of transportation rather than a novelty. Automobiles have been banned on the island since 1898, and the Grand Hotel continues to embrace that same historic sensibility.
Though modest in scope, the art collection at the Grand Hotel has a back story as quaint as its surroundings. For the past 20 years, Detroit-area residents Richard and Jane Manoogian have loaned the hotel a different part of their extensive private art collection. Operating under this year’s theme, American Impressionism, the Grand Hotel is exhibiting 37 pieces, including two works by portrait painter and watercolorist John Singer Sargent, one by impressionist painter Edward H. Potthast and one by impressionist painter Childe Hassam. Additional works of note include Franz Biberstein’s “World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago” (1893); Frank W. Benson’s “Three Children” (1907) and “Portrait of Elizabeth Tyson Russell” (1907); and Singer Sargent’s “Portrait of John A.P. Millet” (1892), the son of Francis Davis Millet, who went down with the Titanic in 1912.
Despite all works being impressionist and from the turn of the century—keeping with the time period of the hotel’s founding—the collection varies from year to year depending on the theme. One thing remains constant, however—none of it would be possible without the Manoogians’ collection.
Bob Tagatz, historian at the Grand Hotel for 18 years, describes just how special the arrangement is. “The building itself is 126 years old,” he says. “We have 672 employees—an employee for every two guests, and seriously the single greatest gift to the hotel is this art collection. We always say good neighbors lend you sugar. … Well, great neighbors lend you part of a priceless art collection.
“We have people literally fly in from California to see individual pieces because they are in private collections and they’re not out for the public; they’re not reproduced for millions to own. Like a birdwatcher who collects birds, people come out just to see one of these paintings in the flesh.”
The Jefferson Hotel
As its name implies, The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va., honors one of our most popular Founding Fathers. The hotel was opened in 1895 by self-made millionaire Maj. Lewis Ginter, a beloved citizen of Richmond who dreamed of building the finest hotel in the South.
Displayed on the Mezzanine level of the hotel, overlooking the Grand Staircase and the Rotunda lobby, the presidential art collection consists of 18 works—all reproductions of originals that at one time were housed at the Virginia Historical Society. Six works are ornately framed portraits of Thomas Jefferson, each created by a different artist. As a striking centerpiece for the upper Palm Court lobby, Ginter commissioned sculptor Edward V. Valentine to create a life-sized image of Jefferson from Carrara marble. The statue cost $12,000 and took two years to complete. Valentine was able to borrow clothing actually worn by Jefferson, which he copied for the statue.
In addition to the presidential collection, “The Soap Bubbles” by American painter Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau still hangs in its original location in The Library of Lemaire restaurant. The painting was exhibited at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 before being purchased for the hotel by Ginter.
Exuding European grace and exclusivity, The Pierre has endured a rather tumultuous history since it first opened its opulent doors in 1930 in New York City. Foreclosure, untimely deaths, oil tycoons, co-ops—The Pierre has seen it all. Following its most recent acquisition and restoration by Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces between 2007 and 2010, the iconic neo-Georgian hotel has come into its own again.
Curated by fine art consultant Mortimer Chatterjee, The Pierre’s art collection centers around works by established and up-and-coming Indian artists. A total of nine masterpieces from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, including M.F. Husain’s “Untold Story” (1967) and Jehangir Sabavala’s “Outward to the Unknown” (1973), are on display in the hotel lobby. Reproductions of rare artifacts from The Pierre’s archives line the hallways of the hotel, while abstract works by emerging unconventional printmaker Rajesh Pullarwar adorn the guest rooms and suites.
This assemblage of contemporary masterpieces is rounded out by a treasure trove of 19th-century wood-cut prints, which depict fly-on-the-wall glimpses of historic New York’s social, financial and culinary worlds. For those guests who aren’t content with looking only, private art tours are available by appointment. In many ways, these art collections offer a definitive look at the history and charisma that have allowed grand dames in America not just to endure, but thrive. Century after century, the invaluable paintings, tapestries and murals speak to the thousands of people that pass through and, in so doing, become even more timeless and valuable.
The Art of The Cloister Walking Tour
Start the tour in the Colonial Lounge. Take in some history and view the portrait of Howard Coffin—the man who, together with A.W. Jones Sr., started it all. While in the lounge, glance at Jim Jones’ “Road in the Woods” and Fabbio Fabbi’s “Quiet Beauty.”
Next, head to the River Bar, where bucolic images by contemporary favorites Janet Powers and West Fraser line the walls.
From there, a corridor leads to the Solarium murals by Prudence Carter. After time in the Solarium, peruse a collection of paintings by Frank P. Corso and Knute Heldner in the hallway that leads to the Spanish Lounge, where portraits of Howard and Matilda Coffin hang. Painted by Christophe Goodstein for the reopening of The Cloister, these are replicas of the portraits painted by Frank O. Salisbury that hang in Howard Coffin’s former residence on Sapelo Island.
Next, explore the perimeter of the Georgian Room lounge. Look for works by contemporary artist Scott Christensen before heading through a corridor into the Georgian Room, where still lifes and Adrien Jacques Sauzay’s “A Day’s Washing” steal the show. Those lucky enough to experience the wine cellar may gaze upon Albert Meyering’s “Classical Landscape With Figures” and Carl Albrecht’s “Still Life With Plate of Fruit” before concluding the tour in the Oglethorpe Room. Ten vibrant works by Janet Powers and a handful of French, Flemish and Belgian tapestries should sate art appetites—for now.
For even more about the collection, pick up a copy of “The Art of The Cloister” from the concierge.