The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance


Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003


American Renaissance > Italian Influences > Landscape Architecture and Interior Design >
White City > Significance


Historians have called the mix of architectural styles used during the 1870s and 1880s "synthetic eclecticism." (18) Architects and artists in the early nineteenth century drew from a variety of sources, but not always harmoniously.

In contrast, American Renaissance artists and architects produced works according to the principles of "scientific eclecticism." They drew from the best scientific models.

The result was an art and an architecture that demonstrated American originality while drawing from the best European sources. At the same time, the art and architecture reflected the Victorian desire for harmony, order, and restraint.

Reasons for the Renaissance

Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson cites three factors that fueled the American Renaissance:
  • A growing interest in idealistic subjects in American art

  • An interest in foreign cultures

  • An increased American nationalism
Historian David Handlin offers further reasoning into the adoption of classical models.
  • The American Renaissance was a response to the "overactivity" of buildings by architects such as Frank Furness and H. H. Richardson

  • Architectural practices had grown in size by the 1890s, and classical handbooks enabled many architectural firms to undertake and complete more projects (19)
In Sticks and Stones, historian Lewis Mumford argues that the classical tradition expressed the following:
  • The closing of the frontier

  • The rise of a robber baron class with ambitions to become a new aristocracy (20)
The American Renaissance, in short, offered an idealized, genteel world in the midst of economic, social, and cultural change.

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