November 23, 2017Although people around the world view Halloween as a thoroughly American holiday, it has a far more complicated story than that. In fact, Halloween is a mash-up of ancient Celtic paganism, early Roman Catholicism, nineteenth-century American immigration, modern suburbanism and commercialism, and much, much more.
July 05, 2017There is perhaps no other artist as closely associated with Paris’s ‘Beautiful Age,’ the Belle Époque, than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His art of the late 19th century captured the colorful whirlwind of a raucous, modernizing city, from raunchy cabaret promotions to provocative brothel scenes. He was drawn to the avant-garde performers and prostitutes at very edge of society; an outsider himself, his own experiences informed his subjects.
April 20, 2017This poster for Joseph Bardou Company, or JOB, a Parisian manufacturer of cigarette papers, unabashedly celebrates the sensuous delights of smoking. The young woman’s eyes are closed with pleasure as the lighted cigarette sends a smoky arabesque curving around the image. Her hair cascades around her shoulders and arms, dominating the picture frame. Her white dress, low-cut and gently loose around her body, communicates a freedom only a few women would have enjoyed in the 1890s.
March 14, 2017The history of the poster starts with black-and-white broadsides in the 1600s, which evolved in the wake of the printing press.
February 01, 2017Young and stunning, with sculpted eyebrows and a head of rich brunette curls, French actress Sarah Bernhardt first captured the ardor of Paris’s theatre-going elite in the 1870s. The rest of the world’s attention inevitably followed. Admiring critics, resorting to poetic metaphor, likened her voice to pure gold, a nightingale, silver dawn, the stars and moon, and murmuring water.
December 29, 2016During the Gilded Age, the American traditions of New Year’s Eve started to transition from the folk celebrations of immigrants to the elaborate soirees we are more familiar with today, especially for those of a certain class.
November 15, 2016“The object, purpose, and aim in view of the Society and its branches, as set forth in the constitution and in the brief but pointed talk which followed the making of the report, were to put down the vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc., by prosecuting those responsible for it either under the Revised Statutes or the State laws. The extent of the evil, which has shown its ugly head with peculiarly refreshing boldness of late, was dwelt upon to some extent, and the movement met with the unqualified moral and financial support of all present. The constitution was unanimously adapted…”
November 01, 2016In 1893, Chicago put on a fair that would awe the world. The World’s Columbian Exposition, so called in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, displayed the most fascinating innovations and arts of the period in one grand place. The fair organizers envisioned a 630-acre park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of New York Central Park fame, filled with bone-white neoclassical buildings by such eminent architects as Henry Ives Cobb, Richard Morris Hunt, Charles McKim, and Louis Sullivan.
October 16, 2016Standing on the shoulders of the Industrial Revolution, the Gilded Age spawned an astounding number of inventions that profoundly changed life inside the American household. Those last few decades of the 19th century will always be known as a great era of invention.
September 24, 2016Via The New York Times: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on Sept. 24 in Washington after a long journey.
September 01, 2016This post is part of a series exploring the stories behind the Driehaus Museum’s latest exhibition, With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age.
May 16, 2016Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, had a brief reign from 1901 to 1910, but it was a decade marked by peace and prosperity at the height of the British Empire. The Edwardian period was indeed a “Gilded Age,” both in England and America.
March 30, 2016In the early decades of the 20th century, the fictional Crawley family of Downton Abbey® hosted grand dinners and fretted about the Great War. At the same time, the real Fisher family was doing the same—right here in this Gilded Age mansion the Driehaus Museum calls ‘home.’
March 14, 2016When you see the fashions on display in Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, you step into a broader cultural tale about the vast changes sweeping the world in the first decades of the 20th century.
February 12, 2016Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.
October 16, 2015You Asked… What’s the Story with the “Crapper” Toilets in the Driehaus Museum Bathrooms? Today’s blog post is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.
August 25, 2015Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.
July 30, 2015Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.
May 24, 2015Every piece of art jewelry on view in the Driehaus Museum’s latest exhibition, Maker & Muse: Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry, is a stunner in its own right. But this is not art in a vacuum; not jewelry for jewelry’s sake.
May 18, 2015John Gardner Low was a ceramics artist of about 41 when he approached the crowded exhibitions in Philadelphia at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. He was a Massachusetts man and had traveled far, like the millions of others, to see the first U.S. world’s fair.
May 06, 2015The elegant circlet is repossé silver, crafted from melted silver spoons donated by the women of Lombard, Illinois, in 1930. It was created as a symbol of Lilac Time, the annual springtime celebration in this west-suburban village. The crown adorned the first Lilac Festival Queen—whose name and the names of several other early Queens are etched in the crown’s interior—and continues to be an integral part of the festivities today.
April 15, 2015As we reflect today on the 103-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook an entire culture’s belief in its own bright, progressive destiny, some American teens have supposedly been surprised to discover that the RMS Titanic’s sinking was, in fact, real. (“I never knew titanic actually happened,” one tweeted. “Always thought it was just a film,” wrote another.)
December 24, 2014On February 14, 2015, The Driehaus Museum will open an exhibit entitled Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. This exhibition will focus on women as the creators of and inspiration for Arts and Crafts-style and Art Nouveau-style jewelry.
November 21, 2014Last December, Time magazine published an article on the psychology of gift-giving, addressing the questions that plague us each year as we search for the perfect gift for the perfect—or not-so-perfect—person in our lives.
August 21, 2014He originally titled it, Portrait of Madame ***, in an attempt to conceal his voluptuous sitter’s identity. As far as Paris society was concerned, the woman’s identity was far from the only asset the painting failed to cover.
June 21, 2014Visitors to the Driehaus Museum often cite the gallery as a favorite room with its marvelous stained glass dome and massive wood-burning fireplace. Lined with lacquered cherry bookcases and featuring an iridescent mosaic tile Art Nouveau surround, it is the one room in the mansion that was completely redecorated in 1901 thanks to the second owner, Lucius George Fisher Jr.
December 24, 2013As the Nickerson and Fisher families looked forward to their holiday seasons, they and other Gilded Age families would have enjoyed games, toys and books in their spare time.
October 04, 2013The Driehaus Museum has three sister institutions in Europe, each simply resplendent and embodying the highest ideals of preservation and classical architecture, just as we strive to do here in Chicago.
September 10, 2013“For the last five years Mr. Nickerson has been considered one of the choice fish in the social swim,” wrote a New York Telegraph correspondent, “and all sorts of bait have been thrown at him.”
June 08, 2013The Driehaus Museum officially turns five years old today.
May 20, 2013Henry Flagler and Henry Plant had much in common. Both came from humble American beginnings; were undereducated relative to their future self-made success; adopted New York City as home;
May 07, 2013The gleaming White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition made Daniel H. Burnham, architect, into a city planner.
April 20, 2013You Asked… What is the story behind the peach-colored mansion catercorner to the Driehaus Museum?
March 01, 2013In the late 1970s, celebrating women started with International Women’s Day on March 8.
January 28, 2013Patenting his electric lightbulb would, more than Edison’s 1,093 other inventions, cement his spot as American inventor extraordinaire.
December 17, 2012The following blog post by WBEZ architecture critic Lee Bey, originally titled “New ‘Lost Chicago’ Book Explores the City That Once Was,” was published November 29, 2012, on his blog,.
December 04, 2012I have always been struck, while reading Anna Karenina (or, more recently, while watching Leo Tolstoy’s 1873-1878 tale played out by Jude Law and Keira Knightley in sumptuous costumes in this year’s film version) by the similarities it shows between upper-class late 19th-century Russia and late 19th-century America.
November 14, 2012Typically (and stereotypically), the Gilded Age is known for: 1) Money and industry, and 2) People who made a lot of money in industry.
October 22, 2012Next week 119 years ago, with a crisp chill entering the air, the closing ceremonies concluded, the crowds began piling into Pullman cars to head back to their own parts of America, and the World Columbian Exposition’s dismantling began.
October 10, 2012On the morning of October 10, 1871, the flames had finally stopped. What was left was, well, hardly anything. About a four-mile swath had been cleared in two days, everything was in ruins, and the conflagration would go down in history books as an infamous disaster for this new, bustling city: the Great Chicago Fire.
October 04, 2012You Asked… Didn’t the Nickerson Mansion used to be black? And how did conservationists manage to clean the exterior?
September 24, 2012This year marks the 150th birthday of Edith Wharton, and Dr. Caroline Hellman—associate professor of English in New York—graciously accepted our invitation to speak about the writer and interior designer for our Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series.
September 18, 2012The Driehaus Museum has three sister institutions in Europe, each simply resplendent and embodying the highest ideals of preservation and classical architecture, just as we strive to do here in Chicago.
August 28, 2012Ah, Lincoln Park. Here, leafy trees offer dappled shade to quaint, historic residential buildings aligned in cozy, shoulder-to-shoulder rows.
August 07, 2012The land allotted for Graceland Cemetery in 1860 was well above Chicago’s northernmost dotted line, by about two miles: a suburban ‘new city of the dead,’ as they called it. (The recently-exhumed Lincoln Park being the ‘old’ city of the dead in that scenario.)
July 16, 2012There is this great line in the book Great Houses of Chicago, 1871-1921, which I lugged from the shelf in search of insights on the popularity of conservatories during the Gilded Age. It begins, “The Victorians were notorious for collecting…”—and that’s a perfect enough start.
June 29, 2012The Fourth didn’t become a federal holiday until 1941, but America has been celebrating it since the signatures went down on the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Looking back at a Gilded Age’s worth of Fourth of July celebrations in Chicago, here are some of best (and some of the worst) moments between the Civil and First World Wars.
June 25, 2012On permanent display in the Driehaus Museum are a number of decorative objects—an artistic silver punch bowl by Tiffany & Company; a painting of the Administration Building; and even a trio of Japanese bronzes, souvenirs purchased by the Nickerson family that originally occupied this mansion—that come exclusively from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
June 14, 2012The Museum’s visitors are always interested in how America’s wealthy lived back in the Gilded Age—with their parties, art collections, luxuries, Europe tours, and so on—but lately we’ve noticed this curiosity giving way to a positive deluge of questions about the other half: the Nickersons’ live-in servants.
June 02, 2012Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.
April 14, 2012As we near the 100-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook an entire culture’s belief in its own bright, progressive destiny, some American teens have supposedly been surprised to discover that the RMS Titanic’s sinking was, in fact, real.
February 24, 2012In some ways, Samuel M. Nickerson was a Chicago man. This is where he made his wealth, coming to the city in 1858 newly married and penniless after a dry goods business failed in the South.
January 11, 2012The Grammar of Ornament is a book of patterns by Owen Jones; it was published in 1856 in London. In its pages nearly 100 illustrations represent decorative motifs used by cultures around the world.
December 24, 2011(This blog is the final in a short series of snapshots that illustrate how Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came upon or celebrated certain holiday traditions.)
December 19, 2011[This blog is the second in a short series of snapshots that illustrate how Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came upon or celebrated certain holiday traditions.]
December 15, 2011As you settle into winter holiday traditions of your own—re-watching that Rudolph claymation film, stringing popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree, and dining on fried catfish and Austrian potato salad on Christmas Eve were a few of my own childhood favorites—here’s a look at how many Americans during the Gilded Age celebrated “the most wonderful time of the year.”
November 16, 2011You Asked… Why was this neighborhood called McCormickville (and why didn’t the Nickersons live down on Prairie Avenue with the rest of the wealthy)?