Henry Hobson Richardson, Architect

IT is recognized that since the beginning of this century architecture has not kept pace with the general advance of the other arts of civilization. Science has made steady progress all along the line, and often has astonished the world by leaps and bounds ; its torch has flooded vast regions of doubt and darkness with triumphant illuminations. But while there is undeniably a style of the nineteenth century, and while England, France, Germany, and America have impressed certain national characteristics upon the architecture of the period, no definite advances have been made corresponding with those which occurred in every decade in Europe from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, when most of the other arts were asleep, or with those from the fourteenth to the seventeenth, when the artistic invention of the world found ample scope for expression and development in the renaissance of classic forms. The architects of this latter period were content with the language of the four or ders, and with the coördination of arch, pilaster, and entablature, according to established formulas of proportion.

The modern era of research and experiment, which began with the encyclopedists in the eighteenth century, put an end to the progress of the renaissance of classic architecture, and inaugurated eclecticism. Under the same influence, science began its phenomenal career of successful discovery. Eclecticism in architecture is entirely consonant with the spirit of the times; it implies the collection, analysis, arrangement, and study of all the historical forms of art. This process, while it has made architects learned and reflective, has dissipated their inventive powers, and rendered impossible that unity of effort without which characteristic progress in style is impossible. The same impulse which made science productive has made architecture unproductive. In rendering this art more scholarly and correct, it has gradually removed it from the stimulus of public sympathy and correction. The history of modern architecture has thus become rather a history of study and experiment than of accomplishment and progress.

The question now is, When will this long discipline of probation bear its natural fruit, and furnish us with the elements of a true progress in art, consistent with our civilization, and competent to express it with the same sort and degree of precision with which the civilizations of the Middle Ages, of the Spanish Saracens, of the Italians of the fifteenth century, of the English of the Tudor times, for example, were respectively symbolized in their buildings and works of decorative art ?

The Greek revival of the last century, the Gothic revival of the first half of the present century, the late revival, improperly called, of the Queen Anne style, and all the various subordinate revivals which, meanwhile, have arisen and fallen apparently as illogically as fashions in costume, have failed, because they were revivals of perfected styles, incapable of further progression ; they were quotations, admirable for their archæological correctness, and for the skill with which they were adapted to modern uses. But they infused no new life into modern architecture, and failed to arouse public attention.

In our own country there have been corresponding movements, with corresponding results.

The constant desire for new things has made architecture extremely sensitive to impressions and hints. Every successful building is the parent of a score of imitations, not in its neighborhood only, but in distant places, sporadically all over the Union. For the publication of designs is prompt, and every architect has in his hands duly every new expression of form. Thus we have had and are having a succession of little fashions, contemporaneous, overlapping, intermingling, dying out, and coming into vogue, the duration of each being in proportion to the strength of the original impulse. We have imitations of imitations, the quality of each varying according to the training of the practitioner, and, as a general rule, deteriorating according to its distance from the original revival or invention.

At the present moment we are under the dominion of an impulse so vigorous, healthy, and stimulating, so different from any which has preceded it, so elas, tic to practical uses, that, in the hands of a profession far more accomplished and far better trained than ever before, it gives us the right to hope for results of the first importance in the development of style.

If there are any prevailing characteristics in the best architectural work of the present day in this country, they consist in the free use of heavy Romanesque forms from the south of France, low-browed round arches, stone mullions and transoms, wide - spreading gables, severe sky-lines, apsidal projections, rounded angles, and towers with low, pointed domical roofs ; great wealth of carving, where the work is rich; a general aspect of heaviness and strength, frequently degenerating into an affectation of rudeness. Columns are short and stumpy, and capitals show Byzantine influence. Colonnades and arcades of windows are frequent, and all are free from the trammels of classicism. The new fashion has, for the moment, driven aspiration and lightness as well as precision and correctness out of the market. Important buildings with such features have lately been completed, or are under construction, in nearly all the large cities of the Union, from Boston to San Francisco. No modern buildings of this sort are to be seen either in France, Germany, or England. For the Romanesque of to-day in Europe is derived mostly from Norman traditions, and is more or less stiffened by pedantry and straightened by monastic formulas. In fact, we apparently have at last, and for the first time, a purely American revival of certain ancient forms. There is scarcely a trained architect in this country who is not at the moment more or less attracted towards this especial phase of Romance art. There are, however, none who have not been, from their days of pupilage, as familiar with these forms as with that variety of them which the Normans introduced into England in the eleventh century ; or with those derivatives of them which the monastic orders in the twelfth and the lay-builders in the thirteenth successively developed and brought to perfection ; or with those forms which Francis I. brought from Italy to France in the fifteenth century; or, in fact, with any of the historic styles which have formed the basis of design for the last fifty years. Yet, until now, the front of Poictiers, the porches of St. Trophime at Arles, and the apses of St. Julian at Brioude have remained neglected in their portfolios, — a sort of antique rubbish, archæologically interesting, perhaps, but practically useless. Barbaric and rude, they have seemed in no respect germane to modern thought and modern practice.

It is observed also that, unlike any of the experiments in style which we have adopted from our English brethren, unlike our correct classic, our irreproachable Gothic, our Dutch reform, with its fretted gables, its sash windows, and its brick carving, this new revival has something about it which interests the public. Educated people of the laity are at last taking notice; and this is a most remarkable and encouraging sign.

Under what impulse has this change taken place among architects and laymen ? What is its significance ? Has the new movement a future before it ? Has it come to stay ?

It is a peculiarity of every change of style in modern practice that it must start from an archæological revival of some sort. Indeed, archæology is the necessary basis of every style ; for it cannot be too often repeated that a style is a growth, and not an invention ; and yet, as Sergeant Troy said, “ Creation and preservation don’t do well together, and a million antiquarians can’t invent a style.” Thus at the beginning of every revival there must stand one or more architects of exceptional force and ability, to give to the new movement its first impetus, — to show how it can be adapted to modern usage, to establish its respectability and success.

The personality which has performed this function in America with reference to the Romanesque of Auvergne is certainly one of the most interesting, and perhaps one of the most remarkable, in the history of modern architects. Other contemporaries in his profession have exhibited at least equal professional attainments. Others have surpassed him in the amount of work accomplished. But none have had a professional career so fortunate, so exceptional in its characteristics, and so brilliant in its results as that of Henry Hobson Richardson, of Brookline, Mass. It would not be difficult to point out single works by some of his professional friends which, in respect of artistic and technical merit, would occupy a rank at least as high as anything from his hand. But it would not be possible to show a succession of works from any other hands exhibiting an individuality so strong, a personal force so imposing, a progress of achievement so steady, a development of genius so harmonious and consistent. Certainly we shall find no career which has made upon the publican impression so marked, none which has had an influence upon the profession so powerful and so widely spread.

Dr. Johnson said that every human life, however humble, must have something of interest in it for all mankind. No biography can fail, at some point, to touch the sympathies and awaken profitable thought. Above all, a career of consistent progress in any walk of experience, a career which developed from good to better and from better to best, deserves to be studied and analyzed in all its phases, for the benefit of those who are still in the midst of the labors of production. Such a career should ultimately belong to the public, with all the incidents and accidents which helped to make it possible. That, however, with which we are now especially concerned is too recent and too near to us to be spread before the world in all its details. Its results are not yet sufficiently ascertained, its value is as yet too much a matter of question, to justify a premature invasion of its privacy. But, even at this stage, an outline of its purely professional part may be permitted, because it had qualities which have visibly affected the taste of to-day, and which therefore claim serious consideration.

Henry Hobson Richardson was born at Priestley’s Point, St. James’ Parish, Louisiana, September 29, 1838. His father, Henry D. Richardson, was a planter of ample means, born in America, but whose ancestors were originally Scotch, and afterwards took up their abode in England. His mother, Catherine Caroline Priestley, was a daughter of the famous Dr. Priestley, of England. Their son received an appointment as cadet at West Point from Judah P. Benjamin, who was then Senator. He passed his examinations, but, his father dying at that time, he gave up the appointment and entered Harvard College, whence he graduated with the class of 1859. In July of the same year he went abroad with two of his classmates, traveled extensively, and finally settled in Paris, where he began the study of architecture in the School of Fine Arts, entering, in 1860, the atelier of M. André. Meanwhile, his family, in the vicissitudes of the war for the Union, lost their fortune, and Richardson was for the first time thrown upon his own resources. But he pursued his studies in Paris until October, 1865, when he returned to this country, and in the following year began the active practice of his profession as a member of the firm of Gambrill and Richardson, in New York. In 1867 he married Julia Gorham Hayden, daughter of Dr. Hayden, of Boston, and took up his residence at Clifton, Staten Island, N. Y., where be remained until May, 1875. The professional partnership having been previously dissolved, he moved to Brookline, Mass., in 1875. Here he established his studio, and here he lived until his death, April 27, 1886.

In 1866 he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects; in 1879 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1881 of the Archæological Institute of America.

The incidents of his professional career may be most briefly stated in a chronological list of his works, which is approximately correct: —

1. Grace Church, Medford, Mass.

2. Boston and Albany Railroad Offices, Springfield, Mass.

3. Church of the Unity, Springfield, Mass.

4. The Agawam Bank, Springfield, Mass.

5. House for William Dorsheimer, Esq., Buffalo, N. Y.

6. The State Asylum for the Insane, Buffalo, N. Y.

7. Exhibition Building, Cordova, Argentine Republic.

8. American Express Co. Building, Chicago, Ill.

9. Brattle Street Church, Boston, Mass.

10. Worcester High School.

11. The Hampden County Court-House, Springfield, Mass.

12. Trinity Church, Boston, Mass.

13. Cheney Buildings, Hartford, Conn.

14. Phœnix Insurance Building, Hartford, Conn.

15. House for B. W. Crowninshield, Boston, Mass.

16. The North Church, Springfield, Mass.

17. William Watt Sherman’s house, Newport, R. I.

18. Portions of the New York State Capitol, Albany, N. Y.

19. Public Library, Woburn, Mass.

20. Ames Memorial Library, North Easton, Mass.

21. Sever Hall, Cambridge, Mass.

22. Ames Memorial Town Hall, North Easton, Mass.

23. Trinity Church Rectory, Boston, Muss.

24. Monument to Oliver and Oakes Ames, Sherman, Wyoming.

25. Gate lodge for F. L. Ames, North Easton, Mass.

26. Crane Memorial Library, Quincy, Mass.

27. Bridges for the Back Bay Park, Boston, Mass.

28. City Hall, Albany, N. Y.

29. Depot for the Boston and Albany R. R., Auburndale, Mass.

30. New Law School, Cambridge, Mass.

31. House for F. L. Higginson, Esq., Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.

32. House for General N. L. Anderson, Washington, D. C.

33. Railroad depot, Holyoke, Mass., for Connecticut River R. R.

34. Depot, Palmer, Mass., for Boston and Al-

35. Depot, North Easton, Mass., Boston and Albany R. R.

36. Dairy Building, North Easton, Mass.

37. House for Grange Sard, Esq., Albany, N. Y.

38. Store on Kingston and Bedford Sts., Boston, for F. L. Ames, Esq.; also store on Washington Street.

39. Billings Library for University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.

40. Depot, Chestnut Hill, Mass., Boston and Albany R. R.

41. Converse Memorial Library, Malden, Mass.

42. Baptist Church, Newton, Mass.

43. House for Henry Adams, Esq., Washington, D. C.

44. House for John Hay, Esq., Washington, D. C.

45. Alleghany County Buildings, consisting of Court-House and Jail, Pittsburgh, Penn.

46. Wholesale warehouse for Marshall Field & Co., Chicago, III.

47. Armory, Detroit, Mich.

48. Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati, Ohio.

49. Dwelling-house for Franklin Mac Veagh, Esq., Chicago, III.

50. Dwelling-house for B. H. Warder, Esq., Washington, D. C.

51. Dwelling-house for J. J. Glessner, Esq., Chicago, III.

52. Dwelling-house for Robert Treat Paine, Esq., Waltham, Mass.

53. Dwelling-house for Professor E. W. Gurney, Beverly, Mass.

54. Dwelling-house for J. R. Lionberger, Esq., St. Louis, Mo.

55. Dwelling-house for William H. Gratwick, Esq., Buffalo, N. Y.

56. Store on Harrison Avenue, Boston, for F. L. Ames, Esq.

57. Railroad depot, New London, Conn.

58. House for Professor Hubert Herkomer, A. R. A., England.

Of these buildings, the fourteen last named were incomplete at the time of his death, though practically developed in design.

The mere number of his works does not necessarily imply an exceptionally successful career; but in the character of all of them, in the importance of many of them, in their logical succession in point of merit, in their consistency to an ideal established as firmly as the foundations of his most massive buildings, in the impression which they bear of the unrelenting vigor of his mind, they are unique.

It is the fate of most modern buildings— not less of the most scholarly and correct among them than of the most vernacular and commonplace — that they have failed to excite public interest. They are not discussed or criticised, as are the latest works in sculpture or painting. They seem to have no word to say which is intelligible to the passers-by. They may give pleasure in some sort, but the pleasure is undefined, and no layman seeks to analyze the cause of these unconscious impressions. This great art, therefore, seems to live a life quite apart from public sympathy, and the genius of the architect becomes introverted and sophisticated without the continual spur and admonition of common appreciation.

But Richardson’s works, wherever placed, have in some way made an impression upon the public mind. They have always surprised, and generally pleased, all who looked upon them. They have aroused discussion outside the closed areopagus of the profession. To discover the cause of such a phenomenon and rightly to profit by this unusual experience would make architecture at length a living art in our land. Its professors have but to gain their public by their works, and the reform has begun. Reform is better than any revival, however learned or picturesque.

It is therefore eminently desirable to discover the nature of these potent qualities in Richardson’s works. They are not likely to reside in the characteristics which first attract the architect, certainly not in the cleverness with which this skillful student has adapted to modern uses certain devices of construction and decoration which were developed by a few unknown builders in the south of France, in the tenth or eleventh century ; they are not in his archæological correctness, nor in the light which he has thrown upon the spirit of certain phases of historical art, nor in his technique. But we may find them among the more obvious characteristics of his work, namely, in its subjective qualities,—in the weight and breadth of his touch, in the remarkable simplicity of his architectural conceptions, in their large, manly vigor, in their clear and powerful accentuation, in the plainness of their sky-lines, and in their freedom from the conventionalities of design. The general idea of each of his buildings is patent to all. The beholder is flattered to find that here, at last, is a fine building which he can understand. His eye is not distracted by detail ; that is to say, the detail remains subordinated to the general conception, and only presents itself to the mind subsequently as a confirmation of the first impression. He may like or dislike the design, but he does not forget it.

It would seem an obvious conclusion from this experience that a theory of composition based upon general principles of simplicity and breadth or strength is a better starting-point for a school of reform than any revival, the greatest virtue of which must be correctness of reproduction and skill of adaptation. This, in fact, is the most important bequest left by Richardson to his professional brothers. The natural tendency of modern architecture is to complexity and pedantry, born of familiarity with the whole history of art; its appeal is rather to the profession through technical qualities and displays of science than to the public through the larger and more robust virtues which all can comprehend. I am referring to the best work of the best men in the profession, who disdain to sacrifice their convictions for the sake of astonishing the vulgar with extravagances, or of attracting them with novelties. To such, a career like that of Richardson is a welcome refreshment. Its influence upon contemporary work is altogether wholesome, and seems not unlikely to prepare the way for a reform of the best sort. The Rev. J. L. Pettie, in the preface of his admirable Architectural Studies in France (1854), said, “ I would look forward to an architectural style that shall appeal to a deeper sense than a critical taste for correctness, and display a power beyond that of mere science. That such a style will spring up sooner or later I have little doubt. But I cannot venture to pronounce what will be its constructive or decorative character.... It may prove to be something as little within the contemplation of our present architects and architectural writers as the richest Gothic was in the imagination of the first builders of the Roman basilica.”

The lesson of Richardson’s career is conveyed to us mostly in the language of the Romanesque of Auvergne, but with reminiscences from the neighboring provinces of Anjou, Aquitaine, and Provence. He was fortunate enough to hit upon an undeveloped style, full of capacity, picturesque, romantic; its halfsavage strength beguiled by traces of refinement inherited from the luxury of the later Roman Empire. It was a style quite in harmony with the natural habits of his mind, and he was wise enough to resist the temptation to experiment in other styles. He forced his Romanesque to uses the most various, — from Trinity Church to the Pittsburgh CourtHouse, from dwelling-houses at Washington to railway stations in Massachusetts, from warehouses in Boston and Chicago to the State House at Albany. In all these the influence of his chosen style was dominant in various degrees, colored more or less, as occasion required, by influences of later styles. It must not be inferred that he was an archæological architect, like Sir Gilbert Scott, whose works were always correct and learned but dry and prosaic; or like Burgess, whose whole life was a beautiful early Gothic masquerade; or even like Vaudremer, who, in his famous church at Montrouge, showed how a refined artist could evolve an ideal Romanesque out of the traditions of the Paris studios. And yet no architect ever made a more thorough and conscientious study of his chosen style ; he collected all the books, prints, and photographs which bore upon the subject, and personally ransacked all the forgotten by-ways among the springs of the Loire for examples and details. He saturated himself with the spirit of the unsophisticated builders and stone carvers of southern France who preceded the builder-monks of Cluny and Cîteaux; and yet he never permitted his antiquarianism to swamp his individuality. The success of his revival must be attributed far less to this sympathy with the spirit of these Romanesque designers than to the powerful personality which was everywhere infused in his work. It is this element which distinguished his performances above those of any of his contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic, and has given to them their peculiar attractiveness. They were never mere adapted quotations, like the works of the Gothic and Queen Anne revivalists ; they constituted a living art, for, as has been intimated, the succession of his works, from the Boston and Albany Railroad offices and the Agawam Bank at Springfield to his competitive designs for the Cathedral at Albany, shows a steady process of development from savage and brutal strength to strength refined by study, enriched by experience, and controlled by indomitable will. His artistic biography may be clearly read in his buildings taken in the order of their date. The most casual observer recognizes in each his big, plain, unmistakable sign-manual. His range of favorite architectural motifs is exceptionally small for an architect of his accomplishments. The predominant horizontal string course, the low arch, the heavy stone transom, the frieze of windows, separated by grouped shafts, the apsidal projection, the accentuation of points by profuse semi-barbaric sculpture, the coarse mosaic, the large, unbroken wall surface, the depressed gable, the severe sky-line, the general tendency to a sort of grandiose archaism, — these features are incidents in every work of masonry which came from his hand. His invention was active, but it found ample scope for variety of expression with this simple language of form. Every problem of design, whether large or small, — especially in a few little wooden country houses, — was developed in a broad, strong way; with mannerism, indeed, but without sophistications of detail. Evidences of recklessness and carelessness in matters of technique are not unfrequent. In some of his earlier work, notably in Trinity Church, he seemed impatient of the study of detail. He never made a sacrifice for the sake of symmetry ; very few of his façades are controlled by a centre line, none are overladen or overstudied ; some, on the other hand, are bald and vacant. But he always obtained an effect of repose, and sometimes of a reserved force unusual in modern work. He knew how to decorate without weakening, and no modern designer ever more thoroughly understood the value and true function of sculpture in a work of architecture. He rarely placed an ornament where it was not duly subordinated to and illustrative of the architectural frame-work. Much of his earlier work was abandoned to a display of bigness and force which betrayed him into grotesqueness and extravagance. This tendency never entirely deserted him, and even in the later part of his career made possible that extraordinary piece of architectural athleticism, the gate lodge on the estate of F. L. Ames at North Easton, which might have been piled up by a Cyclops. This specimen of boisterous Titanic gamboling was nearly coincident with some of the most refined and most patiently studied work of his hand, as, for example, the Town Hall at North Easton and the New Law School at Cambridge.

Richardson poured into the antique mould such a stream of vital energy and personal force that the old types seemed transformed in his hands. The productions of such a man must necessarily be open occasionally to adverse criticism in matters of technical detail. It is not the object of this paper to review his works in any such spirit. It is sufficient that there are qualities in them which interest the public, and which have made an almost unexampled impression upon contemporary architects. There are few of his countrymen in the profession who, at this moment, among the influences which affect their hands in designing, will not recognize the distinct enrichment and enlargement of their resources by a new range of architectural motifs first made current by Richardson’s practice.

On general principles, every addition to our means of expression in an art, the language of which is a language of forms, appealing to the imagination through the eye, would be accepted as a benefit, were it not that this copia verborum is already so overcrowded with contributions out of the inexhaustible past that the architect is apt to overlay the fundamental idea of his work with favorite expressions and phrases, so that its intention becomes “caviare to the general.” He is somewhat like the Chinese poets, who, when they would write a sonnet to their mistress’ eyebrows, make a mere compound of quotations from their classics, ingeniously dovetailed, and intelligible only to Chinese scholarship. But we have to thank Richardson for something more than an interesting addition to our architectural vocabulary. This has been done before him by many architects of genius, who did not leave their successors practically any richer, nor advance their art a single step towards reform or the development of a style.

It is because of the almost unexampled proof of the potency of breadth, unity, and simplicity of style that we are chiefly indebted to our friend. These are the qualities which, irrespective of the especial forms which he affected, constitute his greatest claim to recognition as a leader. The benefits of this example may be detected not only in the work of his immediate school of young followers, but in the practice of older men in the profession. It is rather from this influence that we have a right to anticipate beneficent results than from his peculiar mannerism in handling his favorite phases of Romanesque. One has but to glance at the innumerable wooden country houses of the cheaper sort which have arisen during the last two or three years, to see, even in this homely branch of the art of building, that the day of fatal facility in jig-sawing, machine-made mouldings, and “ gingerbread work ” has gone by, and given place not to antiquarianism or old colonial masquerading, but to a careful simplicity of outline, to a reserve in matters of detail, which, while they make possible any desirable degree of quaintness or picturesqueness of expression, are entirely consistent with convenience, economy, and a display of the best sort of architectural power. We venture the opinion that this wholesome phase in the building art is the direct result of Richardson’s example.

As might be expected, he has imitators, who travesty his peculiarities of style and affront the civilization of our times with elaborate affectations of savagery and archaic rudeness. These brutalities, fortunately, find no general acceptance, and will soon be forgotten. Evidence of refinement and study is essential to any work of the nineteenth century ; and when these qualities are made consistent with those nobler qualities which work for strength, simplicity, and life, as we may see in the Chamber of Commerce at Cincinnati, in the Library at Woburn, and in the unexecuted studies for the Cathedral at Albany, we seem to approach the highest architectural achievements of our time, and to catch a glimpse of the dawning of a new era, having its foundations in principles, and not in imitations and conventionalities. Perhaps the hope of architecture resides largely in a continuation of Richardson’s experiments with the Romanesque of Auvergne. The resources of the style and its capacities for development are evidently not exhausted. If it is treated merely as a revival, there is no health in it, and it will presently fail, like the other revivals which have preceded it. If it is treated as a basis for true progress, it will be found more fruitful than any other style now available, and the movement may have before it a future entirely beneficial for American art, — a future which will differentiate that art from contemporary work on the other side of the Atlantic, and give us at last, perhaps, a definite American style.

Henry Van Brunt.