August 8, 2006
Harbor Hill Through the Eyes of a Highly Regarded Art Critic
"The best narrative I have ever read describing the beauty and grandeur--- the essence
of what Harbor Hill, Roslyn, New York was at its' peak in 1929..."
Dateline: Dec. 1929.     "From the beginning Clarence Mackay has had certain clearly defined enthusiams and tastes, has known what he was driving at, and has followed fixed lines of development in the beautiful fabric which Stanford White designed for him high up on Harbor Hill, at Roslyn, Long Island.  The house is French externally and in plan, taking its cue as to style from that celebrated Chateau de Maisons-Lafitte which has been called the chef d' oeuvre of Francois Mansart.  But the seventeenth century precedent was simplified by the modern architect.  Nobly proportioned and bearing very sparse decoration, the facades have a kind of grave elegance.  They lift their surfaces of cool gray stone above a sylvan scene, save where formal terraces lead to a picturesque circular fountain and a glamorous long tapis vert.  Just beyond the turf and raised upon their pedestals against the blue ---"ramp the White Horses of Marly."

     A stroke of sculptural bravura thus makes the termination of a great architectural ensemble, one in which house and garden, gleaming water and episodical statuary, trelised roses and other lovely flowers, blend in an unmistakable unity.

     I would stress this unity because it is what Mr. Mackay has steadily achieved with phenominal success. Though I approach his collection in these pages with a particular interest in the pictures it contains, I cannot forbear glancing at the character of Harbor Hill as a whole.  Across the threshold one steps into a corridor that runs almost the length of the house.  Traversing it the visitor finds himself in
a vast hall or chamber of lordly dimensions, with a ceiling more than thirty feet high. Gothic tapestries enrich the walls.  Against them are ranged some of the most famous suits of armor in the world, interspersed with detached pieces, swords and other weapons.  Here and there occur rare examples of Italian sculpture and furniture.  Just below the ceiling hang multicolored historic banners.  Vast shadowy and splendid, the whole room breathes of history, as it does of consumate art and craftsmanship.  Color is everywhere, in the rosy glow of the Chaumont tapestries, in those faintly moving banners, and in scattered incidents of ruby velevt.  And the marvelous thing is the manner in which the myriad objects here assembled from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance all "pull together," making one superb effect and creating one harmonious atmosphere.  It is the atmosphere of beauty.  It was an axiom of Stanford White's that the work of any period would go with the work of any other period---if both were of superlative quality.  Mr. Mackay has worked on the same conviction, maintaining the high standard which validates it.  There is, for example, a little gem of a room at the end of the corridor aforesaid, a Gothic room with ancient boiserie and stained glass, and a renowned group of marble pleurants sending the imagination straight back to the heroic tombs of Phillippe le Hardi and Jean sans Oeur at Dijon, in the heart of the old Burgundian tradition.  It is a distincly individualized key.  But it is, in its beauty, akin to the broad character of the great central hall, and the same glamour envelopes the stately Renaissance room in which most of the pictures are housed.  There, as in the recent addition to the building which contains the Sassettas, some more armor and divers other treasures, one is conscious of the unity to which I have referred, of an organized purpose seeking the perfection in the specific object and in the grand alliance of all the objects together.  Exacting taste tells in every detail of arrangement, even to the placement of a bowl of yellow roses before just the sculpture that invites its presence.

This collector has not only specialized in architecture, painting, scupture, tapestry and furniture but has specialized in so fusing them as to produce a collection in itself a work of art..."

                                               Royal Cortissoz, "International Studio, A Magazine for Collectors", December 1929

    "For more than fifty years, Royal Cortissoz (1869-1948) was one of the leading figures in American arts and letters.  As the art critic for the respected New York Tribune, he had a wide audience and because he wrote from a position of obvious knowledge and sophistication, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of many of the nation's finest writers, painters, sculptors and collectors...."

To read more about the life of the fascinating man and close friend of Clarence Mackay, click on the following link: