From the Vault: The Inspiration of Whitney Warren

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 2:26pm -- mfarias

Artistic inspiration is often ephemeral and intangible, but it can also be drawn from the physical world and collected into portfolios and scrapbooks full of ideas. At the Redwood Library, we have two examples of such inspiration from the architect Whitney Warren (1964-1943).

Whitney Warren from the collection of the Redwood Library


Two scrapbooks belonging to Whitney Warren from the collection of the Redwood Library


Warren was trained as an architect at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1884-1893 where he developed a love for European classicism. Although his time at the school is reported by multiple sources with a range of different years, 1884-1893 is written in his own hand at the front of the larger scrapbook. He describes the work as, “‘Scraps’ collected by Whitney Warren when at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris 1884-1893.” He adds with a postscript, “Note: Personally, I never cut anything out of a book. That vandalism I left for others.” Considering the sheer volume of scraps contained in this work, he is presenting himself as quite lucky to have found so many vandalized books.



The first section of the book is reserved for initials. Some pages have multiple letters, all clearly taken from the same work and done in the same style, while others make a study of the many ways in which each letter has been depicted in text. The scraps on the letter “A” alone show a wide array of styles for both the initial itself and the surrounding designs. This large book further includes page borders, title pages, fleur de lis, lions, map details, ancient and modern text, and any other design elements that caught his attention. Collected together, these scraps present a whole period of artistic inspiration for Warren that remained with him throughout his career.



With less contextual information, the second volume is smaller and more densely collected. Greens and yellows populate the many small scraps of this book, interspersed with pages of initials and borders more similar to the first work. It is not clear which volume came first, but if the second one came after school, then it may have been more of a direct aid in his work as an architect. After school, Warren won a competition to design the Newport Country Club, gained a commission for the New York Yacht Club in 1898, and took on a partner, Charles Wetmore. From 1898 until Warren’s retirement in 1931, Warren and Wetmore worked steadily. The firm is best known for its design of Grand Central Terminal (in partnership with architects Reed & Stem), the New York Yacht Club, the William K. Vanderbilt Estate, and a score of hotels, including the Ritz, Vanderbilt, Ambassador and Biltmore hotels in Manhattan. Warren was particularly proud of his reconstruction of the war-damaged library for the University of Louvain in Belgium.



The larger scrapbook has two bookplates. The first is from Whitney Warren and the second from Charlotte Greenough, Warren’s daughter. In the smaller volume, there are also two bookplates. Again, the first belongs to Warren and the second is from Beatrice Greenough, Warren’s granddaughter. Warren’s daughter and granddaughter gave many gifts to the Redwood, but the Warren scrapbooks are a particular treat for their insight into the artistic inspiration of a Paris-educated, American artist and architect whose works can still be seen today.