The American architect Stanford White (1853-1906), a partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, was noted for his decorative inventiveness.
Stanford White was born on Nov. 9, 1853, in New York City. His father, Richard Grant White, was a distinguished Shakespearean scholar and a music and drama critic. At the age of 19 Stanford became an apprentice in the architectural office of Gambrill and Richardson, where he met Charles Follen McKim. By 1878 White felt that he must study architecture in Europe. For almost two years he lived in Paris and traveled extensively, sometimes with McKim and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, making sketches of buildings and architectural details, medieval ornaments, and armour.
In September 1879 White entered into partnership with McKim and William Rutherford Mead, creating the firm that would be responsible for setting a high standard of taste in America for the next three decades. The firm's greatness grew out of the fine blending of individual talents: Mead, the level-headed business man; McKim, the man of impeccable taste and determined persuasiveness; and White, the brilliant, imaginative artist-architect. Many of the firm's apprentices became the next generation's best architects.
White's first commissions were for houses and monuments. During the 1880s he built homes on Long Island with Renaissance decoration, Robert Goelet's mansion at Newport, R.I. (1883), and many residences for rich clients in New York City. He designed the pedestal for Saint-Gaudens's Farragut Monument (1881) in Madison Square, New York City.
To commemorate George Washington's first inauguration, White was commissioned to design a wooden arch (1889) in New York City's Washington Square. After the celebration, the public insisted on a permanent arch in stone, which he completed in 1892. The precedent for this arch is Roman; the clear, concise combination of classical ornamental ideas is White's.
White designed Madison Square Garden (1890) as a center for spectacular events. Backed by rich New Yorkers, including White himself, this daring project proved financially unstable, yet it continued for many years to serve a public need. His design offered color, gaiety, a Spanish exoticism, and consistency in style.
During the 1890s White was at his prime. He was involved with more than 70 projects, from tombs to fashionable men's clubs. The best tomb is in the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.; its sculpture— a deeply moving, shrouded figure—is by Saint-Gaudens. The Metropolitan Club, New York, is outstanding for White's authoritative borrowing of Italian Renaissance and English 19th-century ideas; however, it is less imaginative than many of his residential designs. In planning residences he had the best opportunity to display his talent for small-scale ornament, often of an exquisite quality and always original in spite of its eclecticism.
Among White's other well-known projects in New York City are the Italianate Herald Building (1894); St. Bartholomew's Church facade (1903), imitating St-Gilles near Arles, France; the Gorham Building (1906), which shows his familiarity with Louis Sullivan's work; and the Tiffany Building (1906), resembling a Venetian palace. At the Military Academy at West Point, White, with the sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, executed the Battle Monument (1896).
In 1884 White had married Bessie Springs Smith; they had one child. White died tragically on June 25, 1906, when Harry Thaw, believing that White had seduced his wife, shot him in Madison Square Garden while White was watching an evening show.
Further Reading on Stanford White
A full-length account of White's life is Charles C. Baldwin's interesting Stanford White (1931). This may be supplemented by Gerald Langford, The Murder of Stanford White (1962). There is no thorough study of White's architecture. Lawrence Grant White outlines his father's career in a book of drawings called Sketches and Designs by Stanford White (1920), which contains mostly momentary records of what fascinated White in Europe.
Additional Biography Sources
Baker, Paul R., Stanny: the gilded life of Stanford White, New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1989.