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Unlimited wealth, unrivaled power, unmatched luxury: these characteristics are synonymous with Newport in the Gilded Age. The same qualities that gave rise to the city’s fabled mansions also brought that same grandeur to the high seas. The Preservation Society of Newport County’s 2016 exhibition, Splendor at Sea: The Golden Age of Steam Yachting in America, shares an insider’s look at some of the private steam yachts of the Gilded Age: technologically state-of-the-art, magnificently appointed floating palaces, which were as richly furnished as their owners’ legendary mansions.
Admission to the exhibition, located in the second floor exhibition gallery at Rosecliff, is included as part of the Rosecliff house tour. For details on ticket options and to purchase tickets, visit www.NewportMansions.org. The exhibition will continue through January 1, 2017.
Splendor at Sea: The Golden Age of Steam Yachting in America focuses on eight men and the extraordinary vessels they owned between 1853 and 1938. The owners were “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., J. Pierpont Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt, John Nicholas Brown, Edward Julius Berwind, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, and Arthur Curtiss James. These titans of finance and industry all belonged to the New York Yacht Club, whose membership rolls read like a “who’s who” of high society.
Their yachts combined the reliability of steam-powered railroad travel with the freedom of the open seas. Most of these vessels measured over 200 feet long; their interiors were adorned with mahogany paneling, brass finishes, marble fireplaces, bathtubs, silk-draped four poster beds and large services of custom china and silver emblazoned with one’s own private signal flag.
The exhibition features approximately 150 objects, including Tiffany and Cartier silver, yachting apparel, family albums, navigational instruments, cabin furniture, trophies, and paintings. In addition to the Preservation Society’s own collections, the exhibition includes objects on loan from the Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame, John Hay Library of Brown University, Mystic Seaport Museum, New York Yacht Club and The Morgan Library & Museum. Additional objects have been loaned from the private collections of Mrs. Edwin G. Fischer, Mr. and Mrs. Donald O. Ross, Mr. and Mrs. Earl McMillen III, and Captain Nicholas Brown, USN (Ret.)
The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties–seven of them National Historic Landmarks–span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.