Albright-Knox - Table of Contents

History of the 1905 Albright Art Gallery



John J. Albright


E. B. Green


Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Distinction:

National Register of Historic Places

Location:

1285 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York

Erected:

1900-1905 at a cost of over $1 million.


5,000 tons of marble were used in the building. When completed, the gallery had 102 columns, more than any building in America except the Capitol. The marble on the exterior and in the Sculpture Court comes from a quarry located near Baltimore, Maryland, the same source that was used for the Washington Monument.

Architects:

1905 - Green and Wicks

1962 -
Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill)

Sculptor:

Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Caryatids on the east facade inspired by the Greek Erectheion

Style:

Neoclassical (Temple Front)

History:

The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, founded in 1862, is the parent organization of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. It is the sixth oldest public arts organization in the United States. A major event in the life of the Academy occurred with the construction of the Albright Art Gallery, a generous gift from Buffalo entrepreneur and philanthropist John J. Albright, a wealthy Buffalo industrialist

Intended to serve first as the Fine Arts Pavilion of the
Pan-American Exposition on 1901, it was completed too late for that purpose in 1905.

The original building was designed by
Edward B. Green, the distinguished Buffalo architect also responsible for the design of the Toledo Museum of Art and the Dayton Art Institute. Green, who was a close friend of Albright, also designed the Albright home, which had grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Later, the Gallery was significantly enhanced with the addition of a new wing designed by
Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of New York. Made possible with major donations from Seymour H. Knox, Jr. and his family, and hundreds of other contributors, the new addition was dedicated in 1962, and the museum was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Additional galleries are located in Clifton Hall, which is connected to the main Gallery by an underground pedestrian link.

The Gallery in its external and interior detail follows almost exactly the high Ionic order of the Erectheion. The ten columns supporting the east portico are exact copies (in everything except scale) of the order used for the east facade of the Erectheion Each column weighs nineteen tons and the necking of the column shafts is enriched with a band of floral ornamentation arranged in a honeysuckle pattern.

On the exterior of the building, there are seventy-four freestanding columns forming the porticoes, hemicycle and loggia. The floors of the latter were originally laid with glass prisms to admit natural light into the lower level. The north and south ends of the building are lower basilicas which, on their east fronts, are complicated by the addition of caryatid porches, the result of a collaboration between the sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the architect. The porches almost hide doors set into the otherwise blank marble faces of the east corners. The doors, are equipped with wrought iron screens. The Gallery was among the last art museums to be based on the Ionic temple form; for that reason it can be seen to a certain extent as the culmination of the temple design then in use for museums in the United States.

The introduction of the acropolitan temple in museum design was first initiated by the German architect Leo von Klenze in his Glyptothek, Munich (1816-20). Von Klenze's greatest contribution was to arrange the floor plan so that the central sculpture court became the main hall from which all other galleries could be reached. The resulting plan eliminates the need for corridors in the interior and provides maximum exhibition space within a given area.

In adapting this plan to meet the requirements of a more modern art gallery, Green and Wicks provided antechambers leading from the center of the north and south sides of the court into the picture galleries. The architectural serenity of these transepts, which are completed with columns supporting finely carved white marble entablatures, are among the museum's most elegant features, a fact recognized by the Gallery's directors, who have consistently resisted the temptation to remodel in these areas. In order to facilitate crowd flow, Green and Wicks' floor plan called for doorways connecting all galleries. The result, as noted by an English architect in 1911, was a loss of valuable wall space that could only be regained by blocking up some of the doors in the smaller galleries. This deficiency in Green's plan was noted and acted upon in later renovations.

Planned as a temple of the arts in the tradition of many nineteenth-century museums, the Albright-Knox specifically evokes the Erectheion on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The handsome Ionic portico and the twin caryatid porches -- with figures carved by Augustus Saint-Gaudens -- derive directly from that most elegant of Greek monuments. Of the peristyle around the curved bay on the rear of the building, Henry-Russell Hitchcock said, "Rarely have Greek columns in modern times appeared more graceful."

The chief space of the interior is the colonnaded sculpture court (see PHOTOS) entered from the portico. It and the exhibition galleries were the first to employ electric lights above the skylights to ensure adequate illumination, even on Buffalo's dreariest winter days.

Originally the front of the building was overlooking Hoyt (Delaware Park) Lake.

Eighteen marble columns stretch across the western facade of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. They have a slightly convex profile suggesting the compression created by supporting massive weight and also to counter the appearance that straight lines seem to sag. Green also spaced the columns not quite an equal distance apart and leaned them ever so slightly toward the center as additional optical compensations. The Greeks did this, too, and Green was always respectful of such design subtleties.

Sources:


Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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