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Countdown Begins for Huntington Art Gallery Re-Opening
Huntington Art Gallery, South terrace with new paint and awnings. The Stag Hunt, French, 19th-century, after Jacques Houzeau (1624-91) in foreground. Photo: Ernesto Rodriguez. © The Huntington

SAN MARINO.- The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will offer Los Angeles and its visitors an enhanced experience with one of the finest collections of European art in the nation, as well as a more accurate sense of the lifestyle of one the most prominent millionaires of the early 20th century, when the Huntington Art Gallery re-opens on May 28, 2008, after a $20 million renovation.

In addition to a thoroughly updated infrastructure, the refurbished mansion originally built for Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927) and his new wife, Arabella (1850–1924), will include 5,300 additional square feet of public space; new interpretive components; and new gallery presentations of approximately 1,200 objects of European art. The renovation also will bring to light original architectural features that previously had been obscured.

“While greatly expanding the viewing and educational opportunities surrounding our collection of European art, this project also restores the historic core of the institution,” said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. “Mr. Huntington’s extraordinary vision for his collections began with the plans for his home.”

When it was completed in 1911, the Beaux-Arts interpretation of an Italian Renaissance villa was hailed as the finest residence in Southern California, rivaling the mansions of the Astors, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts. With Huntington’s death, the building opened in 1928 to display one of the greatest collections of 18th-century British art in the country, including the celebrated Blue Boy (ca.1770) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) and John Constable’s (1776– 1837) View on the Stour near Dedham (1822) as well as a valuable collection of French decorative arts.

Since then, Huntington’s San Marino ranch has grown to encompass one of the top independent research libraries in the country, a 120-acre botanical garden, and three additional galleries to house a growing American art collection and changing exhibitions. In its new configuration the Huntington Art Gallery will display European art from the 15th to the early 20th century.

“Not only are we bringing a gallery up to the standards befitting the spectacular collection of art within, but we also are strengthening a cultural landmark to carry it through another 100 years,” said John Murdoch, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of Art Collections, who is overseeing the project. “The Huntington mansion is of immense importance in the architectural history of the region, a splendid example of the way in which Myron Hunt sought to merge a classical Mediterranean lifestyle with the California dream.”

Designed by Myron Hunt (1868–1952) of the firm Hunt and Grey and decorated under the influences of legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen, the 55,000-square-foot home had been altered and augmented in numerous ways since its original construction, including the addition of the 2,900-squarefoot Portrait Gallery built in 1934. Situated in an active earthquake zone and exposed to the fierce California sun as well as a half-million visitors a year, the building was in need of maintenance and rethinking of its role as both a hostoric house and a serious art museum.

This first major renovation in the building’s history began in January 2006 and was led by Earl Corp. of Irwindale, Calif., who completed seismic retrofitting, upgrading of the structure’s mechanical and electrical systems, restoration of architectural and finish details, and enhancement of lighting and fire suppression systems. Architectural Resources Group, San Francisco, has served as preservation architect and Stephen Saitas Designs, New York, is the exhibition designer.

The project was fully funded through private sources, led by a $10 million grant from the Los Angeles-based Rose Hills Foundation, as well as a major gift from Geneva and Charles B. Thornton Jr. of San Marino, Calif. to restore the Portrait Gallery.

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