Trustees of the Boston Public Library Records: McKim Building Art and Architecture Papers, 1859-1965 | Boston Public Library Archival and Manuscript Finding Aid Database
Abbott, Samuel Appleton Browne, 1846-1931.
Boston Public Library.
Elliot, John, 1858-1925.
French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931.
MacMonnies, Frederick William, 1863-1937.
McKim, Charles Follen, 1847-1909.
Mural painting and decoration.
Renaissance revival (Architecture).
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, 1848-1907.
Saint-Gaudens, Louis, b. 1854.
Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925.
Although plans for a permanent library building for the City of Boston began in the mid- nineteenth century, it was not until 1888, when Samuel Abbott, the President of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, accepted the architectural plans by the New York firm McKim, Mead & White, did the project come to fruition. This collection documents the Trustees approval of the design submitted by Charles Follen McKim, the meeting between Charles Follen McKim, Stanford White and Augustus Saint-Gaudens to discuss building’s decorative features, and Abbott and McKim’s meetings with John Singer Sargent and Edwin Austin Abbey in which they discussed the possibility of creating murals for the Library. Among the subjects found in the correspondence from Abbey and Sargent are the artists’ descriptions for the designs of their murals, plaster and lighting experiments, room dimensions, shipping arrangements, and installation schedules.
In addition to the details in the Abbey and Sargent murals, a significant amount of correspondence documents the origins of the McKim Building’s other major works of art, such as the lion sculptures by Louis Saint-Gaudens, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’s The Muses mural, and John Elliot’s ceiling mural The Triumph of Time. Other subjects covered include the controversies over Frederick Macmonnies’s Bacchante sculpture, the religious depictions in Sargent’s mural and the lighting of the Sargent and Abbey murals. The histories of MacMonnies’s Anne Hutchinson sculpture and other paintings in the Library such as Howard Pyle’s Washington at Valley Forge and Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Sifréde Duplessis, are also covered.
This collection also contains the plans and sketches for the building’s architectural details, specifically the design of the courtyard and its arcaded gallery, the exterior inscriptions, and the bronze doors created by Daniel Chester French. Other details, such as Domingo Mora’s Minerva, and the installation of the vestibule are included.
The bulk of the McKim, Mead & White correspondence recounts the day-to-day details that were involved in the construction of the building. For example, the logistics of building the grand staircase, the specific kinds of material that were used throughout the building, progress reports, installation of the heating and ventilation system, and cost estimates are some of the topics that are documented. Discussions regarding the Library’s decorative features from the arrival and placement of clocks, chandeliers, furniture, and can also be found in the correspondence.