The Huntington: Galleries

By Eilene Lyon

The Huntington mansion holds their collection of European art and furnishings from the 15th to early 20th centuries.

During my day-long visit to the Huntington, I alternated between strolling through the gardens and visiting the galleries to get out of the sun for a bit. I wrote previously about the gardens.

Henry and Arabella were both collectors and particularly enamored with Louis XVI French style. Their former residence is dedicated to showcasing European art and furnishings, leaning toward traditional portraits in massive, gilt frames.

Opposite sides of the entry hall sport portraits of Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. The brochures and audio tour sidestep their scandalous marriage (she was his uncle’s widow) by pointing out that these two were the same age. Both were avid collectors with different focuses and similar tastes.


I opted to take the free audio guide equipment on this gallery tour, which was a cellphone with a lanyard and headphones. It was awkward and nowhere near as pleasant as other devices I’ve used. Plus, the battery was low and I eventually quit using it – too tedious, and not particularly interesting, either.

The enormous library was remodeled specifically to showcase Arabella’s collection of tapestries. Though intricate and beautifully designed, they were all quite faded.
The paintings in the mansion are predominantly portraits, many of well-known subjects, such as this one of Samuel Johnson c. 1775, by Joshua Reynolds.
There are also a number of marble and terra-cotta busts and sculptures. This one is Oliver Cromwell, by John Michael Rysbrack, done in the mid-18th century.
A companion piece to Blue Boy, displayed at the opposite end of the room, is Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence. Blue Boy, by Thomas Gainsborough, was not on display because it is undergoing restoration work. The restoration can be observed at special viewing times.

The Virginia Steele Scott gallery is dedicated to American art, which I found more to my taste. It’s a large space with many rooms, some of which I had to bypass in the interest of time. Many of the works displayed are modern.

I’m no art critic/historian, so I won’t go into any great detail about artists and styles. I’ll just show you a few things I liked. In addition to paintings, photographs, and sculpture, the galleries had displays of American handicrafts and fiber arts.

The Long Leg, c. 1930 by Edward Hopper, displays his careful minimalist style evoking a cool, somber mood, despite the subject being a sport of leisure.
Though a somewhat depressing subject matter, I was quite attracted to this work by Robert Spencer. It depicts a row of tenements in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, along the Delaware River. Three Houses c. 1911. Below I show a couple of up-close details.











Leonard Wells Volk created a life mask of 51-year-old Abraham Lincoln when he was campaigning in 1860, prior to his growing a beard. This is one of the busts Volk created from the mask. Those eyebrows appear a tad exaggerated to me!

The gentleman who provided me with my free ticket for the day and given me a brief tour through some of the gardens dismissed the Library exhibits. However, these intrigued me the most. I love libraries and all things associated with books.

A view of the main gallery in the Huntington Library. The balcony is lined with glass-fronted bookcases filled with rare specimens. The lower level displays items from the collection to represent various themes, organized by time period, beginning with the 11th century.

The Main Exhibit Hall features documents from their vast collection of rare books and manuscripts. Though a few items on display are copies, most are the real deal. Huntington focused on British and American history, art and literature, as well as science history.

The latter subject is featured in the adjacent Dibner Hall part of the building. This exhibit consists of several rooms and has sections about natural history, astronomy, medicine, and light.

A portion of a letter handwritten by Susan B. Anthony. Given my recent research on suffragists, the several items on display from Anthony were of particular interest.
One of John James Audubon’s portfolios on display. The pages measure about two feet by three feet.
This parchment scroll from England dates to 1432. It contains the court proceedings from Brill, Buckinghamshire.
As a botanist, I really could dig thumbing through this work: The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard. Gerard “was one of history’s greatest enthusiasts for medicinal plants.” Of course, it’s under glass – hands off!

Entering Dibner Hall contrasted sharply from the dark, subdued main gallery space. The walls in the natural history/medicine room are a riotous, bloody red – nature in tooth and claw, I suppose. The astronomy room has soothing blue views of night skies.

The L-shaped row of books running through the middle of the natural history display are ALL different editions of the same book: The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
Shown chronologically by publication date, here is a sample selection.
These walls show the progressively improved natural history illustrations by century.
While I am not usually big on interactive displays, they aren’t non-existent in the library galleries. This is a replica of Galileo’s telescope, aimed at a replica moon near the ceiling on the far side of the room. Have a look at what he saw!
Tired of the same old head you woke up with this morning? Try on a new one!

While I certainly didn’t have enough time to see everything, I enjoyed what I did manage to explore.


Feature image: In a Quandry, or Mississippi Raftsmen at Cards, 1851, by George Caleb Bingham. I come across this piece regularly in my gold rush research, because my family traveled down the river to New Orleans on their way to California. It was fun to see the original.

23 thoughts on “The Huntington: Galleries

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  1. It always staggers me to see really famous paintings in what was somebody’s home! I’ll never forget the effect of coming face to face with Holbein’s Thomas Cranmer in the Frick, a picture I had grown up seeing in my school textbooks. Arabella looks somewhat formidable.

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    1. I know. I was surprised to find the Samuel Johnson and the Mississippi Raftmen paintings and others there. It’s quite an amazing collection. I don’t think I would mess with Arabella. Nope.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks an amazing place, I googled it to check it out and look at their website …… closed today? I must admit I get overwhelmed by places like this …. The Louvre or The Prada for example unless I go specifically to see something such as two years ago a phenomenal Bosch exhibition that will probably never be seen again. I now tend to opt for more focused museums or galleries, Science, Industry, Mining, Natural History, or galleries solely to say Picasso or a particular type of art. We spent a whole year once on our Europe travels only visiting surrealist and modern art museums!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eilene,

    This post proves what I have always believed. At the end of the world, I want to hoard up as many supplies as I can get my hands on and hole up in a museum.

    That will be as good as it is ever gonna get.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice museum! Every time I hear about Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, I think about the episode of Keeping Up Appearances when Hyacinth goes to an auction and keeps asking for something like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, and it makes me laugh. I do have a bit of a soft spot for Samuel Johnson though, even though he was kind of a boor – I still say hello to his statue on Fleet Street whenever I pass it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wishing I could spend the day there…I pretty much lived in our campus art museum my first year of college. It was a tough year, and I loved daydreaming and wandering among the art. Thank you for sharing these photos!

    Liked by 1 person

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