Music That Makes a Difference 2018

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

CNN Music & Art

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Jack Johnson

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Art of Hearst Castle

HearstCastle-712894“Miss Morgan, I would like to build a little something…” a simple comment from newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst to architect Julia Morgan in 1919. And just like that – Hearst Castle was born. For the next twenty-eight years the two collaborated and constructed, but never finished La Cuesta Encantada. “The Enchanted Hill,” as it became known, went from “a little something” to one of the most expensive private homes ever built.

The 165-room estate sits high atop the Pacific Ocean and originally included 250,000 breathtaking acres. Hearst called the castle “The Ranch at San Simeon.” By name alone, invited guests might have expected they were going to have to “rough it.” But, with its views, pools, and movie theatre, the estate was clearly the furthest thing from a campground – most people called it paradise. Hearst shared the castle with his mistress, A-list actress Marion Davies. Guests included Hollywood’s finest as well as an eclectic mix of business associates, political leaders and literary figures.

The castle itself is a steel-reinforced concrete structure built to house Hearst’s massive art collection. The estate looks less like a museum and more like a showcase of Hearst’s tastes and Morgan’s talents. The San Francisco-based architect was the first female graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts school in Paris and a trusted friend of the Hearst family. From the 1920’s through the 1940’s, Hearst dreamed and Morgan delivered.

Back then, people could lounge on the furniture, swim in the pools and make themselves at home. Today, the policy is: look but don’t touch. Hearst Castle is a shrine to powerful living and fine art. Everything is preserved, just the way William Randolph Hearst wanted it. Hearst hoped the castle would live on after his death and he wanted to share it with the world. Since the Hearst Corporation gave the castle to the state of California in 1957, 34 million visitors have made the trek to San Simeon to see “The Enchanted Hill” and all its untouched treasures.

DSC_1219-dbm-aI am one of the people who mess up the books. That’s because I make up three of those 34 million visits. I’m sorry, but like so many who have traveled to Hearst Castle, I couldn’t go just once. There’s simply too much to see. The art, the views, the history – it’s the definition of sensory overload. That’s what makes today so exciting. Museum Director Hoyt Fields has offered me an all-access private tour of the estate. Our focus is on the art and the collector. A daunting task because Hearst filled his castle with 25,000 artifacts. Hoyt promised me he’d help sort them all out, but before we tour the grounds – here’s a quick history lesson.

William Randolph Hearst bought art for thirty years before he began to build at San Simeon, but he only collected in small amounts. His obsession really kicked in the late 1920’s and early ’30s when San Simeon was under construction. At the time one out of every four American households read a Hearst paper. He was making as much as $50,000 in a single day and spending large amounts of it on art.

It was the perfect time to be collecting. World War I was over. Europe was in shambles and needed money. A lot of old buildings were gravely damaged and there was no cash to rebuild. So, countries were selling collections from churches, cathedrals and private homes on the world art market to finance reconstruction. Hearst had the wherewithal to buy. He was in the right place at the right time with the right means.

Unlike many other art collectors of his era, Hearst didn’t slavishly follow the advice of art dealers. Instead he made his own selections. He rarely went to art auctions himself, knowing his name and presence would drive prices up. Instead, he hired people to do his buying. Freight trains from New York chugged towards San Simeon frequently. With every drop-off came a new challenge for Julia Morgan who was asked to build the castle ever larger to accommodate Hearst’s growing art collection.

p103765-Paso_Robles-Hearst_Castle_outdoor_poolWhile construction continued in California, serious collectors back East paid little attention. They were busy buying in New York, just as Hearst was. However, by the late 1940s, many people were critical of how much Hearst was buying. Some began to view it as plundering. But if you think about how much art was destroyed in World War I, imagine what would have happened to the rest during World War II if collectors like Hearst hadn’t preserved it.

Critics also attacked what he was buying. They claimed he spent money indiscriminately and couldn’t tell good art from bad. If he occasionally stumbled across a valuable piece, critics called it luck. These criticisms were forever etched in popular culture by director Orson Welles and his movie “Citizen Kane.” In the film, the castle is cast as Xanadu, a forbidding place filled with meaningless junk. Welles’s metaphorical movie left a dark shadow on Hearst’s castle and his legacy. But, most of the movie is fiction. The truth is Hearst didn’t care much about snobby critics. He hated the New York art scene and never intended to collect one certain artist or one certain style. And what people failed to realize at the time is that Hearst simply bought what caught his eye.

Whether you love it or hate it, Hearst’s tastes in art have been on public display for nearly 50 years – which brings us back to the present (my private tour with Museum Director Hoyt Fields). Hoyt is having fun these days. He just welcomed his second grandchild into the world. He loves his job. In fact, he’s spent the last thirty-six years at Hearst Castle, the last three as director of the entire estate. Hoyt’s voice booms as he speaks about Hearst’s legacy and walking the grounds still gets him excited. I tell him my goal is to help tourists, like myself, know what to look for – the must-sees, if you will, of Hearst Castle. “Easy,” he smirks. And with that said, we’re off.

We walk around the outside of the castle first. The views are heavenly. All the art seems to be assembled to bring out the very best of each piece and of Mother Nature. Our first stop – the oldest pieces in Hearst’s San Simeon collection, two full-figure carvings and two fragmentary heads of the goddess Sekhmet. The works are ancient Egyptian sculptures made more than 3,500 years ago. They’re located on the South Esplanade of the castle. The sculptures were carved out of diorite rock – one of the hardest stones in existence. It’s not known who the artist is, but Julia Morgan is the one who turned them into a fountain. Hoyt says every time he looks at the fountain he wonders, “What has it seen in its lifetime?”

According to Egyptian lore, Sekhmet has the body of a woman and the head of a lioness. She was the bloodthirsty protector of Ra, the sun god. Sekhmet literally translates as “the powerful.” There are hundreds of lion sculptures throughout the estate. You’ll find one of Hearst’s favorites in the Visitor Center. The 16th century Italian “Rampant Lion” is a sculpture of a lion with a full mane, his mouth open, and his front paws holding a shield. Hearst had his builders recreate this object throughout the castle. Look for them along the celestial bridge just below the bell tower. There’s also a beautiful Byzantine lion fountain in the courtyard of one of the outlying cottages, known as C House. Why all the lions? “Think about it,” Hoyt says. “Hearst, lions, power and authority – it just makes sense, doesn’t it?”

As we continue on, the theme switches from power to beauty. Leopoldo Ansiglioni’s “Galatea on a Dolphin” radiates in the summer sun. The Italian carved the marble and bronze piece in 1883. Hearst coveted the sculpture and prominently featured it in a quatrefoil marble pool on the Central Plaza, facing Casa Grande – the main building.

The Roman poet Ovid wrote about the goddess Galatea in the first century A.D. He tells the story of Pygmalion, the King of Cyprus, who sculpted a woman so beautiful he fell in love with her. “It was indeed the perfect semblance of a maiden that seemed to be alive, and only prevented from moving by modesty,” Ovid wrote. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love, took pity on Pygmalion, brought Galatea to life, and married them. The story is beautifully told in an exquisite sculpture done by Jean Léon Gérôme called “Pygmalion and Galatea.” It depicts the moment Galatea comes to life and the first kiss between the cloaked king and gorgeous goddess. Gérôme’s sculpture is in the West Vestibule of Casa Grande. Galatea can also be found in chair coverings and wood carvings throughout the castle.

Our outside tour continues with one of nine sarcophagi (Roman funerary caskets) in the Hearst gardens. Why so many? Hoyt explains, it dates back to the 2nd century, when sarcophagi were often used as an alternative to cremation. They were also commonplace in Mediterranean style gardens, like the ones at Hearst Castle. The mild climate along the California coastline is similar to what Hearst experienced when he visited Spain, France, and Greece. Only five percent of the world is lucky enough to experience this weather pattern. Hoyt says, “Water elements play an important role in Mediterranean gardens. It gets hot and the fountains and swimming pools represent a calming, cool effect.”

Perhaps the castle’s most recognized symbol is the Neptune Pool. Construction began in 1924, and the pool was enlarged twice, reaching its current size in 1936. It holds 345,000 gallons of water. You can’t help but think about the swiveled heads of the stars of that era who enjoyed the views of the castle, gardens, and sea as they swam.

The marble sculptures lining the pool were carved by Charles Cassou. The French artist designed them especially for William Randolph Hearst. At one end of the pool – Neptune raising his spear. At the other – the birth of Venus. “It all just makes sense,” Hoyt reiterates. “You can tell Cassou made these in the 1920’s and 30’s, can’t you?” he asks. “Just check out the Jean Harlow hairstyles.”

Hearst built his indoor Roman Pool in 1930. It took a dozen men a full year working 12 hours a day and a million bucks to finish. Thousands of one- square inch blue and gold tiles seem to make the pool glow. They were all laid by hand. The ten-foot-deep pool is 84 feet long and is roofed by tennis courts.

There are three satellite cottages at the estate. We tour the largest one, House A, also known as Casa del Mar. Inside are a gold Spanish ceiling and portraits of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian and Empress Charlotte by German artist Franz Winterhalter. The paintings are two of Hearst’s favorites. He bought them in 1938 during the only financially troubled time in his life.

One look inside Casa Grande – the main house – and it’s clear we’re dealing with an obsessed collector. In the Assembly Room, four 15 by 21-foot Flemish tapestries hang from the gigantic 16th century Italian ceiling. One tapestry shows Neptune creating a horse while across the room another shows the triumph of religion over paganism. Julia Morgan had the choir stall paneling on the room’s long walls heightened to reach the exact dimensions of the hand-woven tapestries. The French fireplace in the center of the room is 400 years old. An 1889 sterling silver, oil-burning Tiffany lamp decorated with cloisonné orchids sits on a piano in the room. Antique furniture, sculptures, paintings, and a 16th-century French presentation case fill the room. Somehow, everything fits together.

One of the other real treasures in the Assembly Room is Antonio Canova’s “Venus Italica” sculpture. The eloquently shy marble piece stands six feet tall. It’s one of Hoyt’s favorites because of its beauty and history. The Florentine government asked Canova, then the most celebrated living sculptor, to make a copy of the “Medici Venus” which Napoleon had taken from them to Paris. Canova came up with four versions of his own Venus. Hearst bought this version at the famous Lansdowne sale of 1930. But for the next 70 years, the sculpture’s whereabouts were listed as unknown by the art community. An art historian touring the castle several years ago recognized “Venus Italica.” Its “discovery” in the same place it had been sitting for the last seven decades shows what little attention the art establishment paid to Hearst’s art collection until recently.

Moving on to the dining room – or Refectory as Hearst and Morgan called it. Spanish choir stalls flank the walls while a gilt iron church grille reinforces the ecclesiastical atmosphere. The silk Palio flags that hang above were once used for sacred festivals in Siena, Italy. Antique plates and a 1710 Queen Anne silver wine cistern decorate the long dinner table.

More than 150 vases line Hearst’s Library. His collection of 3rd to 8th century Greek pottery is one of the finest displays at San Simeon. Four thousand antique books are organized on the shelves. Upstairs, at the far end of Hearst’s elaborate Gothic Study, is one of the only images you’ll see of Hearst himself, painted by his lifelong friend Orrin Peck in 1894. At age 31, a handlebar-mustached Hearst appears to be staring at you from every direction.

Hearst has four lofted, duplex bedrooms in the main house. In one of them, two beautiful Simon Vouet oil paintings that will stop you in your tracks are fitted into the ceiling. In one of the cloister bedrooms you’ll find a Renée Lalique glass vase. The castle also features a private movie theater with comfortable red and gold velvet seats. The studios kept Hearst supplied with pre-release features; “Gone With the Wind” played at San Simeon before its official premiere.

No matter how long you stare at any given room, it’s impossible to see everything. In total, there are 38 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 14 sitting rooms on the estate all full of art. Hoyt says, “If it looks Spanish – it is. If it looks gold – it’s real gold.” If Hearst didn’t have the piece of art he wanted, he had it made. Hoyt takes me behind the ropes of Casa Grande up Hearst’s private elevators and spiral staircases. As I look out private balconies most tourists don’t get to see, I feel like a king looking down upon his kingdom.

Hoyt doesn’t like to talk about money. To him all the art is priceless. But, three paintings caught my eye in the Celestial Suite Sitting Room. The first – an original Luc Olivier Merson. The other two – Jean Léon Gérôme paintings, the same artist who sculpted “Pygmalion and Galatea.” Hearst bought Merson’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” in 1894. The painting shows an exhausted Mary with baby Jesus resting on the Sphinx and Joseph sleeping in the sand. The attention to light and detail is simply amazing – notice the crescent moon in the upper left.

Both of the Gérôme paintings feature Napoleon. “Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” shows Napoleon carefully eying the Sphinx while his own officers, whose shadows are visible in the left foreground, study him. The other Gérôme, “Napoleon at Cairo,” shows Napoleon on a ridge looking down upon the crowded Egyptian city. The Pyramids are off in the distance.

Hearst-Castle-Library-4The Mediterranean-inspired compound seems to follow several artistic themes. I’ve mentioned power – represented by the lions and Napoleon – and beauty, Galatea and Venus. The third important theme at the estate is religion. Hearst was born Episcopalian, but he wasn’t a churchgoer. However, Mary, Jesus, and images of Christianity are everywhere. There are too many Madonna and Child paintings to count.

There are religious icons nearly everywhere you turn at the castle. Why so many? Diane McGrath, Chief of Museum Interpretation, has an idea. She says Hearst was “conveniently moral.” For example, he had a 30 year affair, but never got a divorce. Marion Davies even had her own room at the castle. She also had a drinking problem. So, Hearst put restrictions on alcohol – one cocktail before dinner, a glass of wine with dinner, and an after-dinner drink in the evening. No one could bring booze in, and if they did, they were asked to leave and never come back. While his newspapers pushed the smut envelope, Hearst simply didn’t tolerate certain kinds of behavior at his estate – “convenient morality.”

In Hearst’s bedroom alone there are six different Madonna and Child artifacts. The Duccio di Buoninsegna “Madonna and Child” is one of the smaller paintings in the entire castle, yet it’s probably worth the most – more than $10 million dollars according to some publications. The excellent example of early Sienese painting (circa 1300) was actually given to Hearst by one of his publishers. The attribution plate attached to the Duccio reads Segna Buenoventura. But, that’s the wrong painter. It took a conservator’s visit about a decade ago before that was realized. If only the publisher had known before she gave it away. For Mr. Hearst, “Good things come in small packages,” Hoyt says.

HearstCastle_IndoorPool 2The last stop on my private tour is an air-tight, temperature-controlled vault. It requires security card and code access. Inside there are 10,000 original drawings of Hearst Castle. Virtually, every wall, pillar and ornamented façade is detailed in the many drawings created by Julia Morgan and her dedicated staff. Morgan once built the library and bell tower at Mills College in Oakland. It survived the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake when many nearby buildings crumbled. Hearst Castle was built to withstand the strongest of temblors. And it has. The structure located near the San Andreas Fault has never been seriously damaged, though twenty art objects sustained damage in the San Simeon quake of 2003.

Inside the vault – guest books signed by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill. The books are priceless. So are Morgan’s sketches and floor plans, which are works of art themselves. They are covered by clear, plastic sheets and can only be handled with white gloves. But, nearly all of them are covered in ugly scribble that seems to ruin them all. “Looks good,” “Needs some work.” “Change this” or “change that.” The bad penmanship belongs to William Randolph Hearst. And despite their appearance, the words that are written tell the story of one of the greatest partnerships between architect and client in American history – the story of an idea that went from “a little something” to heaven on Earth.

Written by: Ben Bamsey

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