If you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to be a guest of the Vanderbilts during their years living in Biltmore House at the turn of the 19th century, your chance is coming soon.
Beginning Feb. 9, 2019, Biltmore House becomes the scene of a festive celebration hosted by the Vanderbilts in a new exhibition, "A Vanderbilt House Party: Guests, Grandeur & Galas."
For many years, Biltmore’s curators have researched what it was like when the Vanderbilts entertained guests at Biltmore House. Using information gleaned from letters, photographs and documents in the Vanderbilt archives, the curatorial team has created an experience that will put today’s visitors into the action of the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt extended their boundless hospitality to family and friends. The exhibit will run through May 27.
Clothing vignettes in Biltmore House, paired with storytelling in a new audio-guided tour (free with all online ticket purchases) that uses innovative 360-degree sound techniques, will draw listeners into the preparations for a celebration in Biltmore House.
The narration is based on those who lived and worked in Biltmore House, and features a butler recounting the leisurely days and glamorous evenings the Vanderbilts’ guests enjoyed.
Visitors will listen in on staff as they work to prepare a grand multi-course dinner; as an opera singer rehearses before her evening performance; and as servants set an elaborate table in the Banquet Hall with family china, silver, and crystal.
Elegant fashions worn by the Vanderbilts recreated by Oscar-winning designer John Bright will fill the grand rooms of Biltmore House.
In collaboration with Biltmore curators, Bright and his team at Cosprop, London meticulously recreated fashions favored by the Vanderbilts and their guests at turn-of-the-century celebrations known as house parties.
Throughout his career, Bright has received 12 Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Costume Design in 1985 for the Merchant Ivory adaption of “A Room with a View.” The film starred Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
An immersive experience
“This exhibition is unlike any we’ve ever done before,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s curator of interpretation. “You will get a sense of what life was truly like at Biltmore.”
That sense of the Gilded-Age era is enhanced by a new Premium Audio Guided Tour. This component of the exhibition combines innovative 360 degree sound techniques with stories told from the perspectives of those who lived and worked at Biltmore in the early 1900s. This creates a unique, immersive audio-visual experience for guests.
Klingner and Ellen Rickman, Biltmore’s director of museum services, traveled between London and Asheville over the course of two years to work with Bright to recreate the Vanderbilt wardrobe, researching fashion magazines of the era and studying archival photography and portraits from Biltmore’s collection in great detail in order to create the designs found in the exhibition.
“To bring these photographs that have been in black and white for more than a century into vivid, living color representations has been incredible,” said Klingner.
Among the artwork, tapestries, and antiques in Biltmore House and the Vanderbilt collection, there are few pieces of clothing from the Gilded Age-era. Clothing tends to deteriorate through the years.
“This exhibition is like we’re replacing a piece of the collection that was missing,” said Dini Cecil Pickering, great-granddaughter of George Vanderbilt who was Biltmore’s founder.
Biltmore and Bright
This is not the first time Biltmore and Bright have teamed up. The collaboration dates back to when the estate began making plans to display a selection of costumes Bright created for the wildly popular PBS series “Downton Abbey.” Biltmore hosted the premiere showing of Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times in 2015. The exhibition then traveled to several U.S. cities.
A Vanderbilt House Party is included in Biltmore daytime admission. The new Premium Audio Guided Tour is free only with online ticket purchases at www.biltmore.com, or can be purchased at Biltmore for an additional fee.
Guests visiting the estate may also tour the estate’s gardens, explore hiking and biking trails, dine at one of seven restaurants, and spend time at Antler Hill Village & Winery. The Winery offers complimentary tastings from among more than 20 of Biltmore’s handcrafted award-winning varieties. Additionally, Biltmore’s winemaker has created a special red dessert wine, Mariporta, for the new exhibition.
For information about visiting Biltmore, go to www.biltmore.com, or call 800-411-3812.