Albert Bierstadt’s Malkasten, Tarrytown, NY – Part 1

Malkasten: Irvington-on-Hudson.
Bierstadt Collection. Malkasten. Irvington on Hudson (exterior).“. B/w print, 5.25 x 3.75in (13.25 x 9.25 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bierstadt. (N200_B473_A1_1996.169.3.jpg)
Gift of Joyce Randall Edwards.

Here in the Hudson Valley we have a bounty of historic sites and grandiose mansions that were once host and home to some of America’s most famous persons, yet there were also many great homes and buildings that did not live to the age of being preserved as museum pieces. Many grand mansions disappeared without leaving behind a distinguishable trace. One such vanished mansion that has kind of haunted me in its absence, mainly as it was practically in my backyard, was Malkasten, the home of artist Albert Bierstadt. As elaborate as any house that existed in the 1860s, it was also very short-lived.

Albert Bierstadt.

Albert Bierstadt was born in Germany in 1830 and with his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1832. He sailed to Dusseldorf in 1853 to study painting, a vocation his cooper father opposed. But by late 1856 he had earned enough money to travel Europe. In late 1857 he returned to the United States and soon became a credentialed member of the arts community in New York City. In 1859 he joined a pioneering expedition to document western territory not yet seen by the American public. Another trip in 1863 led to a series of paintings that were were popular with the burgeoning arts scene; a painting of the Rocky Mountains sold for $25,000, then the highest amount paid to an American artist.

In the Yosemite Valley, by Albert Bierstadt, 1866.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT.
I also feel a bit of a personal connection to Bierstadt’s works and not just because he was a fellow Tarrytowner (or Irvingtonian). A visit to Yosemite in the summer of 2000 was part of my first major road-trip vacation. Upon return I found a poster of the above painting and it is still on my wall today.

Bierstadt found success in his personal life at the same time. He fell in love with Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, the wife of art critic (and Bierstadt’s western traveling companion) Fitz Hugh Ludlow. The Ludlows divorced in 1866, and by the end of the year Albert and Rosalie became husband and wife.

With income and a wife-to-be, Bierstadt planned for a country home and studio along the Hudson River. In the middle of 1865, he began to purchase land at Irvington (the site is actually part of land incorporated by the village of Tarrytown in 1870). Construction began in early 1866, and the house was largely if not entirely complete by the end of that year. Several other stone houses stood nearby, but Bierstadt supposedly chose the site when he followed a circling hawk to this spot with a spectacular view.

Bierstadt initially called his home Hawksrest, but it became known as Malksten, German for paintbox, and the name of an artists’ club in Dusseldorf. According to architectural historian John Zukowsky, Malkasten “had a three-story studio and plentiful Rhenish associations, such as its several turrets, granite cladding, oriel windows, and corbeled balcony.” Peggy Case, in an article for the Westchester Historian, noted the “decoratively tiled mansard roof … broken by pinnacles, chimneys and dormer windows, and was capped by an ornamental iron railing. An American flag waved atop the western tower which offered magnificent views” (Case, 77).

The base dimensions of the house were 100 feet by 75 feet. Within was a studio 30 feet wide by 30 feet high with 20-foot-tall sliding glass windows outside and 20-foot-tall sliding doors inside that opened to a library/music room. When opened, the two rooms became one that was 70 feet long, a good size space to view his canvases of up to fifteen feet by nine feet. The size of his paintings were disparaged by some critics, but Bierstadt continued to enjoy artistic and financial success. Together with his wife they enjoyed the social scene and traveled a lot, and mainly spent summers only at Tarrytown. Malkasten was rented out for some years to the Prince family; Jennie Prince Black later published her recollections of growing up in the area.

Residence of Albert Bierstadt, Esq.
Engraving published in Martha Lamb, “The Houses of America,” Art Journal (1876).

Malkasten’s architect was the English-born Jacob Wrey Mould. Like Bierstatdt’s oversize paintings, Mould’s work was the subject of some public derision. His innovative use of “structural polychromy” at New York’s Unitarian Church of All Souls earned the building the nickname “The Church of the Holy Zebra.” That building is long-demolished, but New Yorkers surely are familiar with surviving examples of Mould’s work. With Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Mould designed some of Central Park’s most-cherished features, including Belvedere Castle and Bethesda Terrace. With Vaux, Mould also designed the original buildings of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Additionally, the “bohemian” Mould was personally disliked however professionally respected he may have been. Francis R. Kowsky noted that, among other “disreputable proceedings,” Mould committed the 1860s sin of “living with a woman who was not his wife”, earning scorn from friends and colleagues (Country, Park & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux, page 129-130).

Also in connection with Malkasten, or the neighborhood in which it was built, Mould was brought to New York to design the All Souls Church by a fellow named Moses Hicks Grinnell. Grinnell owned an estate near Malksten which he called Wolfert’s Dell, in reference to the estate of his neighbor to the south, Washington Irving. Irving’s cottage Sunnyside was a former tenant farmhouse owned by Wolfert Acker, and Irving called it Wolfert’s Roost in his satirical histories of New York. Not just a neighbor of Irving, Grinnell was also family – he was married to Irving’s niece Julia.

(Getting farther off-topic, many of Mould’s original watercolor drawings for Central Park were tossed in dumpster in the 1950s. A worker retrieved the drawings and brought them home. Recently, the plans went up for auction but New York City tried to reclaim ownership. I don’t know what the resolution was in that case.)

Malkasten from the west, c. 1867.
Photograph by Charles Bierstadt. From Anderson, Nancy K. et al. Albert Bierstadt, Art & Enterprise, Hudson Hills Press, Inc.: New York, New York, 1990. Collection of Ralph Gosse.

Malkasten from the northwest, c. 1867.
Photograph by Charles Bierstadt. From Anderson, Nancy K. et al. Albert Bierstadt, Art & Enterprise, Hudson Hills Press, Inc.: New York, New York, 1990. collection of Ralph Gosse.

Malkasten at right with the Halsted (present-day King House) mansion behind it.
Detail of a larger photograph. Collection of Lyndhurst, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Bierstadt Collection. Studio at Malkasten.”. Stereocard, 7 x 4.5in (17.8 x 11 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bierstadt. (N200_B473_A1_1996.169.9.jpg)

Bierstadt Collection. Library. Bierstadt’s house at Irvington. Charles Bierstadt, photographer. Niagara Falls, N.Y.“. Half of stereocard, 4.25 x 3.5in (10.75 x 9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bierstadt. (N200_B473_A1_1996.169.7.jpg)
Gift of Joyce Randall Edwards.

Bierstadt Collection. Studio. Chas. Bierstadt, photographer. Niagara Falls, N.Y.“. Stereocard, 7 x 4.5in (17.8 x 11 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bierstadt. (Photo: Charles Bierstadt, N200_B473_A1_1996.169.4_SL1.jpg)
Gift of Joyce Randall Edwards.

Bierstadt Collection. Library, with piano. Charles Bierstadt, photographer. Niagara Falls, N.Y.“. Stereocard, 7 x 4.5in (17.8 x 11 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bierstadt. (N200_B473_A1_1996.169.8.jpg)
Gift of Joyce Randall Edwards.

Despite owning a fine home and studio with commanding view of the Hudson River, Bierstadt did not create many large paintings of the Hudson. Neverthless there are some paintings and oil sketches, a few of which I have been able to find good images.

Irvington Woods, by Albert Bierstadt.

Sailboats on the Hudson at Irvington, by Albert Bierstadt, c. 1886-1889.

View Of The Hudson Looking Across The Tappan Zee Towards Hook Mountain, by Albert Bierstadt, 1866.

Malkasten Lawn With Figures, by Albert Bierstadt, 1867.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, collection of Peter McBean.

By the mid-late 1870s, Bierstadt and contemporaries such as Frederic Church (whose own grand Hudson Valley home Olana was begun in 1870 and still stands today) fell out of favor with the art critics, derided as “living relics of an older, outmoded generation” (Case, page 80). Bierstadt seems to have stopped spending time at Malkasten about 1876-1878. Rosalie’s health also began to decline at this time; she preferred New York City and winters in Nassau in the Bahamas.

In the summer of 1882, Malkasten was rented out to broker Henry J. Chapman, Jr. Chapman left the house on Thursday November 9 of that year, and gardener Peter Conrad was the sole occupant that night. Conrad left the house about 5:30am Friday November 10 to get breakfast (Did Main Street in Irvington have many delis popular with the morning rush crowd then too?). When he returned to Malkasten at 7:15am, the house was on fire “beyond his control.” The Chapman family related smoking chimneys “that would seem to indicate that a defective flue was the cause.”

Malkasten was destroyed. Was it mere accident? Was it an insurance claim by a desperate, fading artist no longer dependent on a reliable stream of commissions and with a wife in failing health? Shortly before the fire the New York Times, in an article dated July 16, 1882 entitled “Ruins Along the Hudson: Many Deserted Mansions On Historic Spots,” quoted Bierstadt: “I will sell the place or let someone have it who will pay the taxes on it.” The article continued: “There are signs of neglect about Malkasten, and it is estimated that it will cost $20,000 to put it in good condition.”

Not only was the house lost, but so were works of art. Bierstadt’s studio was locked since his left the site four years prior, according to the New York Sun. Used for storage, the studio contained sketches, studies, engravings, western artifacts, books, paintings including two large canvases by Bierstadt, and other valuables.

Although destroyed by fire, a mere sixteen years after it was built, Malkasten didn’t entirely disappear right away. A photograph of foundation ruins and a set of steps was published in 1897. Ernest Ingersoll noted the “still stately ruins” of Malksten in his 1910 Handy Guide to the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Bierstadt died in New York City 1902, eight years after Rosalie passed away in Nassau. By the early 1900s, the Bierstadt property became part of the adjacent Halsted/King estate, and over time the ruins themselves disappeared, seemingly leaving no trace of Malkasten. Seemingly.

Ruins of Albert Bierstadt’s Castle.

Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Volume 43, May 1897, Page 499
.

Sources:
Anderson, Nancy K. et al. Albert Bierstadt, Art & Enterprise, Hudson Hills Press, Inc.: New York, New York, 1990.

“Bierstadt’s Loss By Fire.” The New York Sun, November 11, 1882, Page 5.

Case, Peggy. “Albert Bierstadt Rediscovered: His Life, Art and Westchester Residence.” The Westchester Historian. Volume 67, Number 4. Fall 1991.

Zukowsky, John and Robbe Pierce Stimson. Hudson River Villas. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.: New York, New York, 1985.

_____________________________________________

Where exactly was Malkasten? Bierstadt’s land was near the northeast corner of present-day Broadway and Sunnyside Lane. That is, east of Broadway and north of Sunnyside Lane. Several other mansions stood in this corner of Broadway including the Cedars, the William Moller mansion (southwest of Malkasten). Malkasten stood due west of, or northwest of, the present-day King House (of the Tarrytown House Conference Center), depending on which map we trust. Below Malksten, to the west, was an eighteenth-century farmhouse that still stands today. In the 1860s the farmhouse belonged to Forkel or Forkhill, and later to Mann.

In the following maps, north is always at top. Broadway runs top to bottom, present-day East Sunnyside Lane runs left to right.

1867
Atlas of New York and Vicinity, F. W. Beers.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

The house of J. S. Cronise no longer exists. It stood approximately near the present-day tennis courts of the Biddle Mansion (Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center).

1868
Atlas of New York and Vicinity, F. W. Beers.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

1875
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

The house of W. M. Halsted appears directly east of Malkasten. Halsted’s house was later remodeled and today is known as the King House (Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center). A small stone wall exists in the spot represented on this map as Malkasten, but I find it unlikely that two mansions would be built in such proximity to each other.

About 1880
The Hatch Lith. Co. Collection of Historic Hudson Valley.

The c. 1880 map shows what I believe to be the accurate representation of the spatial relationship between Malkasten and the Halsted mansion. Here, Malkasten is shown northwest of Halsted’s and near Bierstadt’s northern property line.

1881
Atlas of Westchester County New York, G. W. Bromley & Co.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

Again, Halsted’s house and Malkasten are shown adjacent to each other.

1891
Atlas of the Hudson River Valley, F. W. Beers.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

Halsted’s, now J. T. Terry, Jr.’s (“Irving Alp”), is shown a slight distance removed from two buildings represented on Bierstadt’s estate. Malkasten was destroyed by this time, but its ruins remained and may have been one of the two dots on the map.

1900
Map of Tarrytown N.Y. , 1900, Eberhard J. Wulff.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

No buildings are shown on Bierstadt’s property, now belonging to Gustavus Kissel.

1931
Atlas of Westchester County, New York, G. M. Hopkins.
Collection of The Historical Society, Inc., Serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

The Bierstadt estate now belongs to Sybil H. King. In 1964 the King estate and the adjacent Biddle property (“Linden Court”) became Tarrytown House Conference Center.

_____________________________________________

So, what might be left of Malkasten today? Did it disappear entirely? Was its site built over? Let’s go to Part Two of this thread and take a look.

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6 Responses to Albert Bierstadt’s Malkasten, Tarrytown, NY – Part 1

  1. nailhed says:

    interesting…i thought we wouldve had more than just one Bierstadt here in Detroit…

    http://www.dia.org/object-info/16af1d21-4398-4609-b419-56508d3de693.aspx

    …seeing as we have such a collection of great landscape stuff from that time period.

  2. Stephen Koller says:

    From Broadway, I held up the photograph of Malkasten taken in 1867 by Charles Bierstadt and used the stone wall in the picture as a guide. By doing so I found the exact location of the house.

  3. Betsy Jacks says:

    Dear Rob Yasinsac,
    I am the director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in the Hudson Valley of New York, and I’d like to get in touch with you about the paintings you included in your wonderful post about Bierstadt’s Malkasten. This spring we will present a Bierstadt exhibition that specifically focuses on his paintings of New York and New England and we have been unable to locate the paintings that you found. If you know who owns these works, and how we could get in touch with them, I would be grateful if you would contact me at the email provided here or by phone at the Cole site. Many thanks for your assistance.

  4. HV-Rob says:

    The Thomas Cole Historic Site in Catskill, NY, is hosting an exhibit entitled “Albert Bierstadt in New York & New England”, on view through November 3, 2013. The New York History blog has reviewed the exhibit here: http://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2013/08/05/exhibit-albert-bierstadt-in-new-york-and-new-england/

    More information about the Thomas Cole Historic Site and its exhibits can be found here: http://www.thomascole.org/current-events/

  5. Gail Ingis says:

    Hey, I just found all this fantastic research about Bierstadt’s Malkasten. I’m a trustee at Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, Norwalk, CT. where Bierstadt’s $25,000, “Domes of Yosemite” once hung c1867. After Mr. Lockwood died four years later, the painting was sold to a New York Auction gallery. Purchased by Horace Fairbanks and brought to his family home and business in St Johnsbury, VT, he built a gallery for the painting. Still there, it’s a magical site to behold and in need of restoration. The Atheneum is currently raising funds to restore the painting, to the tune of $20,000, which includes travel to a conservator. As a trustee, I visited the Atheneum and was given permission and much information to create a copy. As I was painting, I wondered how he acquired scenes to do the painting. His brother Charles accompanied him in both his 1859 and 1863 trip, took photographs for Bierstadt to use in his 10th Street studio. I wondered also, about the sketches that Bierstadt did, many in journalist’s Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s “Heart of the Continent.” Ludlow accompanied Bierstadt to the west in 1863. My overwhelming, vast discoveries inspired me to write a book based on his life. “Indigo Sky”, historical romance, that takes place in 1863. My couple meet at the Catskill Mountain House (burned down in 1969) and traveled to Yosemite. Although the book is fiction, the history is precise.

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