…especially if you also have genius taste to go with the cash.
This was clearly the case with Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, who was born into a rich family, married rich, became successful in his own right and then built Olana, which has to be the finest Victorian house in the finest setting in America–or at least, the only one whose decorative principles I can stand.
Church traveled widely in the Middle East and gave his marvelous house, designed by Calvert Vaux with I'm sure an annoying degree of interference from Church, a Persian flavor.
Unlike in most Victorian houses, the rooms are calm and peaceful. No wallpaper! Just marvelously chosen colors and Islamic-style stenciling on the doors and around them. Beautiful Persian rugs, wonderful tiles, a little bit of carving, bunches of more or less okay paintings–the whole thing is super-sophisticated and warm and bohemian at the same time. I'm trying unsuccessfully to emulate this mood in my own modest and decrepit Victorian house.
I wish I could show you the interiors of Church's house, which is owned by New York State, but we weren't allowed to take photos and the website could not be stingier with the images. Really, people, if you want visitors, show the goods!
In fact, I think old Church was a much better interior decorator than painter, where he concentrated on all the unsubtle stuff in landscapes all over the world–you know, raging waterfalls and big mountains glamorized by showy light effects at sunset and sunrise. Sorry, but I cannot take this stuff seriously at all.
Church may have had some excuse for all that landscape-oriented melodrama.
That's me and my old friend Jerome, the funnest possible person to tour anything with. Please excuse the foreground darkness–but, you know, all the better to show off the ridiculously beautiful Hudson Valley.
Again, dark foreground and just an absurdly picturesque background. In fact, that is the feeling everywhere in the house–but I can't show you, because no pictures.
This painting is a little pinker in life than it is reproduced here, and it hangs above the mantle in the most beautiful little room.
Olana has helped me solve one of the thorniest problems facing the Obama administration: what to do about insane executive pay at all those companies that took government handouts during our recent financial crisis. We clearly need to cut the Goldman Sachs bonuses in half and then set up an architecture and decor pool for deserving painters. My plan is not in any sense fair, except that the American landscape would probably get some really amazing houses and gardens out of the deal.