By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer
What now is the Taft Museum of Art was built in 1820 by Cincinnati merchant Martin Baum as a clapboard-sided wood and masonry structure in a Federal Palladian style with a copper roof.
Federal Palladian was in vogue from the founding of the federal government in 1789 until 1840. Inspired by the works of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, it is characterized by its massive size and use of classical elements such as pediments, cornices, lion masks and paws, acanthus leaves and swags.
The Taft has the style's hallmark front portico with Doric columns, main block of five bay windows ornamented with elliptical attic windows and an arched double doorway.
This was an unusual style for this area, says the Taft's chief curator, David Johnson. "It is a very high style more common on the East coast."
In 1829, Cincinnati businessman and abolitionist Nicholas Longworth bought the home and finished the wings in Palladium style, but he renovated the core to reflect the Italianate Rococo Revival style popular at that time.
The Rococo style emerged in France in the late 1690s and the rest of Europe in the 1730s. Its American revival from 1845 to 1875 is characterized by S-curves; bright, clear colors set off by white and gold; the use of naturalistic motifs, and a tendency toward asymmetry.
For example, when Robert S. Ducanson painted the home's murals for Longworth - the largest and most important commission given to an African-American during the 19th century - he painted ornate gold frames around the landscapes.
Cincinnati industrialist David Sinton bought the house in 1871 and made more changes, moving to Empire Revival style, which had just reached Cincinnati (after 20 years) from Europe.
Empire Revival is based on the French style associated with Napoleon I's personal tastes. The style mixes antique forms and ornaments with Napoleonic symbols such as bees and eagles.
Anna Sinton Taft and her husband, Charles Phelps Taft, lived with her father in the home and built the north bedroom wing and porte-cochere (covered entrance) that extends the length of the driveway. When Sinton died, the young Tafts renovated in the Colonial Revival style.
A three-part lecture series, "A Masterpiece Unveiled: Introducing the Taft Museum of Art," will offer a preview of the new construction, restored interiors and revamped gardens of the museum.
The lectures will be led by the experts involved and will be at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. downtown, on the first three Wednesdays in November. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for others. Reservations: 241-0343, ext. 15.
Nov. 5: "An Overview of the New Taft Museum of Art," Ann M. Beha, president of Ann Beha Architects, Boston. Beha is the lead architect. She has designed expansions for the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum and Delaware Art Museum, and renovations to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tenn.
Nov. 12: "Interior Decoration of the Historic Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House," Richard Cote, curator, Office of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. Cote wrote The Baum-Taft House: An Architectural History and has served as curator of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va. He is a specialist in American architectural history and decorative arts.
Nov. 19: "The History and Evolution of the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft Garden," Gary Hilderbrand, principal, Reed Hilderbrand Associates Inc., Watertown, Mass. Hilderbrand is adjunct associate professor of landscape architecture at the Harvard Design School and has published books and essays on 20th-century American landscape architecture.
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