The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview

to the eminent New York-New Jersey Morrises, best remembered for producing two statesmen, his grand-uncles Lewis, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and Gouverneur. For biographies of Davis' patron, a prominent agriculturist and a promoter of navigation on the Harlem River, see his obituary in The New York Times, September 20, 1900, 2, and J. Scharf et al., History of Westchester County, NY I, Philadelphia, 1886, 828-30. Our Plate 136 comes from ibid., plate facing 830. The National Union Catalogue lists four publications by Morris (e.g., two of his catalogues of the highly regarded animals that he bred).

The Commission. I have by no means exhausted the sources of information on Davis' house itself For basic documentation I have relied on Davis' Daybook, Vol. I ( New York Public Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division), and his Journal (NNMM, Davis Collection, Vol. I, 92). The entries in the Daybook show that, between December 28, 1846, and January 1, 1847, Davis went to Fordham with Morris, began planning additions for Morris' house according to both a symmetrical format and the final scheme, and drew. an Italianate plan and elevation for the commission, all for a charge of $8.00. He did the lion's share of his work on Morris' house in January (January 2, 4, 8-19), and this included meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Morris (January 21). As of March 10, when he worked on details for the house, his charges had reached $100 ( Daybook I, 341; cp. Journal, 92, with a list of the drawings). In August he visited the house twice (informally on August 15 and professionally on August 30). In his last major undertaking in the remodeling, he designed three kinds of chimneypieces on September 1-2, 1847 ( Journal, 92; Daybook I, 351). The remodeling cannot have reached completion before 1848. The house survived into the twentieth century; see R. Comfort et al., comps., History of Bronx Borough, New York, 1906, 75, 101. See also Journal, 209, on further Davis designs ( 1863-1864) for "Mount Fordham," for a coachhouse and stable and for a gatehouse.

The Drawings. Davis' "Mount Fordham" drawings share in a central problem with his papers, the existence of multiple variant drawings made of a given design at different dates. All the following drawings are in NNMM, Davis Collection. For drawings related to "Mount Fordham" as executed, see Vol. VII, 136-37v, and 140 attached to 150; for two studies on the symmetrically fronted alternative that Davis labeled as his first thoughts, see 138v-39. For Davis' later undated drawings of a never-executed Gallicized version with French roofs, see Vol. VI, 147r-v, as well as Vol. II, 104, with an elevation of the Italianate version that Davis amended, adding French roofs over the low roofs that he had originally drawn. (Among other material, the verso of this last bears, in the upper left-hand corner, the pencil inscription "Norton's. Newhaven," in, I believe, Davis' hand. It remains a question why Davis referred to Henry Austin's closely related Norton House, on which see above.) Other Davis drawings for Morris or associated with him exist. Some of them, such as that for a circular gate lodge in the Box "Davis Buildings H-M," and those in Vol. VII, 75-76, evidently from a series of cottage designs for sloping terrain, hold considerable interest, but reconstructing the general story of Morris' patronage lies much beyond the scope of this essay.

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