Online catalog of the collection

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is currently developing a publically accessible, online catalog of it’s collection that represents many cultures and periods of art—ancient Roman sculptures, Renaissance tapestries and architectural elements, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century statues and garden decorations, Chinese ceramics, Rococo and Neoclassical furniture and early twentieth-century sculptures and paintings.

James Deering relied on his artistic director, Paul Chalfin, to decorate Vizcaya. In fact, if there was a collector at Vizcaya, it was Chalfin rather than Deering. The great majority of Vizcaya’s collection was acquired in Italy between 1912 and 1914, while the estate was still being planned.

ABOUT THE COLLECTION

Ceiling of the Enclosed Loggia at Vizcaya.
Ceiling of the Enclosed Loggia at Vizcaya. Photo by Bill Sumner.

The rooms in the Main House were designed around pieces of furniture, paneling and architectural elements such as gates and fireplaces. Every object contributes to the decorative context of the room in which it resides. As such, the objects and interiors played an important role in determining the architecture of the house.

Chalfin was an expert in Italian furniture and interiors, and the rooms in the Main House reflect his interest in different periods of history. The eighteenth century was the main inspiration for Vizcaya—ranging from the asymmetrical and highly inventive Rococo to the more linear and austere Neoclassical style.

Chalfin also wanted to evoke the style of different Italian cities, and so Vizcaya has rooms inspired by Milan (Music Room), Palermo (Reception Room) and Venice (the Cathay and Espagnolette bedrooms). In Deering’s personal suite, Chalfin assembled masculine, but yet ornate, furniture of the Napoleonic era, while in the Living Room and Dining Room he followed the fashion for “modern” Renaissance interiors popular among art collectors in Europe and the United States.

Chalfin was not interested in historical consistency and he was skilled at integrating new elements of his own design into old artifacts, creating eclectic ensembles. Vizcaya was, after all, designed as a vacation house, and the décor is consistently playful and whimsical.

Nonetheless, today, Vizcaya has one of the most significant collections of Italian furniture in the United States.

Statue at the orchidarium.
Statue in the Orchidarium. Photo by Alex Serna.

The statues, busts, vases and urns that decorate Vizcaya’s gardens range from antiquity to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and include modern art from Deering’s time.

While Chalfin’s intent was to acquire artifacts as decoration rather than to assemble a collection, the gardens do preserve a large number of important eighteenth-century sculptures representing mythological figures. These sculptures originally decorated villas around Venice, Italy.

One of the most monumental outdoor sculptures at Vizcaya is the central element of the Fountain Garden. This was designed in 1722 by Filippo Barigioni (1680–1753), the architect who created the fountain in front of the Pantheon in Rome.

What makes Vizcaya unique among American country estates of the time is the combination of these antique elements with new sculptural decorations by contemporary artists, such as Gaston Lachaise (1882–1935), Charles Cary Rumsey (1879–1922) and Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872–1930). Chanler was responsible for the ceiling of the swimming pool, an extraordinary stucco bas-relief representing the underwater flora and fauna of the Florida Keys.

The most outstanding of Vizcaya’s twentieth-century features is the Barge, sculpted by Alexander Stirling Calder (1870–1945). Located in the water in front of the Main House, the Barge is a monumental breakwater shaped as a boat and decorated with carving representing mythical Caribbean creatures. During Deering’s time, there were also full-grown trees, a latticework pavilion and fountains on the Barge.

Woman carefully cleaning a painting with a brush and goggles
Collections Care Technician carefully cleans a painting. Photo by Vizcaya staff

At Vizcaya we are constantly active in the preservation and conservation of this unique and fragile estate and its extremely varied collections. These collections include archival material and historic photographs, textiles, sculptures, paintings and furniture, monumental architectural elements and a living collection of historic plants, some of which date back to James Deering’s day. Though James Deering used high-quality materials and construction techniques at Vizcaya, the estate is more than a century old and for many years funding was not available for maintenance and capital projects.

The estate’s subtropical location on Biscayne Bay is deeply relevant to Vizcaya’s beauty and significance. This location, however, also exposes Vizcaya’s historic artifacts to saline and damp conditions and the periodic devastation of hurricanes, the first of which occurred in 1926, just a year after James Deering’s death.

With every preservation and conservation project, we first conduct archival and field research to understand how things were made and how they looked in Deering’s day. Vizcaya’s designers wanted Vizcaya to look old as soon as it was built, so we don’t strive to make things look pristine or new.

We also perform conditions assessment and materials analysis to document prior treatments and determine what approach might be best. And on each of these projects we collaborate with architects, conservators and scholars with the appropriate skills, training and experience.

SUPPORT VIZCAYA’S PRESERVATION

Help support Vizcaya’s ongoing preservation of this National Historic Landmark