Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer: A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age
Judith K. Major (University of Virginia Press, 2013)
Reviewed by Pamela Hartford
Mark Twain coined the term ‘Gilded Age’ as a satiric metaphor for the 30 year period following the Civil War, when rapid economic growth through industrialism created myriad opportunities for business ventures as well as increased material comfort. The glitter of these advantages were, to Twain, a thin layer masking the ugly consequences: enormous poverty and suffering.
As a member of the historically entitled 1% class by both birth and marriage, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer sought to raise the standards of legions of bourgeois newcomers, instructing them toward becoming discerning clients and patrons. Writing in the most important journals of the day – Century, North American Review, Harper’s, Scribner’s and the Atlantic, as well as professional publications, such as The American Architect and Building News - Van Rensselaer infused her critiques of architecture and art with values of education and beauty.