"There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it." ~Minnie Aumonier
Stepping through the entrance arch to the Huntington Library grounds we felt transported back in time to the Beaux arts age of stately homes, grand gardens and old money.
The estate was owned by Henry Huntington a nephew of the railroad magnate Collis Huntington. After Collis first wife died he married her nurse, Arabella who was thirty years his junior. When Collis died Henry who inherited fifteen million dollars married Arabella who inherited thirty million dollars. The couple then began to devote themselves to the acquisition of art, collecting books for their library and developing the gardens on their San Marino California property. We knew that this first visit would be the beginning of a long relationship with the Huntington Library.
Henry Huntington is credited with a massive expansion of rail lines throughout southern California. He purchased much of the land surrounding the rail, knowing that this property would service his customers and therefore be a wise investment. Eventually he would link all of southern California making it possible to develop communities that would grow and thrive.
We were happy discover that we had arrived in time for the next walking tour. Our docent introduced himself as big Ed and gave us an extraordinary introduction to the Huntington. He has been volunteering there for years and has a real passion for its beauty history and value to the community. When we travel we always look for the docent led tours. These people have a real dedication and generally provide great insight and background which always enhances the experience.
The Huntington is a favorite location for Hollywood productions. We learned that parts of Monster in Law, The Wedding Planner and the Little Fockers were filmed on property. The white house entry for the television series West Wing, Memoirs of a Geisha and scenes from the new film Captain America were also filmed there.
As our garden tour passed the house, the air became infused with the soft scent of roses. Suddenly we were directed toward enormous beds of some of the most beautiful and exotic roses I had ever seen. There were so many colors and varieties to examine that time would not allow me to see then all. One of the most unusual roses was the green Sheila MacQueen rose, pictured below. I had never before seen a green rose
The Huntington library houses some of the rarest books in history. We could have spent an entire day marveling at manuscripts written by Charles Darwin, John James Audubon and Pliny the elder. We stood in awe seeing one of three existing vellum copies of the Gutenberg bible, a first edition of Paradise Lost and an Ellesmere Canterbury Tales. I never imagined I would see one of the first examples of Shakespeare’s collected works dating back to the 1600’s. What a wonderful surprise
Big Ed would again be our docent on the gallery tour of the main house. It turned out to be a private tour as we were the only two attending. The highlight of the afternoon was finally getting to view Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. We had no idea that Gainsborough’s blue boy was housed at the Huntington. Master Jonathan Buttall was his name and at the time of the portrait he was about twelve years old. His father and Thomas Gainsborough had been childhood friends. After Jonathan’s father died Gainsborough took on the young man as a subject. Portraits of this era generally took about fourteen day to produce however it took three months to craft this masterpiece. Gainsborough, out of love for his friend used this time to talk with the boy and help him through the grieving process. They became lifelong friends and Buttall was the only non family member allowed to attend Gainsborough’s funeral. I always admired Gainsborough’s work and now I admire his character as well.
The Lawrence painting below called called Pinky is another treasure of the museum. It was commissioned by the grandmother of Sarah Barrett Moulton’s known as Pinky. Sadly, Sarah died shortly after the painting was completed. It was believed she may have contracted whooping cough from her brother who survived his bout with the dreaded disease. This painting eventually hung in the home of her brother and his daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth Barrett. Elizabeth would later marry Robert Browning and produce some of the finest poetry ever written.
I’m grateful that we had an opportunity to visit the Huntington Library and I know with absolutely certainty we will be back to see more. Los Angeles for all of its traffic, celebrity glitz and fast paced excitement also has places of quiet reflection and peace to be discovered and enjoyed. If you ever find yourself in San Marino California stop in and meet the Huntingtons.