After a meticulous five-year restoration, the historic Samuel M. Nickerson mansion has been transformed into the Richard H. Driehaus Museum. This remarkable new institution vividly brings to life the beauty of gilded age Chicago. Described as a “splendid survivor amongst the hulking high-rises of River North,” the Driehaus Museum is a premier example of historic preservation set in one of Chicago’s finest historic homes.
The 25,000-square-foot mansion, built from 1879 to 1883, was originally commissioned as a residence for liquor and banking magnate Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Nickerson spared no expense on the creation of his “marble palace.” The building cost $450,000 to build – a staggering amount for the time.
The opulent interiors of this magnificent relic of Chicago’s Gilded Age are replete with richly hued stained glass windows, shimmering mosaics of iridescent glass tile, and elaborately carved and inlaid wood paneling. Highlights of the house include: the grand entrance hall, clad in more than 17 types of marble; the dining room which survives today as one of the finest carved rooms from the period; and Nickerson’s former art gallery where a striking stained glass dome rises dramatically 25 feet above the mansion’s first floor. Today it would be difficult to define a value for interiors of such high caliber, and it would be impossible to build them anew.
In April 2003 the Nickerson house was established as a museum by Chicago philanthropist and preservationist Richard H. Driehaus. Over the next five years the building once known as Chicago’s “marble palace” was meticulously restored for the purpose of transforming it into a museum dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of historic architecture and design.
“It is my hope that visitors to the museum will consider the importance of the built environment, and what it means to their lives on a daily basis,” said Driehaus. “This restoration is not just about the experience of viewing a grand house, but also about neighborhoods and the context of architecture in helping to create them.”
The Museum is a showcase for late 19th and early 20th century art and design, displayed against the magnificent backdrop of the newly restored Nickerson mansion. Original objects and interiors of the house are complemented by period objects from the Driehaus collection of fine and decorative arts. The collection includes major works by artists and designers such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Herter Brothers, Emile Gallé and Louis Majorelle, as well as American and European paintings, and other decorative arts. The Driehaus collection represents more than 30 years of dedication to the stewardship of late 19th and early 20th century visual culture.
“The Driehaus Museum is a remarkable addition to Chicago’s cultural landscape,” said the museum’s director, David Bagnall. “It is a must-see attraction for those interested in American architecture, art and design, historic preservation and the history of Chicago. The museum is a truly immersive experience that celebrates the superlative design and craftsmanship of the grandest surviving residence of 19th century Chicago.”
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum is located at 40 E. Erie Street and is open to the public for guided tours on a first-come, first-served basis on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The museum’s admission fee helps fund ongoing conservation efforts to ensure the preservation of the Nickerson Mansion for future generations.
Visit www.driehausmuseum.org for tour times and other information.
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