Robert Winthrop Chanler

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Robert Winthrop Chanler
Robert Winthrop Chanler..jpg
BornFebruary 22, 1872
DiedOctober 24, 1930(1930-10-24) (aged 58)
Julia Remington Chamberlain
(m. 1893; div. 1907)

(m. 1910; div. 1912)
ChildrenDorothy Chanler (born 1898, died 1948)
Julia Chanler (born 1905 in Paris, France, died 1977 in Paris)
Parent(s)John Winthrop Chanler
Margaret Astor Ward
RelativesSee Astor family

Robert Winthrop Chanler (February 22, 1872 – October 24, 1930) was an American artist and member of the Astor and Dudley–Winthrop families.[1] A designer and muralist, Chanler received much of his art training in France at the École des Beaux-Arts, and there his most famous work, titled Giraffes, was completed in 1905 and later purchased by the French government. Robert D. Coe, who studied with him, described Chanler as being "eccentric and almost bizarre." Chanler rose to prominence as an acclaimed American artist when his work was exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show in New York City.

Family and early life[edit]

Robert Winthrop Chanler, 1912, Leopard and Deer, gouache or tempera on canvas, mounted on wood, 194.3 cm × 133.4 cm (76.5 in × 52.5 in), Rokeby Collection. Exhibited at the Armory Show, New York, 1913

Chanler was born on February 22, 1872, in New York City to John Winthrop Chanler of the Dudley–Winthrop family and Margaret Astor Ward of the Astor family.[2] Through his father, he was a great-great-grandson of Peter Stuyvesant and a great-great-great-great-grandson of Wait Winthrop and Joseph Dudley.[2][3] Through his mother, he was a grandnephew of Julia Ward Howe, John Jacob Astor III, and William Backhouse Astor, Jr.[2]

Robert had 10 brothers and sisters, including politicians Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler and William Astor Chanler.[4] His sister Margaret Livingston Chanler served as a nurse with the American Red Cross during the Spanish–American War.[5] Robert's eldest brother John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler married novelist Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy.[6] His older brother Winthrop Astor Chanler[1] served in the Rough Riders in Cuba[7] and was wounded at the Battle of Tayacoba.[8]

His siblings and he became orphans after the death of their mother in 1875 and their father in 1877, both to pneumonia.[2] The children were raised at their parents' Rokeby Estate in Barrytown, New York.[2] John Winthrop Chanler's will provided $20,000 a year for each child for life (equivalent to $470,563 in 2018), enough to live comfortably by the standards of the time.[9] Several of Chanler's paintings still decorate the mansion at Rokeby.[10]


Robert Winthrop Chanler, 1905, Giraffes, portion of a screen, print, published 1922

Like Mai Rogers Coe and Everett Shinn, Chanler was staying in Paris in the 1890s and became involved with the art community.[2] When he returned to the U.S. in the early 1900s, he purchased a townhouse on East 19th Street, decorated it with his own works, and called it his House of Fantasy.[2] The townhouse became a social center for New York's art community.[2] Like Shinn, Chanler was a personality and a figure in his time.

Chanler was a member of the New York State Assembly (Dutchess Co., 2nd D.) in 1904, but did not run for re-election. In 1907, he was elected sheriff of Dutchess County, New York, and remained in that office for three years.[11]

Chanler specialized in painted screens and was a member of the National Society of Mural Painters. A ceiling mural of buffaloes painted by Chanler is in the Coe House in Brookville, New York. He was also a member of the Architectural League of New York. He painted a ceiling inside the Colony Club, a private member's club located at Park Avenue and 62nd Street in New York City.[2]

In 1905, Chanler exhibited a work entitled Au Pays des Girafes (or et argent) at the Salon d'Automne in Paris (no. 328 of the catalogue).[12] This was the exhibition that prompted critic Louis Vauxcelles to label a group of painters "fauves" (wild beasts), thus marking the birth of Fauvism.[13]

The Armory Show[edit]

The 1913 Armory Show in Chicago featuring two of Chanler's screens
Flamingoes, 1897

Chanler's work was featured in the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and he was one of the most acclaimed American artist in the exhibition. The elaborately painted screens he submitted were placed near the entrance of the show (Gallery A), where they captured the attention of the public and critics.[14] Chanler's screen titled Hopi Indian Snake Dance was reproduced in the New York Herald, 15 February 1913.[15] A work titled Porcupines was reproduced on postcard made for the Armory Show. Another screen by Chanler depicting porcupines is currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.[16] According to the catalogues for the Armory Show, Chanler was represented by nine screens at the New York venue and eight screens at the Art Institute of Chicago, but photographs and written sources, including Walter Pach's annotated New York catalogue and the Supplement to the New York catalogue located in the Armory Show records and the Walter Pach papers, indicate that around 25 screens were displayed during the three weeks in Manhattan, and at least nine at the Chicago exhibition.[15]

Patrons and friends[edit]

Chanler's portrait, painted by his friend Guy Pène du Bois in 1915, came to epitomize the world of money, fashion, and status with which he was well acquainted.[17]

Robert Winthrop Chanler, stained glass window (one of seven, with a study drawing) in the Whitney Studio, New York City, 1918–1923, private collection

Like many women of her class, Mai Rogers Coe was a patron of artists and had a taste for the elaborate, decorative works of Robert Winthrop Chanler. He painted decorative murals in Mai Coe's bedroom (1921) and in the family's breakfast room, the Buffalo Room (1920).

In 1918, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney commissioned Chanler to create a set of seven stained glass windows for her sculpture studio on MacDougal Alley in Greenwich Village. She asked Chanler to decorate the entire space and over a period of five years, he created an immense chimney-piece of three-dimensional flames, floor to ceiling, in plaster with additional inserts of bronze blazes.[18] He covered the entire ceiling with plaster constellations and then created the windows.[19] Chanler also designed murals for Gertrude's studio in Greenvale, New York, including a seaworld fantasy in the bathroom. The studio is extant and privately owned.

Chanler's murals at the Villa Vizcaya, 1916

Gertrude Vanderbilt and Mai Rogers Coe were perhaps Chanler's greatest patrons, but he received commissions from other wealthy families for decorative murals and screens. By 1920, when he completed the murals in the Buffalo Room, Chanler's work was well known. He later received favorable commentary in The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator magazine for his murals in Mai Coe's bedroom (1921) and in International Studio magazine for his painted screens (1922). Around this time, Chicago industrialist James Deering commissioned him to paint an "undersea fantasy" fresco on the ceiling of the indoor/outdoor swimming pool at Villa Vizcaya (1916–1925), Deering's winter home in Miami, Florida.[20][21]

Chanler was close friends with Hervey White and a member of White's Woodstock artist colony in the early 1920s. White wrote of Chanler, "He could correlate his subjects in any period, the politics, sociology, and art. He could illustrate with the customs of the populace, he could give incidents for illustration of his points, then break off with a personal explanation of his conduct. He was a man of great emotion and great mind." Towards the end of his life, Chanler owned a house in Woodstock, where he exhibited his work in local exhibitions.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Plaster bust of Robert W. Chanler by Cecil de Blaquiere Howard, 1928

On April 12, 1893, he married Julia Remington Chamberlain,[23] a daughter of William Chamberlain and Mary Bradhurst Remington. Julia's elder sister Alice was the first wife of Robert's elder brother Lewis. They had two daughters: Dorothy Chanler on November 24, 1898, and Julia Chanler on March 25, 1905.

The couple divorced on August 7, 1907.[24] After his divorce from Julia, Chanler had a whirlwind romance with opera singer Natalina "Lina" Cavalieri.[2] They married on June 18, 1910, but separated by the end of their honeymoon, and their divorce became final in June 1912. After the divorce, Lina returned to Europe, where she became a much-loved star in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia, and in Ukraine.[25]

Chanler died on October 24, 1930, at an art colony in Woodstock, New York, after being in a coma for 12 hours.[1]


Chanler's work has been compared to the fantastical works of some renaissance painters. His works involve the use of sculpted gesso, transparent glazes, and gilded finishes to produce ornate and decorative designs. His work still exists in his family's estate, Rokeby near Barrytown, New York, the Luxembourg Museum, and in private collections across the country.

In 2010, Chanler's decorative plaster ceiling at the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Studio was the focus of a conservation study by a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.[26] The ceiling, which had been painted over numerous times, was found to contain vivid colors amidst metallic overlays and glazes.[27]

Extensive restoration of Chanler's murals and the painted plaster ceiling at Villa Vizcaya was begun in 2016.[20]


  1. ^ a b "R. W. Chanler Dead. Eminent As Artist. Picturesque Figure in Life of the Metropolis Succumbs at Country Home at 57. Came of a Noted Family. Former Husband of Lina Cavalieri. Had Once Been Dutchess County Sheriff. Famed for His Murals. Of Distinguished Ancestry. Mural in Luxembourg Museum. Entertained on Large Scale". New York Times. Associated Press. October 25, 1930. Retrieved 2013-12-12. Robert Winthrop Chanler, noted artist, died at 1:30 this morning after a long illness. Mr. Chanler had been in a coma for twelve hours.....
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Christopher Gray, An Aristocratic Painter's Astonishing Aesthetic, The New York Times, October 10, 2014
  3. ^ Winthrop Family 1404-2002 Chanler's grandfather John White Chanler married Elizabeth Shirreff Winthrop, daughter of Benjamin Winthrop and Judith Stuyvesant (Peter's daughter)
  4. ^ One part of family tree
  5. ^ "Margaret Astor Chanler, Heroine of Porto Rico," Milwaukee Journal, September 8, 1898, p. 5.
  6. ^ Donna M. Lucey, Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age. New York: Harmony Books, 2007. ISBN 1-4000-4852-4.
  7. ^ Rice, Wallace, editor. Heroic Deeds in Our War with Spain: An Episodic History of the Fighting of 1898 on Sea and Shore, G.M. Hill, 1898.
  8. ^ "FIGHTING FILIBUSTERS; Expedition to Cuba Has Several Brushes with Spaniards. GEN. NUNEZ'S BROTHER KILLED Winthrop Chanler of New York and Five Cubans Wounded. Guns of the Peoria Do Great Execution Among the Enemy; Two Shiploads of Supplies for the Insurgents Landed." New York Times, July 14 1898.
  9. ^ Thomas Lately, A Pride of Lions: The Astor Orphans; the Chanler Chronicle, W. Morrow, 1971.
  10. ^ Slideshow showing two of Robert Chanler's paintings at the Rokeby Estate in 2010
  11. ^ Tad Richards, "Robert Chanler: Over the top wasn’t enough," Hudson Valley One, June 2, 2016
  12. ^ Salon d'Automne, 1905, Au Pays des Girafes, no. 328, Catalogue des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, dessin, gravure, architecture et art décoratif
  13. ^ Russell T. Clement, Les Fauves: A Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-28333-8, 1994
  14. ^ Megan Fort, The Armory Show at 100, the Fantastic Robert Winthrop Chanler, New York Historical Society, 2013
  15. ^ a b Laurette E. McCarthy, Robert Winthrop Chanler’s Armory Show Screens: more than ever realized, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  16. ^ Robert Winthrop Chanler, "Porcupines" and "Nightmare", 1914, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  17. ^ A Lover of Beauty, Guy Pène du Bois Painted His Ideal.
  18. ^ Allison Meier, "Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Restored Studio Opens for Public Tours," Hyperallergic, May 17, 2016
  19. ^ Wendy Moonan, "Robert W. Chanler's (Stained) Glass Menagerie," Introspective Magazine
  20. ^ a b Clarissa Buch, "Vizcaya Restores Iconic Swimming Pool Grotto and Rare Mural by Robert Winthrop Chanler," Miami New Times, Monday, June 13, 2016
  21. ^ Allison Meier, "The Fantastic Fall of a Boisterous and Beloved Gilded Age," Hyperallergic, September 16, 2016
  22. ^ The Art of Robert W. Chanler
  23. ^ "YESTERDAY'S WEDDINGS" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  24. ^ "FIRST MRS. CHANLER NOW BEGINS SUIT" (PDF). The New York Times.
  25. ^ "Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944)". 26 October 2013.
  26. ^ Whitney Studio Ceiling, Architectural Conservation Laboratory.
  27. ^ Art of Robert Winthrop Chanler.

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