July 8, 2012
My least favorite month in Oklahoma is here, despite my birthday adorning its final week. July is always hot and horrible, and it has been two weeks since I took any day hike photographs. Today it was overcast and muggy, cool enough in the morning for some outdoors photography, if not a comfortable hike. So I hit US 75 in time to arrive at Tulsa’s Villa Philbrook when it opened at 10 a.m. As it was the first full weekend of the month, I could use my Bank of America card for free admission, saving myself $9.
In looking over my posted photos, I’m surprised to find nothing from Philbrook, Tulsa’s best museum of art. Oil man Waite Phillips, brother of Bartlesville’s Frank Phillips, had this 72-room Italian Renaissance villa built on 23 acres in 1926-27. The villa was designed by Edward Buehler Delk, who also designed a favorite spot of mine, the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. In 1938 Waite donated Philbrook to Tulsa for an art museum and botanical garden, endowed by two of his downtown Tulsa office buildings.
Eros and Anteros Fighting over a Heart, by François-Joseph LeClercq in 1780, was the first work which caught my eye, set against a window looking out over the beautiful gardens with their distinctive tempietto. That drew me outdoors for a walk. From the upper bowl of the main fountain I gazed down at the gardens, with their zigzag hedges and the flower-garlanded reflecting pool in front of the tempietto. Descending past the fountain wall, I envied the sculpted children splashing through it.
Brilliant blooms paraded me down the slope, past the large Solomonic columns, to the reflecting pool, which was surrounded by colorful blooms and plantings. Turning about, I admired the garden slope, capped by the large villa. The lower garden contrasts nicely to the geometric order above. The tempietto was a suitable background for some beautiful roses. Walking around to the south, I climbed the slope past Oklahoma Autumn by Eric Baker, artificial trees with glass leaves. I reached the summerhouse and walked back to the villa.
I revisited some of my favorite features of the villa: the illuminated globe chandelier in the former library, the Great Dane sculptures by Anna Hyatt Huntington in the upstairs corridor (and that’s saying something, since as a rule I do not like dogs), and the Dante and Beatrice Window by Nicola D’Ascenzo, a large stained glass window adorning the landing of the grand stairs.
The hounds were guarding Erosion Series No. 2 – Mother Earth Laid Bare, by Alexandre Hogue in 1932, an appropriate work for an Oklahoma art museum. Nearby was Herman Herzog’s Sunset Glow from 1866, Thomas Moran’s An Angry Sea from 1887 and his Grand Canyon from 1907. I actually liked Phenomena Break Silk by Paul Jenkins better when it was framed through two doorways.
The villa has a work by Auguste Rodin which I admire far more than his better known The Thinker. Eternal Springtime, which was inspired by his love for Camille Claudel and Beethoven’s Second Symphony, shows a man and woman in a passionate embrace, and is fun to view from all angles. Also quite fun is Joy of the Waters, by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth in 1917. That pre-dates the Hollywood starlets the figure’s face brings to mind. Frishmuth’s Call of the Sea from 1924 is nearby. I wrapped up sculpture with La Nymphe Sans Bras, by Aristide Maillol in 1930, which looked like it was imprisoned when viewed through the rails from the lower level stairway.
I ended my visit with Al Mac’s Diner, a realistic oil by John Baeder in 1991, which was on its final day of a temporary exhibition. This morning of snapshots around the beautiful Villa Philbrook recharged my batteries; thanks, Waite!
What an amazing property….and staggering to think it used to be in private hands. That kind of austentatious wealth is something I would expect to see in Old World Europe…or the neuro royalty of New England…not Tulsa, OK.
Philbrook has beautiful grounds, but the villa was heavily modified for the art museum. If you haven’t seen it, the Marland Mansion in Ponca City is an impressive example of another 1920s mansion built by an Okie oil man and it is largely intact inside, although the huge grounds with seven ponds and more have diminished.