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henry hobson richardson portrait

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Early Life

Henry Hobson Richardson was born at the Priestley Plantation in the Parish of St. James, Louisiana, on September 29, 1838. His father, Henry Dickenson Richardson, was a cotton merchant in New Orleans, and his mother, Catherine Caroline Priestley, was the granddaughter of Dr. Joseph Priestley, an English scientist known for discovering oxygen.

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Richardson learned French at an early age. After studying architecture at Harvard, he left in 1860 for the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he spent the next five years. He was the second American to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which would be increasingly important in the training of American architects. In 1865, Richardson returned to the United States and at first worked in the French country style; soon, he realized that American architecture should establish a unique voice.

 

Style and Studio

In his own individual way, Richardson improvised with Southern French Romanesque style, using a Beaux-Arts predilection for clear and legible plans and pro-medievalist picturesque massing. Rustification and polychromy also marked the structures he designed as he considered the building as a whole unit. Richardson’s powerful buildings and imaginative use of materials influenced the generation of modern architects who succeeded him, including Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

After his marriage to Julia Gorham Hayden in January 1867, Richardson lived on Staten Island, where he became good friends with renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. The couple relocated in 1874 to Brookline, Massachusetts, where Richardson renovated the house with offices attached. In 1882 Richardson met some of the great designers of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, during a trip to Europe. He became known as one of the three great American-born architects, along with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chicago and the Glessners

Richardson’s friends and clients knew him as a large, gregarious individual who was charming and unconcerned with his health and considerable girth. In The Story of a House, John Glessner wrote, “He was the most versatile, interesting, ready, capable and confident of artists, the most genial and agreeable of companions. Everybody was attracted to him at sight.” He died from Bright’s disease (nephritis) on April 26, 1886, leaving behind seventeen unfinished commissions. Eighty commissions, many no longer in existence, have been attributed to Richardson in a short twenty-year career; he completed very few structures in the Richardsonian style, but set the stage for architects who followed. Richardson himself considered the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail as one of his best works; in Chicago, he designed the American Merchant Union Express Company Building, the Marshall Field Warehouse, and MacVeagh House, among others.  The firm continued under the name of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.

According to Charles Coolidge, Richardson indicated to him that of all the dwellings designed by his firm, this was the one that he would have liked to have lived in himself.  Glessner House is Richardson’s only commission in Chicago that is still standing today.

 

mcveigh house
richardson's library

marshall field warehouse

richardson in monk's costume

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