Museum of Fine Arts

St. Petersburg, FL



Circa 1925: Artworks to Celebrate the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club


The Museum draws on its distinguished permanent collection for "Circa 1925: Artworks to Celebrate the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club" from June 11-August 27, 2000. These outstanding works are largely from the Roaring Twenties, the era in which the Vinoy opened to the public, or they relate to that era. Jennifer Hardin, the Museum's Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, has organized this select show, which is sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times.

The artworks are as diverse and exciting as their era. They range from representational to Modernist paintings to Edward Steichen' s photographs of Charles Chaplin and Gloria Swanson to decorative arts. Many of these works have rarely been seen by the public, making this exhibition especially noteworthy.

"The Museum has enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the Vinoy," said Museum Director Michael Milkovich. "The Vinoy has consistently referred guests to the Museum, and we have had many receptions catered by the hotel. We are especially happy to celebrate the Vinoy's anniversary and architectural beauty with treasures from our collection. We are equally happy and proud to have the St. Petersburg Times, a longtime friend of the Museum, as the sponsor."

"We are delighted that the Museum of Fine Arts is honoring the Vinoy and helping our guests, visitors, and community participate in this important milestone in the Vinoy's history," said Russell Bond, General Manager of the Vinoy. "We have great respect for the Museum's work and we are excited that they are celebrating our seventy-fifth anniversary in such a special way."

In addition, the sponsorship of the St. Petersburg Times brings together three of the city's major institutions. Ed Cassidy, the Times' Marketing Director, said that "it is a distinct privilege for the St. Petersburg Times to sponsor Circa 1925 for Tampa Bay. We look forward to this extraordinary exhibition at the legendary Museum of Fine Arts, which will celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the equally legendary Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club."

The central painting in Circa 1925 is Guy Péne du Bois' Café Madrid, Spain (Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale), 1926. The scene has an F. Scott Fitzgerald quality, as the Dales, elegantly dressed, are the epitome of bored sophistication. As they spend an evening in a café, they look away from each other, and Mrs. Dale in particular seems lost in her thoughts. The Dales were avid art collectors and philanthropists and founding benefactors of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1962, when Chester Dale died, he bequeathed his collection to the National Gallery of Art.

Péne du Bois himself perfectly suits a tribute to the Vinoy, as he was an habitué of the circles in which the wealthy and stylish moved. He frequently captured the personal isolation of those who appear to have everything.

George Luks' The Musician, c. 1925, one of the Museum's most significant American paintings, ill also be included. It is easy to imagine this musician playing at the Vinoy. Another major American artist, Arthur Bowen Davies, is represented by a watercolor of two sculptural nudes in a nigh otherworldly landscape. This work, Carrara Mountains, 1922, is a Museum treasure rarely placed on view because of its fragility. (left: Arthur Bowen Davies, Carrara Mountains, 1922, 9 x 12 inches, watercolor)

The Museum's photography collection is one of the finest in the South, with this show featuring some of its most distinctive images. Five Steichen photographs are included, with one, Brancusi's Studio, 1927, focusing on a Modern master. It is fitting that Steichen, who played such a key role in advancing photography as an art form, here spotlights the working space and art of one of the twentieth-century's great sculptors, Constantin Brancusi. This studio almost looks like an ancient ruin or temple, pointing both to the influence of non-Western, ritualistic art on so many Modern artists and the spirituality infusing much of their own work.

Among the other important photographers represented are Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, Imogen Cunningham, and André Kertész. Abbott's Untitled (New York at Night), 1933, taken from the top of the Empire State Building, emphasizes the Modernist fascination with the city and with geometric abstraction. Cunningham's Water Hyacinth 2, from the 1920s, reveals an object that in its purity of form, could almost be a Brancusi sculpture. And Margaret Bourke-White's Untitled (Industrial Storage Tanks). 1928, not only examines geometric forms, but also an earlier manifestation of America's technological prowess. It is interesting that works by a number of women photographers were selected for this show, as women were struggling to come into their own and to secure the vote during the 1920s.

Befitting an exhibition honoring a luxury resort, the Museum will feature some of its most striking examples of decorative arts such as a silver tea service, c. 1929, by George Jensen and an unusual glass vase, c. 1930, by Charles Schneider. The former was donated to the collection by Museum founder Margaret Acheson Stuart (1896-1980). This exhibition, then, not only presents some of the finest works from the collection, but is also rich in history and culture, conveying the vitality of a period of great experimentation.

The Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club is constructed not only of bricks and mortar, but also of legends like this one. It was conceived late in the evening or early in the morning on a glorious Florida day in 1923. Aymer Vinoy Laughner, son of a Pennsylvania oilman and a successful businessman in his own right, dreamed about building a luxurious hotel in St. Petersburg. On this particular day, he was entertaining local financier Gene Elliott and the famous golfer Walter Hagen. Mr. Laughner' s home was at the corner of Beach Drive and Fifth Avenue Northeast, where the Vinoy House Bed and Breakfast now stands.

As the party continued into the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Hagen told his friends that if he could hit a golf ball off the face of a pocket watch, toward the Williamson house across the street, then they could surely establish the grandest resort in Florida. Mr. Elliott suggested that the land where the Williamson house was located, as it sat on the water's edge, would be the ideal spot for that hotel. Not surprisingly, Mr. Hagen met his part of the challenge.

The next day, while retrieving their golf balls, Mr. Laughner and Mr. Elliott approached Mr. Williamson with their idea. Mr. Williamson agreed to sell them the land under the condition that the hotel would be the finest in the city and have the best views of the St. Petersburg waterfront. At the time, the Soreno Hotel prided itself on its spectacular views, and Mr. Williamson wanted the new resort to surpass the Soreno. They agreed and the deed for the property was signed there-on site-on the back of a brown paper bag.

Financing was secured for $3.5 million, at the time the most expensive construction project in Florida, and Henry Taylor was selected as the architect. Over the years, Mr. Taylor designed many buildings in St. Petersburg, including St. Mary's Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. The Vinoy was to be his crowning achievement, and he selected a Spanish Mediterranean Revival design.

Actual construction began on February 5, 1925, and the contractor, Tampa's George A. Miller, set a record for completing the 375-room hotel in just under ten months and in time for its December 31 opening. The feat was considered something of a miracle, as a railroad embargo had been imposed in Florida, and building materials from out of state had to be delivered by boat.

The Vinoy Park Hotel was an immediate sensation. The exquisite details included glazed quarry tile with colorful, hand-painted decorative inserts in the lobby; massive, stenciled pecky-cypress beams in the ballroom foyer and lobby; frescoed ceilings and walls in the dining room; and intricate ornamental plaster work on the observation tower, main entrance door, and great arched dining room window. The Vinoy also boasted steam heat throughout and was the first Florida hotel to be fireproofed.

Original room rates were approximately $20 per night, the highest in the bay area, and included meals. In the early days, the Vinoy was only open during the season, roughly December through March, and some guests stayed for weeks, even months, at a time. Celebrities, politicians, and the wealthy flocked to the Vinoy. Among them were Jimmy Stewart, Babe Ruth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herbert Hoover, and Calvin Coolidge. President Coolidge, in fact, found the cuisine in the dining room too rich for his spartan Yankee tastes and opted to eat in the employee cafeteria.


Read more about the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg in Resource Library Magazine.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/28/11

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