Vanderbilt archives

This colorized version of a photograph from the Vanderbilt archives depicts afternoon tea on the Loggia of Biltmore House with the Vanderbilts, September 1900. Left to right, Edith Vanderbilt, Madame Rambaud (Edith Vanderbilt's former chaperone), Lila Vanderbilt Webb (George Vanderbilt's sister), Mary Webb (Lila Webb's sister in law), Isabella Stewart Gardner, unidentified man, and George Vanderbilt.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to be a guest of the Vanderbilts during their years living in Biltmore House at the turn of the 19th century, your chance is coming soon.

Beginning Feb. 9, the Biltmore House becomes the scene of a festive celebration hosted by the Vanderbilts in a new exhibition, "A Vanderbilt House Party: Guests, Grandeur & Galas."

For many years, Biltmore’s curators have researched what it was like when the Vanderbilts entertained guests at Biltmore House. Using information gleaned from letters, photographs and documents in the Vanderbilt archives, the curatorial team has created an experience that will put today’s visitors into the action of the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt extended their boundless hospitality to family and friends. The exhibit will run through May 27.

Clothing vignettes in Biltmore House, paired with storytelling in a new audio-guided tour (free with all online ticket purchases) that uses innovative 360-degree sound techniques, will draw listeners into the preparations for a celebration in Biltmore House. The narration is based on those who lived and worked in Biltmore House, and features a butler recounting the leisurely days and glamorous evenings the Vanderbilts’ guests enjoyed. Visitors will listen in on staff as they work to prepare a grand multi-course dinner; as an opera singer rehearses before her evening performance; and as servants set an elaborate table in the Banquet Hall with family china, silver, and crystal.

The new clothing vignettes are based on the Vanderbilts’ actual wardrobes and were specially reproduced for this exhibition. Oscar-winning costume designer John Bright created the items with inspiration from archival photographs and portraits in Biltmore’s collection. Biltmore has partnered with Bright and his London-based company Cosprop for all of its costume exhibitions, including “Dressing Downton,” which featured Bright’s creations for the wildly popular series “Downton Abbey.”

Tasked with bringing vivid color to scenes previously only seen in century-old black-and-white photos, Bright worked with the estate’s curators to research fashion magazines of the era and studied the photography in great detail. Each piece will be displayed in locations of Biltmore House where it was originally worn, paired with the photograph from the Vanderbilt archives that inspired it.

A Vanderbilt House Party is included in Biltmore daytime admission; the premium audio-guided exhibition tour is free with online ticket purchases or can be purchased onsite for an additional fee.

To learn more about this new exhibit at Biltmore, as well as how to purchase tickets, visit www.biltmore.com.

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