The architectural and scenic wonders of France, Belgium and Germany have long been varied and great. In the summer of 1846, Calvert Vaux and his co-worker and friend, George Truefitt, left their London mentor, the great British architect Lewis Nockalls Coddingham, and embarked upon a Continental tour. They spent the summer touring the great cities, and they wandered around in the verdant countryside, all the while sketching and painting the buildings, landscapes and vistas they encountered. When they returned to London that fall, George Truefitt published his sketches in a series of books which served to launch his career as an architect. He would go on to surpass his master, Coddingham, and become one of England’s better known 19th century architects. Calvert Vaux was not as lucky, at least not in England. More details on his early years can be found in Part One of our story.
Vaux’s career was stalled. His mentor Coddingham was old and dying, and his business had been taken over by his only son, Nockalls Johnson Coddingham, who had also been trained as an architect. The younger Coddingham was jealous of his father’s apprentices, and with good reason. He had very little talent, and even less business sense. Lewis died in 1847, and by 1851, Nockalls had blown several important commissions, and driven the business into the ground. He was forced to sell his father’s pride and joy, a vast collection of medieval architectural artifacts, furniture and salvaged pieces; the legacy of a long career restoring England’s vast collection of Gothic and Medieval buildings. By that time, Vaux and Truefitt were long gone.
In 1850, taking a cue from his friend, Calvert Vaux entered his paintings and sketches of landscapes in a gallery showing in London, where they were well received. One of the guests at the showing was the great American landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, who was in England on a lecture tour. He saw something in Calvert’s art; a keen talent for capturing the essence of a landscape, and an eye for depicting the best vantage point for displaying architecture in a natural setting.
This was the essence of Downing’s own work in the United States, where he was enjoying great success and renown as America’s premiere landscape architect, the “father” of the profession there. He also saw a talent going to waste. Downing offered young Vaux a job, and by the end of 1850, Calvert Vaux was standing on the shores of the Hudson River, at Downing’s home in Newburgh, marveling at the beauty of the river and the vastness of his new home. It was finally time to get to work! (more…)