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Davis, Alexander Jackson

Davis, Alexander Jackson

Davis, Alexander Jackson, 1803-92, American architect, b. New York City. He was the partner of Ithiel Town of New Haven, with whom he designed many important buildings in both the Greek and Gothic revival styles. Works by him include the New York Customs House (1832), now the Subtreasury; the state capitols of Indiana (1832-35), North Carolina (1831, in association with David Paton), Illinois (1837), and Ohio (1839); and a number of villas along the Hudson River, including Lyndhurst (1838-42). The most prolific practitioner of his time, Davis also anticipated, in a New York shop front designed in 1835, the architectural use of iron.

Andrew Jackson Downing (October 30, 1815July 28, 1852) was an American landscape designer and writer, a prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival style in the United States, and editor of The Horticulturist magazine (1846-52).

Biography

Downing was born in Newburgh, New York, United States, to Samuel Downing (a nurseryman and wheelwright) and Becky Crandall. After finishing his schooling at 16, he worked in his father's nursery in the Town of Newburgh, and gradually became interested in landscape gardening and architecture. He began writing on botany and landscape gardening and then undertook to educate himself thoroughly in these subjects. His official writing career started when he began writing articles for various newspapers and horticultural journals in the 1830s. In 1841 his first book, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, was published to a great success; it was the first book of its kind published in the United States.

In 1842 Downing collaborated with Alexander Jackson Davis on the book Cottage Residences, a highly influential pattern book of houses that mixed romantic architecture with the English countryside's pastoral picturesque, derived in large part from the writings of John Claudius Loudon. The book was widely read and consulted, doing much to spread the so-called "Carpenter Gothic" and Hudson River Bracketed architectural styles among Victorian builders, both commercial and private.

With his brother Charles, he wrote Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845), long a standard work. This was followed by The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), another influential pattern book.

By the mid 1840s Downing's reputation was impeccable and he was, in a way, a celebrity of his day. This afforded him a friendship with Luther Tucker—publisher and printer of Albany, New York—who hired Downing to edit a new journal. The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste was first published under Downing's editorship in the summer of 1846; he remained editor of this journal until his untimely death in 1852. The journal was his most frequent influence on society and operated under the premises of horticulture, pomology, botany, entomology, rural architecture, landscape gardening, and, unofficially, premises dedicated public welfare in various forms. It was in this journal that Downing first argued for a New York Park, which in time became Central Park. It was in this publication that Downing argued for state agricultural schools, which eventually gave rise. And it was here that Downing worked diligently to educate and influence his readers on refined tastes regarding architecture, landscape design, and even various moral issues.

In 1850, as Downing traveled in Europe, an exhibition of continental landscape watercolors by Englishman Calvert Vaux captured his attention. He encouraged Vaux to emigrate to the United States, and opened what was to be a thriving practice in Newburgh. Frederick Clarke Withers (1828–1901) joined the firm during its second year. Downing and Vaux worked together for two years, and during those two years, he made Vaux a partner. Together they designed many significant projects, including the grounds in the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Vaux’s work on the Smithsonian inspired an article he wrote for The Horticulturist, in which he stated his view that it was time the government should recognize and support the arts.

Shortly afterwards in 1852, Downing died during the wreck of the steamer–the Henry Clay–while traveling on the Hudson River with his wife, and her extended family. A boiler explosion quickly spread flames across the wooden vessel and Downing was consumed. A few ashen remains and his clothes were rescued days later. His remains were interred in Cedar Hill Cemetery, in his birthplace of Newburgh, New York. Withers and Vaux took over Downing's architectural practice. After his death, writer and friend Nathaniel Parker Willis referred to Downing as "our country's one solitary promise of a supply for [the]... scarcity of beauty coin in our every-day pockets. He was the one person who could be sent for... to look at fields and woods and tell what could be made out of them".

Legacy

Downing influenced not only Vaux but also landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted; the two men met at Downing's home in Newburgh. In 1858, their joint design--the Greensward Plan--was selected in a design competition for the new Central Park in New York City. In 1860, Olmsted and Vaux proposed that a bust of Downing be placed in the new park as an "appropriate acknowledgment of the public indebtedness to the labors of the late A. J. Downing, of which we feel the Park itself is one of the direct results." The monument was never built in the park, but a memorial honoring Downing stands near the Smithsonian main building in Washington, D.C. Botanist John Torrey named the genus Downingia after Downing.

In 1889, the city of Newburgh commissioned a park design from Olmsted and Vaux. They accepted, on the condition that it be named Downing Park after their former mentor. It opened in 1897. It was their last collaboration.

The only surviving structure known to have been designed by Downing is the cottage at Springside (Matthew Vassar Estate) in Poughkeepsie, New York. The cottage and the estate's gardens designed by Downing are a National Historic Landmark.

Selected works

  • A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, 1841.
  • Cottage Residences: or, A Series of Designs for Rural Cottages and Adapted to North America, 1842; reprinted as Andrew Jackson Downing, Victorian Cottage Residences, Dover Publications, 1981.
  • The Architecture of Country Houses: Including Designs for Cottages, and Farm-Houses and Villas, With Remarks on Interiors, Furniture, and the best Modes of Warming and Ventilating, D. Appleton & Company, 1850; reprinted as Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, Dover Publications, 1969.

Notes

References

  • Charles E. Beveridge and David Schulyer, eds., Creating Central Park, 1857-1861.
  • David Schuyler, Apostle of Taste: Andrew Jackson Downing, 1815 — 1852.
  • Judith K. Major, "To Live in the New World: A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening."
  • Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park

External links

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