Where to begin? Even if your intent is to see only the art collection here, you cannot help but take in at least a few of the 150 acres of sloping lawns, vistas and statuary in Henry Huntington’s botanical gardens.
The art collections cannot be separated from their three specialized settings. Gleaming from a $20-million renovation and expansion, the Huntington Gallery is the original home of tycoon Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, and was designed by Los Angeles architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey from 1909-1911. It is resplendent with many, many things of beauty, including a framed collection of 19th-century British art (with Gainsborough’s Blue Boy among the pieces), lavish French tapestries, Renaissance-era paintings and sculpture, rugs from Louis XIV’s redecoration of the Louvre palace, and, in a new display hall, a fifteen-foot-tall stained-glass work created in 1898 by the firm of Morris & Co., formerly housed in a Unitarian chapel in Lancashire, England.
The Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art is a frequent destination for the many fans of the Arts and Crafts era, because it holds a permanent installation (organized in collaboration with the Gamble House) of work by architects Charles and Henry Greene, in additions to three centuries of American art, artifacts and sculpture.
The Erburu Gallery, which opened in 2005, displays the Huntington’s recently expanded collection of American art, including works by Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Robert Motherwell and John Singer Sargent.
Finally, there is the Huntington Library, which is vast, comprehensive and considered one of the country’s finest in each of its specialty fields, including botany. American history, women’s studies, science and civil engineering. The five million research items include books, rare books and manuscript collections of such literary notables as Christopher Isherwood and Jack London. The library itself is not open to the public, but qualified scholars may apply for reading privileges, and the Library Exhibition Halls display some of the most precious pieces in the collection, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America.
To do a day at the Huntington right, splurge on tea in the adorable Tea Room. But if time and money are an object, a quick lunch at the Café will make you happy, too.
Huntington Library and Gardens
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino
Open Mon. & Wed-Fri. noon-4:30 p.m, Sat.-Sun. 10:30 a.m-4:30 p.m
Adults $15, seniors $12, students $10, kids $6; admission higher on weekends and holidays; admission free the first Thurs. of the month with advance reservations