Untapped New York Insiders recently got an exclusive tour of the Payne-Whitney Mansion, now home to Villa Albertine, the cultural services of the French Embassy. Our tour leader, the French Cultural Attaché François Bridey, brought us into the gilded Venetian Room, Helen Hay Whitney’s recently remodeled writing studio, the hidden bookstore, and more! Check out photos from our visit below and join our next adventure by becoming a member today!
The Payne-Whitney mansion is a five-story building on Fifth Avenue designed by Stanford White and completed in 1909. It was a wedding gift for William Payne Whitney and Helen Julia Hay. Upon first entering the building, we were greeted in the Marble Rotunda. This elegantly decorated space is bright and welcoming, with a marble statue at the center. The sculptor of this work was long unknown, until New York University Institute of Fine Arts Professor Kathleen Wil-Garris Brandt, supported by James David Draper, Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, identified it as an early work of Michelangelo! A replica now stands at Villa Albertine while the original is at The Met. Another work of art that can be found in the Rotunda is a tapestry by Henri Matisse, “Polynésie: Le Ciel” (1964).
Our group next gathered in the Venetian Room, a receiving room designed by White which features “mirrored panel walls, a delicate cornice of metal lattice entwined with exquisite porcelain flowers, and 18th-century European furnishings.” This room was actually dismantled after the death of Helen Hay Whitney’s death in 1948, then eventually brought back and restored. There is currently a contemporary piece of art standing at the center of the room.
Next, we began to explore the upper levels of the building. On the second floor, we stepped into the Marble Room and Ballroom. These reception rooms have played host to many influential political and cultural figures, from François Mitterrand and Ban Ki-Moon to Meryl Streep and Wes Anderson. Also on the second floor is Albertine Book, one of our favorite hidden bookshops and the only bookshop in New York devoted solely to books in French and English. Spanning two floors, the shop’s stand-out feature is the celestial-painted ceiling.
Finally, we got to be some of the firsts people to get a look inside the recently remodeled Atelier Albertine. This new events space was once the writing studio of Helen Hays Whitney, who wrote children’s books and poems. The remodel was led by French designer Hugo Toro. Inspired by Whitney’s poem “My Brook,” he filled the space with bespoke furnishing and striking textures, shapes, and colors. Of the original architectural features that were restored, there is the painted wooden vaulted ceiling and glazed terra cotta floor tiles by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino. If you look closely inside the fireplace, custom-made by Toro, you can see a figure of a woman in the texture,
You can see all of the upcoming events happening at Villa Albertine here, and check out our upcoming Untapped New York Insider experiences! You can get your first month of membership free by using code JOINUS at checkout.