Partner Robert Allerton, Victor Beigel
École des Beaux-Arts, 14 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
Robert Allerton Park, 515 Old Timber Rd, Monticello, IL 61856
Ringwood, Springfield Center, NY 13468
St. James Building, 1133 Broadway, New York, NY 10010
26 W 8th St, New York, NY 10011
18 Howley Pl, Little Venice, London W2 1XA, UK
Allways, Glatton, Huntingdon PE28 5RR, Regno Unito
St Nicholas Churchyard Glatton, Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire, England
John Joseph "Dickie" Borie, III (March 20, 1869 - December, 1925) was an American architect, who was the primary designer of The Farms, the Monticello estate of Robert Allerton. His longtime partner was musician Victor Beigel, together with whom he is now buried.
John J. Borie III was born in Philadelphia, the son of John J. Borie, II (1830–1882) and Susan Parker Halsey (1835–1913). Like most of his immediate male ancestors, Borie enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania as a special student in 1886, intending to pursue professional training and accreditation in architecture. Presumably alert to trends in the field, young Borie left Philadelphia without taking a degree and made his way to France, caught up in “the flow” of his compatriots who eagerly enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and who would make the ensuing decade the “golden age of American architects in Paris.”
Though Borie was “promoted to the first class in 1889”—a most unusual honor for a foreign-born student—he never received a formal degree from the École. Still, with the benefit of several years of rigorous training, Borie returned to Philadelphia with sufficient experience to find employment with the rising architectural firm of Cope & Stewardson, already recognized as the country’s leading proponent of the “collegiate Gothic” style. Having received an important commission to design a new residential quadrangle for the University of Pennsylvania (constructed and expanded from 1895 to 1911), the partnership gave Borie free reign to embellish the blueprints for the Tudor-and-Gothic buildings with exterior ornamental stonework. Ralph Adams Cram, one of the country’s leading exponents of the Gothic Revival style, extolled the “architectural poetry” of the quadrangle buildings and celebrated them as “among the most remarkable yet built in America.”
While Borie was in Philadelphia, he himself became a model for another artist’s brushwork. With his obvious interest in stonework and carving, the young architect unsurprisingly befriended one of the city’s most promising sculptors, Samuel Murray, who had studied with Thomas Eakins at the Philadelphia Art Students’ League before becoming his mentor’s assistant and then studio-mate. Sometime around 1896–1897 Borie posed for Eakins, who called the full-length composition, simply, The Architect. Scholars have long assumed that the relationship between Eakins and Murray was as deeply romantic as it was professional (together in 1892, they had modeled the death mask of Walt Whitman, across the river in Camden), a circumstance that gives the Borie portrait a potentially queer sort of resonance. More than a decade later, Eakins presented the canvas (left unfinished, undated, and unsigned) to one of the sitter’s cousins, Adolphe E. Borie, a fellow painter. The portrait was acquired by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in 1933 and then presented to the Hood Museum at Dartmouth in 1935.
Most sources presume that Borie and Robert Allerton struck up their friendship in Paris, since both were there in 1896; probably, they circulated among overlapping cadres of expatriate artists and likely would have felt a certain kinship as aspiring Bohemians. Their paths may have crossed before, however, as Dickie Borie already had connections in Chicago: in 1889, his older sister Emily Maria Borie had married another mid-western millionaire, Arthur Larned Ryerson, which might have given him pretext for visiting the windy city and socializing with its most privileged echelon.
From late autumn through the following spring of 1898–1899, John Borie toured the English countryside as the guest of his new patron, Robert Allerton (1873–1964), soon to be dubbed the “Richest Bachelor in Chicago.” Together they hoped to find inspiration for the magnificent house and garden estate that this scion of a stockyard-and-banking tycoon wanted to build among the vast acres of farmland that his family owned near the town of Monticello in central Illinois. When the two young men sailed from New York on the S. S. Campania in October 1898, Allerton first was inclined to favor a Tudor prototype for his new mansion; but by the time they returned in March 1899, he and Borie had settled upon a Stuart model, Ham House (dating from 1610), overlooking the Thames in Surrey. The final plans modified this prototype with obvious Georgian influences (such as a tall parapet to conceal the roofline), but the blueprints also carried the professional stamp of James Gamble Rogers, a fellow architect who had worked with Borie at Cope and Stewardson in Philadelphia and since had established his own practice in Chicago.
Construction at Monticello began immediately in the summer of 1899, and the main house essentially was completed the following year. Borie’s complementary designs for a series of enclosed garden spaces (which, eventually, would “stretch for miles”) took shape in the ensuing years, as several additional outbuildings also were constructed and modifications made to the central mansion itself, to accommodate Allerton’s rapidly growing collection of precious furniture, tapestries, porcelain, sculpture, and other works of art. Not long after work on “The Farms” was begun at Monticello in 1899, Allerton and Borie again departed for Europe and the Near East. Their mission now was to begin acquiring the exquisite furnishings and works of art needed to embellish and ornament the extraordinary house that was fast rising on the prairie. Another unexpected feature surely was the pair of sphinxes that Borie had designed to adorn the stairway leading from the terrace down to the lake and gardens beyond. Possibly, the architect’s inspiration for these strangely androgynous figures came from an embossed image on the cover binding of the eponymous poem, The Sphinx, published by Oscar Wilde in 1894.
One of the other artists who made an early visit to “The Farms” was Ellen “Bay” Emmet, a talented young painter, recently returned from Europe, who already was making a name for herself in New York. Also present, however, was John Borie, who was still drawing up plans for the as-yet-unfinished interior of the main house and attending to the construction of gardens and outbuildings on the estate. From a patchwork of letters that survive, it seems that the intrusion of a woman (and an aesthetic woman at that) profoundly disrupted relations between the two men, who now began to quarrel about details great and small. By summertime, Bay Emmet had retreated to New York, where she shuttled between her studio in Washington Square and a country retreat upstate, where more commissions were at hand, including one for a portrait of Emily Borie Ryerson, whose family had just built an enormous summer house (“Ringwood,” also designed by her brother) in Springfield Center, at the northern end of Lake Otsego. But the flare-up at “The Farms” followed Bay there and so did John Borie, who clearly was dividing his attention between the Allerton project and his sister’s estate, where extensive work on formal landscape gardens had begun now that the main house was finished.
Ellen Emmet's cousin was Jane Emmet. Jane Emmet de Glehn’s acquaintance with Allerton and Borie, first made in Paris in 1897, certainly grew more intimate after all of them had returned to the USA. Later, when Dickie Borie moved from Philadelphia to New York City in 1902, there was no shortage of occasions for that pair to extend their friendship. In May 1902, Borie rented space at 1133 Broadway, the St. James Building, recently designed and built by the accomplished architect Bruce Price. According to one historical report about that Madison Square neighborhood, many other distinguished architects—including Daniel H. Burnham, Aymar Embury, and John Russell Pope—also relocated their large and flourishing offices there, proximity to which would have had considerable social, as well as professional, cachet. When a rising young singer named Susan Metcalfe began to give recitals in New York’s Mendelssohn Hall, both of them, Jane Emmet and John Borie, probably were in attendance: first, because Jane Emmet and Susie (as she always called her) had known each other since their shared childhood in New Rochelle, and second, because her teacher and accompanist was the man whose life partner John Borie would soon become—Victor Beigel. For that matter, Jane Erin Emmet might even have been the matchmaker who could take credit for that durable queer companionship, since she occupied a crucial social nexus between both men and quite possibly brought them together.
During their remaining years in New York, Beigel and Borie's social and professional lives crisscrossed the realms of art and music, especially because Beigel’s star pupil, Susan Metcalfe, was a first cousin and intimate friend of all the Emmet women. Work on “The Farms” was hardly completed when John Borie moved his office to New York; he continued to send blueprints back to Monticello as the estate gradually took shape, and it is likely that he himself would have had occasion to return, from time to time, to oversee new construction and the implementation of his designs. Whatever the source of the friction that had disturbed Borie’s relationship with his client during the first phases of construction, Robert Allerton nevertheless nevertheless retained the architect’s services for at least another dozen years. Almost certainly, the scope of Borie’s professional work was small; not many clients were making their way to the twelfth floor of the St. James Building, and few traces remain of his willingness to engage in open competitions for public projects. Many years later, even a reporter sympathetic to Borie’s talent had to admit that, apart from the Allerton mansion outside of Monticello, the “only other house” in America that Dickie had designed was the “charming French farmhouse that he built for his sister … at the north end of lovely Otsego Lake,” in New York. Whatever portion of Borie’s income derived from inheritance and family investments presumably would have been diminished when his uncles’ Philadelphia bank collapsed in 1905, perhaps making his seemingly scandalous conduct all the more conspicuous. The same year that Borie’s fortunes took a tumble, his partner resolved to relocate his teaching practice to England once and for all. In August 1905, Jane Emmet von Glehn reported to her sister Lydia, “We saw Beigel the other day. He told us he had at last decided to settle in London.” The maestro and Dickie Borie would not relocate until 1907, but even before then they frequented the de Glehns’ salon in Chelsea during their summer sojourns, 73 Cheyne Walk already having become a kind of hub for younger artists and musicians. “Beigel dined here last night,” Jane wrote back to her mother in June 1906, along with Percy Grainger, his doting mother, “our nice Roger Quilter,” and Gervase Elwes and his wife Winifride. On other occasions, John Singer Sargent and his sister Emily Sargent joined in or, in turn, hosted their own evening musicales in Tite Street or Carlyle Mansions.
By the late autumn of 1904 Borie and Beigel were residing at 26 West 8th Street in Manhattan, having spent the preceding months together in England. Three years later, the couple would moved permanently to England, establishing a home first at 18 Howley Place (in the “Little Venice” district of London), and at various country escapes in the years to come. Beverley Nichols became a close friend of John Borie and eventually would acquire his Thatched cottage in Glatton, Huntingdonshire.
By 1907, Victor Beigel had gained considerable renown as a teacher of voice, with a stable of rising opera singers and soloists on his roster of clients. As the British conductor Adrian Boult later recalled, Beigel much enjoyed the punning name of the road—Howley Place—well suited as a venue which “daily re-echoed” with the voluble sound of his pupils, straining to reach their most difficult notes. “His companion,” Boult noted, “was a charming American architect named Dickie Borie,” whose infectious wit enlivened the couple’s frequent parties and musicales. “It was always a pleasure to dine with them,” the musician recalled, and then sit in the garden, when “finally they would bring the dogs for a walk with us to the tube station at Warwick Avenue, with an occasional whiff of what they called ‘parfum de Venise’ as one passed the canal.”
When Beigel relocated to London with John Borie, already he would enjoy intimate connection to a circle of rising (and established) musical figures, including the pianists Percy Grainger and Léon Delafosse and composers such as Edward Elgar and Roger Quilter (who probably at this time was having a fling with Robert Allerton).
Besides accumulating an ever-expanding collection of art for his country estate, Robert Allerton also assembled an astonishing wardrobe of fantastic costumes—kimonos, cloaks, togas, hats and headdresses, shoes and sandals, as well as costume jewelry and other accessories—that became obligatory apparel for his summertime guests, permitting them “to discard societal conventions and become whoever, whatever, their fantasies could conjure.” So extensive was this campy collection that in 1912 John Borie returned to The Farms with plans to repurpose the estate’s large greenhouse (flanking the stable) as a kind of oversized wardrobe-and-changing room, linked to the main house through a newly redesigned entranceway, the Marble Hall. After meeting the English painter Glyn Philpot at the Covent Garden opera house in the spring of 1913, Allerton invited him to stay with him later that summer. Philpot eagerly accepted the invitation, but when he disembarked from his steamer in New York that August, he was greeted not by his host but instead by some other mutual friends who informed him that Allerton was then entertaining John Borie at The Farms, as he had the previous summer. Miffed by this unexpected development, Philpot crudely villified his rival, whom he seemed already to know. "Borie - that beast," he said.
At the beginning of WWI, Richard Norton was enlisting the help of other Americans in London to raise funds and facilitate essential coordination with the stubbornly lethargic officials of the British Red Cross. Among those willing expatriates was John Borie ("an American who loved England"), whose name appears four times in Henry James' diary appointment books between November 1914 and July 1915, for occasion linked to wartime volunteer work. Although John Borie's wartime activities cannot be documented as solidly, one entry in James' date books does suggest his continuing engagement with ongoing relief efforts. On Juny 19, 1915, James noted, "Dick Borie lunches with me here, bringing Captain Middleton." (Quite possibly their companion was Captain Thomas Percy Middleton, a fighter ace in the Royal Air Force.)
In 1916, Borie designed the memorial tablet inside the Chelsea Old Church for Henry James, who lived and died nearby, in Cheney Walk.
When in 1921 Fritz Kreisler finally returned to a concert hall in London, it is likely that Victor Beigel helped orchestrate the triumphant event. One of John Borie's last commissions was to design in 1924 a country estate for Kreisler on the outskirts of Berlin: a mansion set among "several lush acres," which also featured "a hothouse, an Italian rose garden... a graceful lawn, and a grotto complete with marble seats and bench."
When John Borie died a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 (at age 57), the report of his passing in Chicago was tender and wistful, written by the society columnist who had adopted her byline from Sargent's scandalous portrait of Madame Gautreau, "Mme. X". His tombstone in the country churchyard at Glatton (in Huntingdonshire) affirmed that he was “An American Who Loved England.” His obituaries back in the United States, included one other striking detail: for more than two decades, in both the USA and England, John “Dickie” Borie had “made his home with Victor Beigel, well known English musician.”
Still relatively young, Victor Beigel's life closed in 1930, when he was just 59. "Borie's death seemed to break him up completely," an intimate acquaintance observed, but till the end Beigel "remained a familiar figure in musical circles and had a great number of friendships within the profession." Borie's remains were interred in the little churchyard at Glatton, not far from the Thatch Cottage that he loved, and five years later, Victor Beigel followed him there, "forever united to the best friend man ever had." They lie side by side, beneath stone memorials that John Borie must have designed in anticipation of their common end. Beigel's grave was dug to Borie's left, so that their shared Latin inscription, running from one stone to the next, now could be read in its full sentence: Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine, Lux Perpetua Luceat Ei (Eternal rest grant upon them, O Lord, May perpetual light shine upon him.)
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