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Central Park
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Image by peterjr1961
Belvedere Castle.

In 1867, Central Park designer and architect Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) created an observation tower atop Vista Rock to overlook the old reservoir that is now the Great Lawn. The Gothic-style Castle was designed as a landmark for the pedestrian park visitor. The castle’s United States flag could be seen from the Mall, drawing the walkers down to Bethesda Terrace, over Bow Bridge, and through the Ramble to the castle itself.

The original plans for the building included another elaborate two-story structure on the site of today’s pavilion, but financial concerns halted construction and left the castle in its present state. Portions of the castle are made from the same type of schist as the Vista Rock, creating the illusion of a castle rising out of the park itself. Its light colored stone trim is made of granite quarried from Quincy, Massachusetts. Its roofs are made of colored slate from Vermont, Virginia, and New York.

Belvedere Castle was once an open-air structure, with no doors or windows. This changed in 1919 when the United States Weather Bureau moved the Central Park Observatory to the castle. Until that time, weather measurements were taken from the Arsenal at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street where Dr. Daniel Draper founded a meteorological observatory in 1869. The Weather Bureau took over the operation in 1911, and moved it here eight years later, enclosing the castle and altering the turret’s shape to accommodate their scientific instruments.

In the early 1960s, the Weather Bureau replaced the lab with automated instruments and closed the castle offices. The empty building was left to deteriorate until 1983, when the Central Park Conservancy replaced the original turret, rebuilt the pavilions, and converted the castle into a visitor’s center. The Henry Luce Nature Observatory in the castle, created in 1996, provides interactive nature exhibits inside the castle as well as bird-watching kits, which can be used throughout the park.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
best of new york
Image by Maulleigh
Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas; 82 1/8 x 43 1/4 in. (208.6 x 109.9 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)

Virginie Avegno (1859–1915) was born in Louisiana, the daughter of Major Anatole Avegno of New Orleans, a gentleman whose family had emigrated from Camogli, Italy, and Marie Virginie de Ternant of Parlange Plantation, Louisiana. After Major Avegno died of wounds suffered at the Battle of Shiloh, Mrs. Avegno took her daughters to Paris. There Virginie became a celebrated beauty and married Pierre Gautreau, a Parisian banker. Sargent probably met her in 1881. In 1882, he wrote of wanting to paint her portrait. He worked on the portrait at the Gautreau’s summer home in Brittany in 1883, but he had difficulty finding a suitable pose and perspective. Numerous studies show his different attempts at the composition. The portrait as finally executed was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884 as "Portrait de Mme ***" and created a scandal. Sargent considered it one of his best works; an unfinished second version of the same pose is in the Tate Gallery in London.

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