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Papers of Ogden Codman, Jr. (1863-1951)


Ogden Codman, Jr.'s early correspondence consists mainly of letters to and from family members and a few close friends. The letter of introduction, to a "Miss Scott" in London, was written by his life-long friend, Arthur Little. Almost all of Ogden's aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers are represented here, and these letters primarily concern the personal affairs of family members and their social connections. Invitations to dance and to dine are often attached, as well as sketches. There are many letters in the general subseries which shed light both on Codman’s personality and his career, such as the one from the architectural firm of Andrews and Jacques terminating his apprenticeship due to unsatisfactory performance. The correspondence with his mother is extensive and reveals that the two were quite close. The genealogical letters were received in response to his early investigations into the family's history in New England. The Wharton correspondence is essentially social in nature and involves their "circle" in Newport. Ogden typed transcriptions of certain family letters which he wanted to preserve that reveal day-to-day activities among family members living in Lincoln while Ogden was living in France. The appointment books contain information relating to his architectural practice, as do the office account books and audits. Everyday family activities are reflected in household accounts and account books which Ogden maintained in the years prior to World War I. His financial records document the changes he made to the Lincoln estate as well as some of his other houses. His bills paid were kept chronologically by him with some major subject divisions. These have been further broken down to facilitate research in what is an especially rich subseries. The financial correspondence with Richard Morris Hunt concerns Cornelius Vanderbilt’s "The Breakers" in Newport and reveals Hunt's impatience waiting for Codman's replies to inquiries regarding that important commission. Charles A. Wulff was Codman's New York office manager, the man responsible for overseeing the implementation of Codman's instructions from abroad. These letters document architectural and decorative work for New York area clients, conceived by Codman in France and executed under Wulff's direction. American, English, and French letters involve the procurement of art objects for clients. Ogden's financial position can also be seen in the estate papers of his father- in-law, wife, sister and brother; Ogden was a beneficiary of all and executor of several.

The Edward R. Wharton case involved a dispute over payment for services rendered, a seemingly insignificant amount but enough to cause a rift between Codman and Edith Wharton. The genealogy papers and notebooks offer a good starting point from which to understand Codman connections between other New England families. Codman's research notes, especially those on Richard Codman and Codman paintings, are unique and important research material. In the former, one can find art items later connected to the Karolik Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Maps and drawings include what are essentially manuscript materials, with a few exceptions such as an offhand rendering of a pier table. A complete card index to architectural drawings and notes has been prepared as a separate effort, to which researchers principally interested in this aspect of Codman's life are referred. Printed matter contains Codman's own deluxe edition of The Decoration of Houses as well as a corrected typescript, his history both of "La Leopolda" and the Chateau de Gregy, and clippings relating to all of these. Codman as collector can be seen in the early nineteenth-century sermons, one on a family relation, and the interesting Copley love letter to his wife. Along with the letter is preserved the bill for Codman's purchase of this manuscript. Codman left most of his New York office records, many later drawings, and his architectural library to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where they reside in the Department of Prints and Drawings and the library. The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University also has some architectural drawings and records. The Boston Athenaeum has 250 volumes of Codman's research on Boston families and their genealogies, as well as his Index to Obituaries in Boston Newspapers: 1707-1800, which the Athenaeum published in 1968. Unpublished partial manuscripts and research notes on Copley and Stuart and correspondence with fellow preservationist Fiske Kimball (100 letters, 1917-1938), may also be found there. A Catalogue Raisonne of French Chateaux which Codman began compiling in 1907 (numbering 36,000 photographs and 400 notebooks containing illustrations and measured drawings) is housed at the Ministry of Culture in Paris. NOTE: See folders 1169, 1171, and 1173 for material re: Codman family and Wharton family relationship.

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Collection Name
Codman family papers
Collection Code
1806-1950, undated
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

Ogden Codman, Jr., first child of Ogden Codman, Sr. and Sarah Fletcher Bradlee Codman, was born on 19 January 1863 in the house of his maternal grandfather, James Bowdoin Bradlee. He lived at his parent's house in Lincoln, Massachusetts, until 1872, when the family removed to Dinard, France. His early exposure to French art and architecture sparked a lifelong interest in these subjects. He was sent to Bonn by his father in 1882 to work in a German bank, an unhappy experience. His request to return to Boston was granted and he was apprenticed to his uncle, John Hubbard Sturgis, architect of the Museum of Fine Arts building, with whom he lived in Brookline. Sturgis was to have a profound effect on Codman's choice of a career, if not his stylistic development. He enrolled his nephew as a special student in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Academic study was not to Codman’s liking, however, and he dropped out, even requesting many years later, that his name be dropped from the Institute's student roster. From 1884 to 1886, he apprenticed to a Lowell architectural firm, a "dreary" experience, before being hired by the Boston firm of Andrews, Jacques, and Rantoul, where he met his fellow apprentice Herbert W. C. Browne. He struck up a friendship with Browne and Browne's future partner, Arthur Little, who were to form the noted Boston firm Little and Browne and with whose work Codman's own was later to be compared. It was during this period that Ogden's interest in architecture, genealogy, and old furniture began to take root. Some fifty years before the Historic American Building Survey was launched, he began to make measured architectural drawings and photographs of colonial buildings in and around Boston (especially the work of Samuel McIntyre and Charles Bulfinch), as well as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Among the important buildings he recorded was the Governor Shirley Eustis House in Roxbury. He also compiled notebooks on the lineage of Boston's "first families" that eventually numbered in the hundreds, including unpublished biographies of John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart and research notes on decorative and fine arts.

With the financial backing of his aunt, Frances Bowdoin Bradlee, and his own financial resources, Ogden launched his career as both architect and interior decorator. This is how he identified himself in the Boston Directory of 1891-1892, with offices at 100 Chestnut Street in Boston and at the house in Lincoln. That he was a society decorator and designer is evident from the list of his clients, with names such as Otis, Paine, Cabot, Sturgis, Coolidge, Updike, Little, Wharton, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Newbold, Ogden, and others, and he could number friends and relatives among them. Between 1895 and 1920, he designed twenty-one houses, remodeled ten more, and worked on the decoration of seventy-five others, with stylish and elegant settings. Principally this work consisted of country estates and townhouses in Boston, New York, and Newport. He had begun to summer in Newport in 1883, and it was there that he received his first big commission in 1893: the remodeling of "Land's End" for Edith Wharton and her husband. That same year he opened an office in New York City, at 5 West 16th Street, and a branch in Newport at 18 Bellevue Avenue. Codman's reputation was greatly enhanced when Cornelius Vanderbilt II commissioned him in 1894 to design and decorate the second floor of "The Breakers," including thirteen bedrooms. The income from this work provided the means to begin acquisition of an architectural library which, ultimately grown to hundreds of volumes, was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Codman befriended and strongly influenced pioneer interior designer Elsie de Wolfe and her circle, and William Odom, founder of the Parsons School of Design. De Wolfe's book, The House in Good Taste, published in 1913, owes much to Codman's ideas. But it was Edith Wharton, friend and client, with whom Codman was to score a more important and lasting success.

Together they wrote The Decoration of Houses in 1897, setting forth their confident and bold position on what decoration can and should be. The book argues, elegantly, that house decoration must be seen as a vital part of architectural expression, as part of the architectural order of the house itself. The book expanded both architectural and social horizons, offering the style of la France civilisatrice, especially the eighteenth century, together with its scale, proportion, and architectural grammar, as the model for American building. Edith Wharton called him "that clever young Boston architect." This seminal effort was reprinted in 1902 and again in 1978 as a cornerstone in the Classical America Series in Art and Architecture. For all that, Codman remained outside the American architectural profession and one of the last of that breed of gentleman architects without much formal training. He shared with Edith Wharton a love of Italian formal gardens. In 1899, he built for his mother a formal garden at the family estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Landscaping was of as much professional concern to Codman as interior decoration. In Boston, the most notable of his extant works is the house built at No. 84 Beacon Street for the Bayard Thayers in 1912-1914. Codman married Leila Howard Griswold Webb, wealthy widow of Henry Walter Webb, in October 1904, and moved in with her at 15 East 51st Street, New York, a townhouse Codman had designed for the Webbs some years earlier. From 1905 to 1915, he spent his summers in Europe, where he combined business and pleasure by acquiring many art objects for his client's houses. His income during these years averaged $10,000 annually, with 1907 being a record year with income of $25,000. When Leila died in January 1910, Codman sold the house on 51st Street and built himself another, in 1912, at 7 East 96th Street. He maintained architectural offices at various places in New York City until 1917, when his attention turned increasingly to France. He removed permanently to France in 1920, returning to the United States only once, in 1928. In 1926, he purchased the Chateau de Gregy, outside Paris, where his cousin Colonel Charles R. Codman, aide to General Patton, found him reading in bed as the Germans beat a hasty retreat in 1944. He built his magnificent chateau, his magnum opus, "La Leopolda," at Villefranche-sur-mer, on the Riveria, between 1929-1931, on land once belonging to King Leopold of the Belgians. Ogden was an early preservationist, joining the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1913 and arranging, in 1920, for the family estate in Lincoln to pass to the organization upon the death of the last Codman heir. He died on 8 January 1951 at Gregy, Brie-Comte-Robert and is buried there in the garden.


The series is arranged in ten subseries.

Record details

Folder 114.1887 is closed until 2022.

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