About the Driehaus Museum

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum explores the art, architecture, and design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a focus on the Gilded Age. The Museum is located just steps from the Magnificent Mile within the meticulously restored Nickerson Mansion, renowned as Gilded Age Chicago’s “Marble Palace.” The exquisite building was saved twice, first by a collective of over 100 Chicago citizens in 1919, and then by philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus, who sponsored its restoration from 2003-2008. Mr. Driehaus founded the Museum to feature his outstanding collection of decorative arts—particularly Tiffany glass—as well as special exhibitions from other fine museums. The Driehaus Museum further illuminates the period through numerous educational and cultural programs.

The Main Hall

The Main Hall

The entrance hall of a grand residence during the late 19th-century was meant to announce to visitors the great wealth, social status, and cultured taste of the family. It is the generous use of marble in this dramatic hall that gained the mansion its nickname, “The Marble Palace.” In keeping with the tendencies of the time, the Nickersons kept the hall sparsely furnished with pieces that were beautiful but not comfortable, reflecting that the hall was intended as only a temporary resting place.

Today, Museum visitors are welcomed via the same door as the Nickersons’ guests of the late 19th-century. Thanks to the meticulous restoration, the Main Hall continues to make a powerful first impression.

The Reception Room

The Reception Room

The Reception Room was the space into which visitors would be invited while waiting to learn if they would be received by the family. Because the room may have been the first (and perhaps last) seen, it was meant to impress visitors and further demonstrate the family’s taste and refinement. The combination of walnut wainscoting with intricate marquetry panels and the vivid cerulean Low Art tiles creates a strikingly artistic effect. In addition, the monumental mantelpiece on the north wall extends from floor to ceiling and includes five carved ram heads and a large mosaic depicting an Italianate courtyard.

The Reception Room today features thoroughly restored interiors as well as decorative art objects from the Driehaus Museum’s collection, including a unique centerpiece Nautilus Shell Lamp (c.1910) from Tiffany Studios (1902-1932).

The Front Parlor

The Front Parlor

Parlors were formal entertainment spaces in Gilded Age residences and demonstrated the family’s gentility and refined taste. The parlor showcases quality craftsmanship and artful planning of design, from the 38 unique carved panels of the frieze bordering the edge of the ceiling to the furniture that complements the artistic theme of the room. The eclectic, yet harmonious design, is reflective of the Aesthetic Movement, the prevalent reform movement which incorporated diverse cultural and artistic influences.

The Renaissance Revival suite of furniture is original to the Nickerson Mansion and is on view in the Museum today alongside Tiffany Studios (1902-1932) stained glass lamps from the Driehaus Museum’s collection.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

The dining room was the setting of the elaborate dinner parties frequently hosted by the Nickersons and is a fine example of a late 19th-century American carved room. As was common in the period, the elaborately carved quarter-sawn oak interiors of the dining room feature motifs associated with hunting and the harvest, including foliage, fruits, and acorns.

The Dining Room today features the original Nickerson dining table, attributed to George A. Schastey & Co. (1873-1897). Currently displayed atop the table is a silver punch bowl by Tiffany & Co. (1837-present) featuring vine leaves, grapes, and Bacchus, the god of wine. The punch bowl was first exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The overall lighter color scheme of a drawing room signified that it was a feminine space. Women would “withdraw” to the room following dinner before being later rejoined by male guests. You can see in the historic photograph that the furnishings have been organized in an informal manner and feature an eclectic mixture of designs. This was encouraged in the 1880s (rather than the traditional grouping of a matching parlor suite around a center table) to create a more relaxed and warm atmosphere.

Three Neo-Empire-style armchairs and a settee are currently on view and were designed by George A. Schastey & Co. (1873-1897) to complement the interiors of the room. In addition, period appropriate pieces like the 18-Light Lily Lamp from Tiffany Studios (1902-1932) have been selected from the Driehaus Collection to round-out the room’s décor.

The Library

The Library

“The library is perhaps the handsomest room in this princely home. It is finished in ebony, relieved with carvings in apple-tree wood. High book-cases line the walls, which are covered in heavy silk, in gold and olive. A paneled frieze, with brackets in the style of the Italian Renaissance, carries the paneled ceiling, with cassets decorated in olive, red, and grey.” (From Artistic Houses, 1883, page 50).

The Library reflects an interest in Japanese culture and design, particularly in the use of ebonized wood throughout the interiors and the furnishings. Much of the original furniture is on view, including the magnificent ebonized library table and matching chairs designed to harmonize with the room’s interiors. The furniture and woodwork of the Library have been attributed to the leading New York firm of George A. Schastey & Co. (1873-1897).

The Gallery

The Gallery

The Gallery originally served as the Nickerson family’s domestic museum—a space to display their collection of paintings and collection of curios, jades, porcelains, and ivories from the East. Although the art collection was housed in their private residence, the Nickersons, like many other American collectors of the period, believed it was their civic responsibility to share this collection with the public. The Nickersons invited art students into their home to study and view art, and Matilda Nickerson hosted receptions and lectures which focused on the art collection. In 1900, Samuel and Matilda Nickerson donated most of their extensive collections to the Art Institute of Chicago, ensuring that future generations would have access to them.

The restoration of the Gallery showcases the Fisher–era renovation of the room, including the stained-glass dome and the monumental fireplace with iridescent stained-glass tile, both attributed to the Chicago firm of Giannini & Hilgart (1899-present). On view in the center of the Gallery is Oscar Spalmach’s (1864-1917) sculpture of Cupid and Psyche.

The Ballroom

The Ballroom

The Chicago Daily Tribune described several social events hosted by the Nickersons during their time in Chicago, including a reception in 1888: “Every room in the house was open to the guests, who came, and came, and came, and staid promenading through the lofty halls and finding retreats and easy rendezvous in the card, billiard, smoking, dancing, reception, and toilet rooms, and much to please and interest in the gallery and library… The gas was lighted at 4 o’clock, and the guests had not all retired at 6. At one time there were 180 ladies in the reception rooms.”
- Chicago Daily Tribune, February 8, 1885, page 11, “Mrs. Nickerson’s Reception.”

The Ballroom today continues to be a space for entertainment and social gatherings. Museum public programs, including exhibition lectures and concerts, take place in this room, as do private event receptions.