The Biltmore Estate doesn't have the greatest art collection and I suspect they know it. Excepting Zorn's painting "The Waltz" you can nary find a postcard or print of the paintings there. Not only can you not buy reproductions of the works, you can't really see them while you're inside the house itself. The rooms are extremely dark, making it very difficult to get a proper look. I would suggest that some of these works are perhaps not so prominently displayed because they are not great examples from the artists, but whether it's a great Sargent or not, it's better than I could do and I want to be able to see it.
Above are the two John Singer Sargent paintings on display at the Biltmore. Were there a little more light, you could almost get a good look at the one of Frederick Law Olmstead from the roped off area. These two huge portraits were commissioned by George Vanderbilt for the house. To me, the quality of the paintings in comparison with other Sargents suggests to me that he wasn't all that excited about them. It would be difficult to tell a Vanderbilt that you don't want to take their commission because it bores you.
The painting of Landscape guru Olmstead, of Central Park fame, seems contrived. At the museum they tell you that this was painted out of doors, but if that was the case, how could Sargent miss the dappled light that would have appeared on the clothing where it had filtered through gaps in the canopy? The face and body have been smoothed over so that the figure looks almost blurry. The landscape portion is well painted. My favorite part is the little corner of sky in the upper left hand. It is hint of life and light in a dreary feeling painting.
The portrait of architect Richard Morris Hunt was less successful. The painting of Hunt looked almost unfinished. The overcoat puffed over his shoulder looks awkward and it seems that the paint is so thin you can see some underpainting through the fabric. Not what I would expect in a light area of the painting. For non-painters out there, you usually paint thicker with lighter colors.
"The Waltz" by Anders Zorn, purchased by Vanderbilt in 1893 at the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago. I liked this one, but once again it was hung high and in the dark.
This portrait of the lady of the house, Edith, was painted by Giovanni Boldini. Today Boldini is lesser known than Sargent, but in his day he was a preeminent society painter, known for his swishy style. Her feet hung above my head, so this was the best picture I could get of her. I wasn't particularly excited about this portrait either. The face was well done, but it was just a little bit boring and Boldinis aren't supposed to be boring.
After visiting, I would say that unless you can get some sort of special pass to get behind the velvet rope (with a ladder and a spotlight) don't plan on the Biltmore Estate as an art pilgrimage. There are some very nice paintings there but their presentation is so poor that you can't even see them.