French Period Rooms at the Met

The last time I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art the Wrightsman Galleries was closed. One could glance in to the collection of mostly French Period rooms, but not enter. The history of the French Period Room in the United States dates back to the Gilded age that also saw the construction of large Boulevards in Paris.

“The Past Present and Future of the Period Room, a symposium in honor of the reopening of the Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts,” was held at the Met February 15 and I took the opportunity to attend.

The idea of the period room offers a unique potential, only surpassed by the house museum, to see decorative arts items in their intended context. At the time many of the period rooms in the Wrightsman Galleries were brought to the United States, all things French was highly sought after as the most advanced form of decoration and popular with dealers and decorators including Duveen and Allard and patrons including Morgan and Vanderbilt.

Its worth noting that many of the period rooms did not come to the U.S. destined for museums. The were instead installed into large New York town homes and estates in places like Newport, Rhode Island. The rooms were often bought and sold several times before ending up in their for all intents and purposes permanent homes in the Met. One even ended up in a Jerry Lewis movie after being sold to 20th Century Fox.

The symposium included a variety of lectures on subjects such as chandeliers, preservation, patrons and paneling. Most importantly, it provided an opportunity to revisit the rooms with the information gained from the symposium in mind.

Some of my favorites include the Bordeaux room once in French Neo-Classical home at 9 East 71st Street. My very favorite in the Wightsman Galleries however is not French at all, but the Dining Room from Lansdowne House designed by Robert Adam.

The Met also has a unparalleled collection of American Period Rooms, some of which are not currently on view. Another great place to see Period Rooms is the Brooklyn Museum.

I’m curious how prevalent the idea of a period room is in the homes of today’s elite. I would think that while artifacts are sometimes installed, the idea of a period room in a private residence is not common. I’d be interested in hearing stories to the contrary.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.


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