1880s Rockefeller Bedroom is Given to Virginia Museum

Rockefeller Bedroom
Rockefeller Bedroom

A fully-furnished 1880s Aesthetic Movement bedroom from a posh New York City mansion has been given to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts by the Museum of the City of New York.

The gift is additionally meaningful because of the rags-to-riches story of the woman who once owned the room – a native Richmonder of modest means who survived the Civil War and ultimately penetrated the country’s wealthiest circles.

Catharine Arabella “Belle” Duval Yarrington was born in Richmond in the summer of 1850. By age 15, she was fatherless in a war-ravaged South, living in Richmond’s First Ward near Capitol Square in what was probably a residential hotel operated by her mother. Six blocks away, among the city’s notorious gaming halls and bawdy houses, she met John Archer Worsham, the owner of a highly successful “faro bank” – a card-playing establishment in which the proprietor acted as a banker. By the late 1860s, Arabella and her family had moved to New York, where Worsham and his brother owned another faro bank on Broadway. Arabella’s relationship with Worsham lasted until 1870. A year later, Worsham’s Richmond establishment was raided. He died in 1878.

In 1877, Arabella Worsham – as she was then known – purchased a home built in 1865 on prime Manhattan real estate at 4 West Fifty-fourth Street. In 1881 she commissioned major New York decorating firms to design the interiors for the four-story mansion with its two-story carriage house and elaborate gardens. The bedroom was likely the work of Pottier & Stymus and Sypher & Co.

After her second marriage on July 12, 1884 – to Collis P. Huntington, the mastermind of the Central Pacific Railroad – Arabella was widely regarded as the richest woman in America. The wedding was held at her mansion, nine months following the death of Huntington’s first wife. Shortly thereafter, Arabella sold the house to John D. Rockefeller Sr., who left the interiors largely intact. After his death in 1937, his son John Jr. donated three rooms from the mansion to the Museum of the City of New York and the Brooklyn Museum.

As part of an ongoing expansion and modernization of its Fifth Avenue building, the Museum of the City of New York has given the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts the bedroom and its furnishings – citing its size, which could not be accommodated on the renovated floors. (A dressing room and its furnishings will go to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Following her husband’s death, Arabella married for a second time – to her late husband’s nephew, Henry E. Huntington, with whom she created the renowned Huntington collection at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Cal. She died in 1924.

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 artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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