The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain. So wrote John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams (1780-05-12).
This telling quote was used by Ronald Freyberger in closing a gallert talk titled American Collectors of French Furniture.
I couldn’t have been more happy with the talk, and the twist around French decorative arts to end with a quote by John Adams was just one of many to extend from the knowledge and insights of Freyberger. Had you attended, you would have come away with some decent groundwork on the collectors, what they bought and who bought it for them, as well as an idea of what sold for how much when. Most interesting are the stories an item can tell by tracing it around and around until we find it in the museum.
If this is the kind of thing you’re sorry you missed, Freyberger will give the gallery talk again August 23.
“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.