Recently, in my search for Russian art, I discovered the Hillwood– Estate, Museum & Gardens created by the fabulous Marjorie Merriweather Post (below). Post was an heiress, businesswoman, philanthropist, and art collector. Her collection is primarily 18th century French art and furnishing and Russian Imperial art, the most comprehensive outside of Russia. Between her being a strong woman of history and our shared affinity for Russian art, I quickly made plans to visit her estate in Northwest DC. I was blown away by what had been practically in my backyard this whole time. I absorbed as much as I could that afternoon and was left inspired. Therefore, this experience must be presented in two parts. First, I would like to introduce Marjorie Merriweather Post as a collector, and later talk about her exquisite collection.
portrait by Douglas Chandor, 1952, commissioned by Post’s daughter.
Post inherited $20 million from her father, the founder of the Postum Cereal Company, after her parents died when she was only 27. In the 1920’s she lived in New York and married Edward Bennett Close. With her wealth she was able to furnish their home after 18th century France and the neoclassical style of Louis XVI. The excellent craftsmanship and elegance she surrounded herself with exposed her to art collecting and high taste. This also led her to the British art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen, who worked with the likes of Henry Frick and John Rockefeller. He helped Post create a name for herself as a collector by purchasing furniture and tapestries. Below is a picture from her French Drawing Room, designed after the in vogue style previously mentioned of the early 20th century. In the center is a portrait painting of Empress Eugenie by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1857.
Her second husband was Edward Hutton. Together, they turned Post Cereal Company into General Foods with her decision to invest in the frozen food business. In the 1920s she also began to collect Sevres porcelain (above, flanking the portrait), more French furniture, jeweled objects, and Faberge (pictured below).
Marjorie’s third husband was Joseph E. Davies, the ambassador to the Soviet Union. This marriage brought her to Moscow, where they lived in the embassy for over a year. During this time, the 1930’s, the Soviet government was still selling off the treasures of Imperial Russian. In storerooms and commission shops, Marjorie was able to buy her Imperial fine and decorative arts. After that year, she continued to pursue Russian art as this was what started her passion for it.
Above, is the Catherine the Great Easter Egg, 1914 and an example of a piece she bought while in the Soviet Union. Currently, it is in the Icon Room among other treasure of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the lovely pamphlet passed out to the visitors of the Hillwood, this egg was given from Nicholas II to his mother Maria Fedorovna in 1914, as a part of the family’s Easter tradition. It’s named after Catherine the Great due to it’s cameo scene of the arts and sciences, something near to Catherine’s heart, and the long lost miniature figure of Catherine that used to be inside.
After she divorced Davies in 1955, she purchases the Hillwood and lived out her life there. Once she bought the mansion, Post had it completely redesigned to function as both a home for her and an appropriate place to house her collections. She also continued to be a part of her business and continued to be a top hostess for the DC elite. Marjorie Merriweather Post died in 1973, however, she granted her collection and home to the public. Besides the Mansion, there is an Art Research Library, Cafe, Pet Cemetery, Friendship Walk (a path dedicated by her friends), a Japanese-Style Garden, and other gardens. One can only imagine how beautiful it must all look in the spring. Now, everyone can enjoy her fabulous home and collection. I highly recommend visiting if you are in the DC area. The Hillwood is approximately 2 hours from the Lazare Gallery! (<- remember to call to make an appointment to view and/ or buy the works of Nikita Fedosov)