The Adam bedroom at Hillwood Museum and Gardens

Special Event - WSWDC Visit to Hillwood Estate

by Sophie Guiny

WSWDC took its first field trip on May 19: instead of gathering for our usual lecture, we were treated to a private tour of Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C. with Associate Curator of Eighteenth Century French and Western Fine and Decorative Arts Rebecca Tilles.  Our tour began in the dacha, which is used for temporary exhibition. Over thirty members and guests squeezed in the gallery to admire the refined objects on view for Perfume and Seduction. The exhibition comprised pieces from Marjorie Merriweather Post’s extensive decorative arts collection, and from the Givaudan Collection, a collection of eighteenth-century perfume and cosmetics containers owned by the Swiss fragrance and flavors company Givaudan and normally not displayed to the public. Rebecca explained that the eighteenth century represents a turning point in the history of perfume, with the development of liquid fragrances, which in turn led to the creation of small, portable scent bottles in a variety of materials. Hillwood displayed examples in gold, bloodstone, enamel, porcelain and two Wedgwood jasperware pieces (below), which are typically not on view.

Blue and lilac jasperware scent bottles, 18th century

The exhibition also featured a recreation of an eighteenth-century dressing table, with a chair belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette, and other luxury items that were used in the bathing and dressing ritual known as la toilette through the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Marjorie Merriweather Post used several of these objects, including those made for the imperial Russian court, for her own toilette.


We then made our way to the mansion, and the second-floor Adam bedroom, designed in the style of neoclassical architects Robert and John Adam. The main feature of the room is a mantelpiece with a Wedgwood plaque depicting Priam begging Achilles for the body of his son Hector.

Rebecca Tilles in the Adam bedroom

The mantelpiece is one of the first pieces of Wedgwood that Marjorie Merriweather Post appears to have acquired, and she designed several Adam-style bedrooms around it in her other residences, before settling of the final incarnation at Hillwood. There is little information on why and how Marjorie Merriweather Post started collecting Wedgwood, but it seems to be connected to her taste for eighteenth-century decorative arts. She acquired most of her Wedgwood pieces in the 1920s. The Adam bedroom displays several eighteenth-century jasperware vases, and plaques, to which Rebecca Tilles had added another pair of vases and two ice pails (sadly with condition issues) for our visit.

Wedgwood jasperware ice pail with a Bacchanalian Boy decor - note the heavy restoration

One of a pair of Wedgwood jasperware vases

on display especially for the WSWDC visit

Rebecca had also pulled a display case of Liberty bone china, which Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired around the time of World War I. Interestingly, despite her involvement in various charitable causes, Marjorie Merriweather Post did not purchase her Liberty china directly from Lilian Taylor, the American socialite who designed and commissioned the service in 1917, but seems to have acquired it at a slightly later date.

Hillwood has a few other Wedgwood pieces in their reserves that we did not get to see. These range from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and include decorative jasperware items as well as several creamware services, which Marjorie Merriweather Post used at her various residences. The Wedgwood collection at Hillwood has not yet been fully catalogued, which provides the curatorial staff at Hillwood as well as WSWDC a wonderful research opportunity!

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