10 November 2009

more MRS POST & to Russia with Love

If only I could finish that thought- About Mrs Post, amongst other things. This may be part of the problem, too many thoughts-not enough time. But I continue to think about Mrs Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her HILLWOOD home is vast- a mansion, yet the house is approachable. I believe it is the innate personal Post charm that resonates throughout the rooms that gives me that sense.

She adored entertaining and hosting guests- She was house proud. You may say- well of course- Yet many collectors will collect to say I collect. For Mrs. Post, it was a passion that drove her to study , to acquire, to discern. She reveled in giving the Tour. Her hope was to create a living museum of a private nature.She must be pleased.

Mrs.Post surveys the table of the dining room at HILLWOOD. 
(from the pages of LIFE MAGAZINE)

THE TOUR HIGHLIGHTS-  but by No means everything I saw.

On the day I toured HILLWOOD the magnificent marble table that once graced her MAR A LAGO home was unadorned with fine linens and stood in dominance in the DINING ROOM. The table came to HILLWOOD after Mrs. Post's death, as stipulated in her will (foresight, MRS POST, indeed). Architect Joseph Urban helped with the design of the table- supervising Mrs. Post's commission from the Opificio delle Petre Dure in Florence, 1927. Seeing the opulent hardstone mosaic top on view was an unexpected highlight! Read a 2003 article in the MAGAZINE ANTIQUES about the saga of the more that 15 foot long Marble table here. The article by Rachel Layton Elwes tells the story with a glorious description of the table's top.(March 2003)

an example of  pietre dure

On to the kitchen. Yes, the HILLWOOD Kitchen quite took me by surprise. As I mentioned in my earlier HILLWOOD posting-I always look about on these tours for real details that can be translated in today's world. It may be odd to wax about the "kitchen at HILLWOOD" but I protest.

from LIFE

Take a Look-( of course the fine ladies were not present ) To me it was just perfection-if- I were to have a perfect kitchen. It is all beautiful, functional- and simple. The detailing on the linoleum floors alone constitutes a minor work of art- in short, some craftsman's own pietre dure. From all the best of 1950's design!

from LIFE

In 1937, Mrs. Post's husband, Joseph E. Davies, was appointed second United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, making the move to Moscow, where MMP immersed herself in Russia’s artistic culture & began collecting Russian  objects- religious & fine and decorative arts. Here in the aftermath with the cold shadow of Russia's Revolution, Mrs. Post devoured all that Russia offered and established the major part of her collection.

Mrs Post Davies & Mr.

How can one can begin to describe the treasures of the Russian Liturgical Room? I am only a mortal- I leave the task to some other more worthy mortal or to the gods, saints, and martyrs. Let me just say it is FULL- here- the gold chalice commissioned by Catherine the Great as a part of a communion set for a Saint Petersburg monastery, a pair of 16th century doors from an iconostatis (icon screen). What caught my eye? What couldn't I take my eyes off of- I should say-the vestments-ornate robes of metallic brocade worn by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. Mrs. Post selected from vast stacks and stacks of vestments in commission shops-awaiting the fire to recover their gold and silver threads. Mrs. Post was a savior. One of the brocades was so extraordinary, I was very distracted by all thechatter about that gold chalice.

Of course the vestments looked nothing like this-but nothing I have found to show you devoted ones-looks remotely like MMP's collection of vestments. Nothing. It would be sacrilege to show something less inspiring- So here is the most heavenly Christian Lacroix gown- the pies de resistance from his last Couture Collection Fall 2009. It inspires devotion.
image from Style.com

The Russian Porcelain Room was smaller than- size wise-but packed otherwise-with intricate incredible porcelains. I have to say porcelains for the most part allude my finer sensibilities. Mrs.Post was crazy over it-as witnessed by the beautifully built cabinets where the delicate and vast porcelains are enshrined.

from Christies A porcelain dish from the Service of the Order of St George by the Gardner Porcelain Factory, Moscow, period of Catherine II, 1777-1778-like those seen in Mrs. Post's Russian Porcelain Room. This one to my eye the most lovely.

So many rooms to see, NOW back to the Entry- marvelous. The staircase portraits are of Russian royals with a huge portrait of Catherine the Great reigning over them all. I can not tell you the comments from one fellow "tourist"-but here, as we paused on the staircase it went something like- Now who was she married to? & on to something like Maiden names, etc.etc-thankfully the words MRS. Romanov didn't come next-but I was honestly expecting it.

Mrs. Post's Bedroom is pure French-Louis XVI in every way. A table case in the room is filled with precious bloodstone objects-Mrs. Post's birthstone. Again, though opulent-the room seems to be personal. She filled them with her things- they were not museum rooms and none of the rooms take on that feeling.
This bloodstone table box in gilded framework is from the Hermitage

Just beyond the bedroom is a gorgeous silver and pale blue Dressing Room. The wall are filled with family portrait photographs in beautiful frames. There was no- matching of frames with all the family photographs here. Mrs Post must have selected the frames or received them as gifts- mother of pearl, intricate inlay, mirrored, eglomise- all lining the walls with portraits of daughters, especially her glamorous movie star daughter Dina Merrill- one by Milton Green, with Dina posing in an Estevez black gown the photo-a tribute to the Sargent painting-MADAME X.

Originally published in LIFE in 1960
from NYSD  

Another room where Mrs. Post showed off many personal photographs was the First Floor Library. The library  was a room where Mrs. Post spent time with an intimate group of friends & family. An English-style paneled room with 18th century carved English pine, this is one of the prettiest rooms in the mansion. One I would really love in a home of my own. It is warm, personal and displayed her photographs in Cartier and Caldwell frames. For me, seeing this room ends the on again- off again topic of - do you or don't you display personal photographs in rooms- other than bedrooms or the like? YES, if Mrs. Post did it- go ahead. I do. It is truly ridiculous to set up rules that might have applied to decorating and design in some terribly staid book about the subject written years ago-or worse in the recent boat load of  decorator  how to decorating books. Why deprive yourself of the faces of loved ones? How often do you have a photography crew from HB or Elle Decor popping in to shoot for their next magazine?


One of my favourite rooms was the PAVILION. I could easily imagine the lingering fragrance of Russian ambergris. This is a beautifully arranged large room encircled with heavy latticed moldings, pretty small French chairs and French settees with small tables extending from the arm- designed for setting after dinner drinks. This is the room that evoked the age of the last Romanovs. So much opulence, such a display of wealth, the color and the mood-blacks, mauves, lilacs- all dusted with a powdery sugar coating away from reality-but beautiful. Here-the Romanovs gather in personal photographs placed on a piano, Russian portraits, along with monumental Russian urns, Russian paintings & Russian ivory.

The Pavilion holds the massive Konstantin Makovskii painting A Boyar Wedding Feast. The work, painted in 1883, depicts Old Russia of the Boyar class uniting two influential Moscovy Boyar families. The painting -at first glance- is romantic, extravagant, ebullient- a second look reveals a miserable bride,the oblivious resigned faces of the women and the leering faces of the Boyar men.  As an aside- I dated a first generation Russian for a bit- and he could easily step right in to that painting ( just there seated left of the bearded man raising a goblet).

Another painting in the Pavilion, Portrait of Countess Samoilova (1832-1834), was painted by Karl Briullov. Another story book portrait, at over 9 feet, the beautiful Countess is depicted with her young foster daughter and a servant. Dressed in the height of Paris fashion, Julia Samoilova entertained royals, revolutionaries, ruffians- incurred the Tsar's wrath-her story reads very differently from the lovely lady depicted in the portrait. Read indept about the artist and the Countess here in Apollo Magazine.

Last, but not least by any means, as I left the Pavilion ,Mrs. Post's collection of ivory stopped me. Though not highlighted by the docent, the collection is stunning- and I am guessing Russian in origin. I remember them as something like this.

Here from 1st dibs & Florian Papp is a early 19th century Russian Ivory filigree mounted octagonal box.

In reality though my own thoughts are full of Russian romanticism, Mrs. Post used the room to entertain large parties, to view movies and for the occassional square dance. It is nice to note that Mrs. Post treated her staff to the cinema when films were screeened,creating seating for them in the balcony area.

After the Pavilion- I seem to have been lost in Russia- everything else paled in comparison.

read more about HILLWOOD here



  1. Ah, Little A, never enough Mrs. Post! Enchanting post. Tangible, yes, detailed and sumptuous too. Many thanks for more of your tour.

  2. An amazing post...what a beautiful home created by an incredible woman, xv.

  3. This edition of LA is stunning. How inspiring that Mrs. Post became a student, loving the acquiring of knowledge along with objects of great beauty. Rather different than today's culture of the super rich, no?

  4. Debra- It is so much to take in-but all very personal, which is what fascinates.Glad you like the post G

  5. Vicki, so glad you like the post. MMP's Hillwood was a home, she managed to live in all that splendor. very admirable.G

  6. home-yes, I agree.Beyond the splendor and glamour this was a savvy businesswoman- ahead of her time, yes using feminine wiles-she had no desire to burn her bra!, but knew how to bang the gavel.an amazing woman. G

  7. I agree with you on displaying personal photos in the home. If you enjoy them, then WHY NOT? There's surely a way to make them work, even if HB and Elle Decor are popping by! Decorating "rules" are the worst.

    As for the Hillwood museum, I've never been there, but I have a whole book on it and they certainly have some amazing things.

    Beautiful post.


  8. G -

    Many thanks for your lovely posts on Mrs. Post / Mommy Da ... . especially your recognition of her business savvy. You might enjoy American Empress by Nancy Rubin ( out of print, but try Amazon).

    I've written about my personal experiences at Mar a Lago here:


    Being a member of the Post family for a brief (6 year) marriage was certainly a unique trip!

    As Thanksgiving approaches, I always remember the table being set with the "good" china. .... . a spectacular service which belonged to Catherine the Great .

    Another world, indeed.


  9. Wonderful post, read about already a time a go, but not like here, love the first picture a lot. What a great place, and a great story.



  10. Lauren-yes, indeed. those "rules" ridiculous-we could start a list of them.maybe we should! la

  11. David-the house is amazing full of so many things obviously not covered her-an Icon Room, amazing(beyond so), Winterhalter in the French Drawing Room-and more.G

  12. Judith, it is for this, I post, and post. Indeed another world. How incredible it must have been to sit at table with MMP and Catherine. I think I would be completely overwhelmed. I can not wait to read the Mar a Lago post you wrote. Thanks for sharing the Mommy Da, I read the book when It came out and have wanted to see HILLWOOD ever since-so glad I did. She was a force. Hope you are enjoying your hiatus. GT

  13. I am in and out of DC, now dying to c this house!!!! since cing it through your eyes. super MRS post.

  14. Tsarist Russia is definitely the theme of my blog reading tonight...I'm always amazed by coincidences such as these, as those to which I refer are writing at about the same time, (without reference to or influenced by), but literally coincide with similar and very different observations about a similar subject.

  15. Anon- You really should go it is "fabulous" la

  16. Columnist- It is a something in the air- as you say. Anytime I have a grand thought Russia comes to mind. How I would love to visit. I pulled out Pauline de Rothschild's Irrational Journey last night-a beautiful read about her trip there. G

  17. The dress in the first picture is gorgeous, love the back treatment.

  18. LA,
    Wonderfully captured. I too adored the kitchen....and butler's pantry. And yes that Russian liturgical robe is a killer. A vibrant collector MP was, no doubt. Great research. Thanks for sharing.



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