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Thursday, May 3, 2012

White House furnishings close Sunday at Renwick Gallery

Armchair, 1818, made by William King, Jr. (1771-1854), Georgetown, D.C., mahogany, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Ford Sollers, Sr., 1986/White House Historical Association

Well, if you can’t get in the White House, why not at least see some of its furniture, china, a president's breakfast tray, place settings, and other items now on display at the Renwick Gallery?

This lovely museum (one of the Smithsonians), which whispers refinement and culture, is located just down the street from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, next door to Blair House, if you’ve ever stayed there.  (No?  Then you must not be a head of state, but you are invited to the Renwick which is at the corner of Penn and 17th Avenue North, NW, at no charge.)

The curators call the White House belongings, "decorative arts," and there are 95 pieces in the exhibition created to honor the 50th anniversary of the White House Historical Association.

For anyone in or around or remotely interested in Washington, D.C. which shall include but not be limited to historians, White House aficionados, curiosity seekers, political junkies,  presidential scholars, art historians, and who's left?  This exhibition is absolutely “must-see.”

What are "decorative arts"?  Glad you asked:   They are anything which decorates, enhances, or adds to the richness of a living environment (like my parakeet) such as silver, glassware, chairs, tables, crystal and a bedspread.

And there is one last museum public talk about it to be delivered at noon, Friday, May 4, at the Renwick by White House Historical Association Vice President John Riley. 

The show includes a few of the 464 pieces of a silver set made in 1809-1810 which, despite criticism from Congressional members, President Andrew Jackson purchased in 1833 for the White House.  To buy the set, the president used money raised from an auction of White House furniture.  (Congress and the president weren't getting along then either.)

Also included in the Renwick presentation:

A large soup tureen with eagle finials made in France in 1809-1817 which President James Monroe purchased in 1817 to commemorate the U.S. victory in the War of 1812,

A large (very large) wild turkey platter from the Rutherford B. Hayes administration,

Pieces of the Lincoln china selected by Mary Todd Lincoln who was instrumental in the design of the wine-colored borders,
Teddy Roosevelt's silver breakfast tray,

A place setting for a state dinner with four forks, three knives, a dessert spoon and glasses  for water, champagne, wine, and dessert wine. 

Grace Coolidge hoped to start a tradition among First Ladies by leaving a special legacy to the White House, but her successors ignored her idea. You may see Mrs. Coolidge's gift, a beautiful and elegant bed covering she crocheted between 1925 and 1927 for the Lincoln bedroom.

The only outlier in the show is a 1903 amateurish painting of the Blue Room by Washingtonian Charles Bittinger (1879-1970) which may be one of the primary reasons it is there:  He was local.  Please, go have a look and see what you think. Honestly, I cannot imagine this hanging anywhere in the White House except inside a closet.

The entire exhibition is well laid out with decorative plants and an atmosphere of the 1920s to put a visitor "in the  mood."  On the three occasions I visited, no one obscured visibility.

At the end of the show and before reaching the gift shop, visitors will enter a small room with benches where they may sit and see an informative and exceedingly worthwhile video, At Home in the White House which stars Laura Bush, Tricia Nixon Cox, Rosalynn Carter, Susan Ford Bales, and Linda Bird Johnson Robb.  Not to miss!

What:  Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House

When:  Now through Sunday, May 6, 2012, 10 a.m. - 5: 30 p.m.

Where:  Renwick Gallery, 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

How much:  No charge

Metro stations:  Farragut North or Farragut West

For more information:  (202) 633-7970 or (202) 633-1000

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