Parlor Must-Have: The Center Table in Nineteenth-Century Interiors

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Bartow-Pell’s formal double parlors feature two center tables.

What’s the big deal about center tables, and why does Bartow-Pell have so many of them?

The center table was an essential piece of furniture in American parlors in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was not only useful; it was also imbued with complex social and cultural meanings. As a practical matter, center tables—which were frequently the focal point of parlors—were suitable locations for oil lamps and other lighting devices, which were often placed in the middle of the table in order to distribute precious light evenly, especially during the evening. The table’s round form also allowed people to sit close together and created convenient gathering spots for sewing, reading aloud, conversation, and other group activities. “‘We have been talking about getting a centre-table,’” a young wife reminds her husband in Three Experiments of Living (1837). “‘I thought it would be very convenient; and then it gives a room such a sociable look; besides, as we had a centre-lamp!’” she pleads.

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Illustration from American Girl’s Book: Or, Occupation for Play Hours by Eliza Leslie, 1831

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A. J. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, 1850, fig. 223

Center tables took on a kind of moral connotation, however, beyond simply serving as a domestic asset.  In 1850, Andrew Jackson Downing wrote in The Architecture of Country Houses that they “have long been popular pieces of parlor furniture,” and the “centre-table is to us the emblem of the family circle.” In 1854, a writer in Family Miscellany and Monthly School-Reader advised that the center table helped promote learning as well as good morals:

Let the family be supplied with books and periodicals. When evening comes, wheel the table into the center of the room, bring on the lights and gather around them. While the mother is busily engaged in sewing, and the daughter with knitting, and the younger children in some quiet but innocent game of amusement, let the father or son read from an interesting volume, now and then pausing, that all may join in a brief conversation on the subject. . . .From the associations of such a home, and family-room, and center-table, with its stores of knowledge, there would go forth into the world . . . young men and young women with a social influence which would banish from society much of its selfishness.

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Bartow-Pell’s family sitting room. An oversized Bible sits on the center table, which is covered with a period-appropriate green cloth.

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Henry F. Darby (American, 1829–1897). The Reverend John Atwood and His Family, 1845. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815–1865, 62.269 www.mfa.org

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Ladies sew and converse around a center table. Fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book, January 1853

Center tables and their affiliation with the parlor, often a feminine domain in nineteenth-century households, prompted Godey’s Lady’s Book to publish a column called “Centre-Table Gossip.” The tables were also bourgeois status symbols. “The Center-Table,” a short story published in 1850 in Gazette of the Union, Golden Rule, and Odd Fellows Family Companion, begins:

“Husband,” said Mrs. N——, “I think we must have a center-table. I have some very tasteful volumes, and some beautiful shells, and a variety of things with which to furnish it; and indeed our parlor is quite singular without it, they are so common now.”

“Well, Mary,” replied her husband, “the house is your own domain, you know. Arrange it to your own taste.”

As these passages show, items found on center tables varied, and they revealed what was important in different households. Books and periodicals could indicate an emphasis on education and learning, or they might have been on view merely to demonstrate good taste. An oversized Bible was often included. “Her centre-table contained a large Bible . . . one or two annuals in gay attire, the daguerreotype of her absent son, and a cologne bottle,” wrote Mrs. J. H. Hanaford, mixing the sacred with the secular in “The Centre-Table versus the Dining-Table,” from The Water-Cure Journal (1853). “Rich confusion” is described in this poem from The Monthly Miscellany of Religion and Letters (1840):

A small round table in the centre placed,

With Bible, hymn book, and the annuals graced;

The daily paper and the last review,

Tracts, pamphlets, billets, old as well as new,

With inkstand, wafers, sand-box, paper, knife,

In rich confusion there.

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Sinumbra lamp, French, ca. 1820. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Stuart and Sue Feld 2014.04a,b

Publishers, manufacturers, and advertisers took advantage of society’s devotion to the center table. For example, in 1852, a book notice in The National Magazine Devoted to Literature, Art, and Religion declared that “exquisitely engraved” Bible illustrations in recently published volumes would “form an elegant addition to the library, or centre-table.” Sewing baskets, books, writing supplies, and the like—which were happily scattered on center tables in back-parlors and sitting rooms—would not usually clutter a formal parlor. Instead, tables in the best rooms of the house might feature a floral arrangement, sinumbra lamp (a “shadowless” lamp with a circular oil font and a glass shade), or decorative object as an elegant centerpiece.

Even though center tables often had marble tops, table cloths were fashionable accessories. According to A. J. Downing: “Centre-tables depend for their good effect mainly on the drapery or cover of handsome cloth or stuff usually spread upon their tops, and concealing all but the lower part of the legs.” And an article in the Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review (1859) informs us that “Almost every parlor center-table is covered in winter by a woolen table-cover.” Although a variety of color and fabric options were available, green baize or broadcloth was a common choice.

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Table design. Thomas Hope. Plate 39 from Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, London, 1807

American center tables as a furniture form were inspired by French and English sources. The British Regency designer Thomas Hope (1769–1831), for example, published a “round monopodium or table in mahogany” in his book Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807), which scholars have linked to American table design. And French-style gueridons, or round tables, with marble tops, were made in early nineteenth-century New York by the influential Parisian émigré cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819).

In Bartow-Pell’s formal double parlors, two center tables date from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Casters allow them to be moved easily, as originally intended, reminding us that the set-up for today’s First Friday concerts is not entirely unlike what the Bartows would have done for their evening parties. Upstairs in the mansion’s family sitting room, a typically large Bible and items for family activities surround an oil lamp on the center table. Yet another table, with a lap desk, inkwell, and books, is located in the seating area of the master bedchamber.

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American center table in the Grecian Plain style, ca. 1835–40. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Gift of Mrs. Robert Brace, 1986

Although Bartow-Pell currently has several center tables on view, it is unknown how many the Bartow family actually owned. Curators in historic house museums such as Bartow-Pell that do not retain their original furniture use their best knowledge to interpret period rooms, and they rely on donations, monetary gifts, grants, and loans of objects from collectors and other museums to gather appropriate pieces. Over time, new resources and ongoing scholarship allow collections to be refined.

In modern households, the center table is a thing of the past. Lamps have electrical cords that need to be plugged into outlets, so tables with lamps must be next to a wall. Families often gather in front of a television set instead of reading aloud in a circle. And people don’t need a special place to keep a lap desk since lap-top computers can be used almost anywhere.

Although times have changed and center tables are no longer a household essential, they are still a must-have at Bartow-Pell.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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What’s a Girl to Do? Nineteenth-Century Lifestyle Guides for Young Ladies

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Fashion plate (detail), Godey’s Lady’s Book, December 1859

To quote pop star Cindi Lauper, “Girls just want to have fun,” and it was often the same in the nineteenth century. Plus ça change, as they say. There were just a lot more rules back then. And let’s not forget the moral high ground. Henry James’s Daisy Miller and Thackeray’s Becky Sharp wanted to have a good time, but look where their high-spirited ways got them.

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A selection of nineteenth-century etiquette manuals

Etiquette, deportment, and behavior manuals abounded in nineteenth-century America. These didactic guides helped instruct the expanding middle and upper classes on proper manners and “true politeness,” starting at a young age. New parlor furniture wasn’t enough for a family of means; the right kind of social behavior was also required to attain “perfect gentility.” Eliza Leslie, Emily Thornwell, Mrs. John (Eliza) Farrar, and Louisa C. Tuthill are a few examples of authors who wrote in this popular genre. Although Bartow-Pell does not have any volumes from the Bartows’ original library, it is quite possible that their daughters, Catharine (1830–1907), Clarina (1838–1898), and Henrietta (1843–1902), owned this sort of book. Conduct, conversation, fashion, hygiene, social occasions, and letter writing are common subjects. Some advice still resonates, but for modern readers, the rest can range from anachronistic to humorous. In this post, we are going to take a look at some selected do’s and don’ts for mid-nineteenth-century young ladies.

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This upstairs room at Bartow-Pell is interpreted as Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber when she was a teenager in the 1850s.

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Miss Leslie. Frontispiece from Godey’s Lady’s Book, vol. 32, 1846

Eliza Leslie (1787–1858) was a prolific American author who wrote books on etiquette and housekeeping, cookbooks, and fiction, as well as articles for magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book. In 1831, she published American Girl’s Book: or, Occupation for Play Hours. The opening pages, which could easily depict the Bartow family, describe a mother arriving home from the city by steamboat and bringing a copy of the American Girl’s Book as a present for her daughters. “I wish we had possessed this book before we went to Georgiana Howard’s birth-day party, where nothing was thought of but playing on the piano and dancing, just as if the company were all ladies and gentlemen,” exclaims one of the girls. “Besides, we have enough of music and dancing at school.” Eliza Leslie clearly did not think that girls should be treated as miniature adults; rather, she wanted them to enjoy childhood pastimes and informal learning through sports, games, riddles, “amusing [needle]work,” and crafts. Frog in the Middle, Track the Rabbit, and other energetic games encouraged physical activity; charades, conundrums, and card games used cognitive skills; and imaginative needlework projects—such as making reticules and pincushions—fostered creativity and sharpened fine motor and sewing skills.

As girls entered their teens, expectations for their behavior changed, prompting plenty of advice from authors. Here are some examples.

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London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion, January 1853

Mrs. John Farrar complained about the “unhealthy practice of tight [corset] lacing” in The Young Lady’s Friend (1853):

So long as gentlemen admire small waists and praise those figures the most which approach the nearest to the shape of a wasp, or an hour-glass, it is in vain to tell young ladies that the practice is destructive of health, and that there is no real beauty in the small dimensions at which they are aiming. . . . Let mothers, too, make a stand against this general perversion . . . let them keep their daughters without corsets until they have attained their full development of figure.

And here is what Mrs. Farrar had to say on revealing evening gowns:

No woman can strip her arms to her shoulders and show her back and bosom without injuring her mind and losing some of her refinement; if such would consult their brothers, they would tell them how men regard it.

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Fashion plate (detail), Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1853

In The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856), Emily Thornwell admonished readers against wearing thin silk or muslin gowns, “flimsy silk stockings and slippers of a scarcely more substantial material,” and bare shoulders as “they sally forth into the damp and chilly air of the night . . . shivering with cold” on their way to an evening ball or party. “One cause of the alarming prevalence of consumption among the females in this country may, we suspect, be traced to” such behavior, Thornwell proclaimed.

Eliza Leslie, writing in The Behaviour Book: A Manual for Ladies (1853), expressed these views about young ladies “flirting with beaux” at church:

We are sorry to see young ladies, on their way to church, laughing and talking loudly, and flirting with the beaux that are gallanting them thither. It is too probable that these beaux will occupy a large share of their thoughts during the hours of worship.

Miss Leslie offered many other instructions to her youthful readers and their mothers, including the following “bad practices . . . not to be done”:

Slipping a ring up and down your finger. Sitting cross-kneed and jogging your feet. Drumming on the table with your knuckles, or, still worse, tinking on a piano with your fore-finger only. Humming a tune before strangers. Singing as you go up and down stairs. Putting your arm round the neck of another young girl, or promenading the room with arms encircling waists. . . . Slapping a gentleman with your handkerchief or tapping him with your fan. Allowing him to take a ring off your finger, to look at it. Permitting him to unclasp your bracelet, or, still worse, to inspect your brooch.

The author also cautioned readers against silly trends, “even if they have been introduced by a belle and followed by other belles”:

During the Jenny Lind fever, there were young ladies who affected to skuttle into a drawing-room all of a sudden, somewhat as the fair Swede came skuttling in upon the concert stage.

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Girandole with Jenny Lind base (detail), ca. 1850. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The “Swedish Nightingale” began a sensational American tour in 1850 for P. T. Barnum.

“Girls often bring from the boarding-school a sort of school slang, which they have sported among themselves,” Louisa Tuthill grumbled in The Young Lady’s Home (1847). Eliza Leslie was even more severe on this subject, rebuking young ladies who “try to excite laughter and attract the attention of gentlemen by talking slang. Where do they get it? How do they pick it up? From low newspapers, or from vulgar books? Surely not from low companions?” Heaven forbid!

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Leaving Home. Frontispiece from The Young Lady’s Home, Louisa C.Tuthill, 1847

Just like countless Victorian novels, this post ends with the subject of marriage. Many authors offered matrimonial advice. Louisa Tuthill warned against infidels, immorality, narcissism, old men, curmudgeons, extravagance, idleness, tyrants, and “sour creature[s], who would turn the cream in my coffee by looking at it.” Mrs. Farrar, on the other hand, tried to avoid the topic:

Another reason for my not entering fully into the subject of love and matrimony is that every book of advice for young ladies is full of it, and you can easily find it elsewhere. It is the principal material in every novel and tale, and the best fictions of our day hold up to view the mistakes and faults which young persons are most likely to commit in a more impressive manner than can be done here.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Greek Revival Mystery: Who Designed the Bartow Mansion?

 

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Bartow mansion, east façade

The present proprietor has lately erected a fine stone house, in the Grecian style, which presents a neat front with projecting wings. Robert Bolton Jr., A Guide to New Rochelle and Its Vicinity, 1842

Robert and Maria Bartow wanted to live in high style. And they had the perfect opportunity to do just that in the 1830s when Mrs. Bartow inherited from her uncle George Lorillard a handsome sum, which enabled the couple to build an elegant stone mansion “in the Grecian style.” Surrounded by expansive lawns and sweeping views of Long Island Sound, their new house—in what later became known as the Greek Revival style—was a status symbol that proclaimed the family’s good taste and social position to admiring visitors and passersby and created a grand impression befitting the descendants of the Lords of the Manor of Pelham.

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Bartow mansion, west façade, ca. 1870

Why did Robert and Maria Bartow decide to leave New York City? Tragedy struck in December 1835, just before Christmas, when two of their four young children died at the family’s home in today’s lower Manhattan, probably from a contagious disease. Dramatically, this was the same week as New York’s Great Fire of 1835, when high winds and frigid temperatures made it difficult to control rapidly spreading flames that destroyed hundreds of buildings. Although there was little loss of life, the conflagration was witnessed by a terrified New York City populace. The traumatized Bartows were probably anxious to leave urban perils behind, and, four months later, they purchased their country property, which had belonged to Robert Bartow’s Pell ancestors and to his grandfather John Bartow (1740–1816). Robert must have had fond boyhood memories of the estate, when his grandfather “kept open house to all his relatives and friends, and his home was the center of attraction in the society of the county from the hearty welcome they always received.” (Evelyn Bartow, Bartow Genealogy, 1878). Now, retired from business, Robert Bartow could live the life of a modern “Lord of the Manor,” following in the footsteps of his venerated Pell ancestors.

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The mansion’s staircase spirals past a bank of windows, allowing light and air to suffuse the center of the house.

On April 25, 1836, the couple bought 233 acres from Herman LeRoy for $40,000. Tradition says that the seventeenth-century Pell manor house was destroyed during the American Revolution and replaced with another dwelling around 1790. This second house no longer exists, but it is believed that Robert and Maria lived there during the six years it took to build their new home. Construction was likely under way by 1838, when the Bartow tutor Augustus Moore wrote: “Mr. Bartow and I have many pleasant walks about the place examining the improvements, etc.” The family moved into the mansion in 1842.

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William Strickland, Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, 1819–24. Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Greek Revival architecture was in full swing when the Bartows built their new house. This was a common style for domestic structures in the United States from the 1820s to the 1850s and first became popularized by public buildings such as William Strickland’s Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia (1819–24). The revival of Grecian style in the Western world resulted from a widespread interest in classical archaeology, antiquity, and the architecture of ancient Greece. The United States—with its roots in Thomas Jefferson’s embrace of classical architecture as an appropriate style for the new American republic—was particularly receptive to Greek Revival designs. Prosperous times and new-found wealth, especially after construction of the Erie Canal in New York State, led to a proliferation of this new “National Style.” Pattern books by Asher Benjamin (1773–1845) and Minard Lafever (1798–1854) were important disseminators of architectural elements, serving as guides for builders, carpenters, and craftsmen. Greek Revival had become de rigueur in America.

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Bartow-Pell’s front entrance with pseudo-pediment

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Entry hall and parlor door pediments at Bartow-Pell

Greek Revival buildings often mimic ancient Greek temples, with porticoes, colonnades, and columns, but the presence of these elements was not required, and they are non-existent at the Bartow mansion. Nevertheless, many standard Greek Revival features are found at Bartow-Pell, including a symmetrical main façade, a heavy cornice above a wide band of trim, and a low-pitched hipped roof. A pseudo-pediment above the front door adds a classical component that echoes the interior pediment profile. Some other classical design details—such as niches—create cohesion and balance between the front and back façades and the interior. The mansion’s two projecting wings owe a debt to the architectural legacy of Palladio.

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Double parlors

Bartow-Pell’s subtle exterior contrasts with its robust high-style Greek Revival interiors. In the double parlors, dynamic carved wooden winged cherub’s heads and eagles in high relief fill the pediments; double anthemia (honeysuckle petals) adorn the pilasters; and acanthus and papyrus leaves embellish Corinthian capitals.

Plaster ornamentation includes dentil molding and elaborate ceiling medallions. The somewhat unusual combination of eagles and cherubs—both winged creatures—provides decorative continuity between the two rooms, and the wing form adapts easily to fill the sloping sides of the pediments. The eagle, a popular patriotic motif in the nineteenth century, has sometimes been identified as a more masculine element, perhaps chosen by Mr. Bartow. The cherub’s more feminine overtones suggest an affinity with Mrs. Bartow.

Now for the big question: Who designed the Bartow mansion?

So far, the architect’s identity is lost in history. No drawings, plans, or documents related to the mansion’s design and construction have ever come to light. Architectural scholars have often noted that some of the mansion’s Greek Revival details appear to derive from Minard Lafever’s guides and pattern books, such as the 1833 edition of The Modern Builder’s Guide, and sometimes the mansion is even attributed to him, but there is no evidence that Lafever designed Robert Bartow’s residence.

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Plates from Minard Lafever’s book The Beauties of Modern Architecture, 3rd ed., 1839

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Perhaps coincidentally, Robert Bartow’s brother Edgar John Bartow hired Lafever in the mid-1840s to design the Gothic Revival-style Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn and commissioned stained-glass artisans and brothers William Jay Bolton and John Bolton—whom Edgar John likely met because the Boltons were Robert Bartow’s neighbors—to design and execute the church windows. According to the 1850 census, John Bolton (1818–1898) was employed as a “glass stainer,” but he was working as an architect by 1855 in New York City at 348 Broadway and was in practice with his brother-in-law John Schuyler, a civil engineer. John Bolton has sometimes been identified as possibly designing the Bartow mansion, but this is doubtful because he was only eighteen years old when Robert and Maria bought the property and there is no evidence that Bolton was employed as a professional architect before 1855. Furthermore, he is not mentioned in his brother Robert’s published description of the house. However, the Bolton brothers were also woodworkers, and perhaps John helped with some of the wood carving or carpentry at the mansion. (He later became an Episcopal priest.)

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Hawkswood. Historic American Buildings Survey. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Other attributions for the Bartow mansion have been suggested, including Thomas Cole (1801–1848), the Hudson River School painter and sometime architect who married Robert Bartow’s first cousin Maria Bartow, and Martin Euclid Thompson (1787–1877), who has been named as the architect of Hawkswood, a nearby Greek Revival house known as the Marshall mansion (and later the Colonial Inn) that was among the historic Pelham Bay dwellings demolished by Robert Moses during the 1930s. Finally, as clients, how involved were the Bartows in the building’s design, and how much influence did they exert over the unknown architect?

At present, we can only speculate on who designed the Bartow mansion, but we hope that one day this Greek Revival mystery will be solved.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Crowning Glory: Bartow-Pell’s Lannuier Bedstead

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Charles-Honoré Lannuier. French Bedstead, 1812–19. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Henry S. Peltz and Mary Nevius, 1985.06. Photo: Richard Warren

Some of our visitors have probably imagined spending the night at Bartow-Pell, luxuriously ensconced in our magnificent mahogany bedstead made in New York sometime between 1812 and 1819 by the remarkable French émigré cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819). This splendid and rare piece has it all—fabulous style, an impeccable provenance, exceptional quality and craftsmanship by an important furniture maker, and its original crown and label. The bedstead combines Lannuier’s exuberant French Empire sensibility with the influence of recent archaeological discoveries and le goût antique.

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John Vanderlyn (1775–1852). Mary Ellis Bell (Mrs. Isaac Bell), ca. 1827. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Evangeline Bell Bruce, 1997.19.1.

The bedstead’s original owners were Isaac Bell (1768–1860) and his wife, Mary Ellis Bell (1791–1871), who married in 1810 and lived at 14 Greenwich Street in a fashionable part of New York City. Mr. Bell, a prosperous merchant (like many of Lannuier’s clients), made his fortune in shipping. Bell descendants loaned the bedstead to Bartow-Pell for many years and donated it to the museum in 1985.

Lannuier was trained as an ébéniste in Paris during the 1790s by his older brother Nicolas. In 1803, he left the turmoil of post-Revolutionary France to begin life anew in New York, where he joined another brother, Auguste, who had established a thriving confectionery shop on Broadway. Honoré was a great success in America, not only because of his extraordinary artistic and technical skills, but also because he cleverly marketed his cutting-edge knowledge of Parisian furniture, which he advertised as being “in the newest and latest French fashion.” This appealed to the new American republic’s love affair with French luxury goods and to a wealthy merchant class that valued the prestige and snob appeal associated with having a home fashionably furnished in the best taste with expensive pieces of the highest quality.

Lannuier and his primary competitor, Scottish-born Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854), were the leading furniture makers among dozens working in New York in the early nineteenth century. The two cabinetmakers influenced each other’s work, which derived from both French and English sources, and created a New York style through their significant impact on other makers. They also shared a client base that extended well beyond New York to places such as Philadelphia and Savannah. Sadly, Lannuier died prematurely at the age of forty; Phyfe, on the other hand, had a very long and prolific career.

_MG_5519masterbdetailBartow-Pell’s bedstead is a type known as a French bedstead, which featured headboards and footboards of equal height that often scrolled out at the top. These beds, which were designed to be viewed from the side, were placed with the other side against a wall. They ordinarily included bed curtains and the means to hang them. Our example features a superb and rare original crown encircled by classical faces made of gilded brass with a lion’s head in the center. Massive vert antique lion’s paw feet, gilded acanthus leaves, and columns terminating in gilded foliate scrolls provide additional classical ornamentation typical of Lannuier’s oeuvre from the period beginning in 1812 until his death in 1819. The bed is made of fine figured mahogany veneer with secondary woods of mahogany, yellow poplar, and white pine. Casters allowed it to be moved easily for changing the bed linens or for cleaning.

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Lannuier’s trade label (1812–19) on the Bell bedstead

Although tradition dates the bedstead to around the time of the Bells’ marriage in 1810, Lannuier scholar Peter Kenny assigns a date range of 1812–19. This is partly because of the bed’s stylistic characteristics, which place it in Lannuier’s mature antique style, with its rich classical ornamentation and appearance of monumentality. In addition, the Bartow-Pell bedstead bears the bilingual engraved label that Lannuier used during this period. The label features a cheval glass with the eagle from the great seal of the United States in the pediment. Patriotic symbols were especially popular around the time of the War of 1812.

_MG_5519crownLavish bed curtains made of expensive, opulent fabric and trim helped achieve the elegant appearance of beds like this one. Bed curtains were not only stylish, but also practical, since they protected against drafts and provided privacy. Bartow-Pell’s reproduction sheer white curtains and tangerine-hued silk valances and coverlet with violet trim, which are sometimes surprising to modern eyes, were made by Nancy Britton of the Objects Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1996–97, from an 1802 illustration for a lit ordinaire in Pierre de La Mésangère’s influential publication Collection de Meubles et Objets de Goût.

Meubles et Objets de Gout, plate 574, engraving published around 1823

Pierre de La Mésangère. Lit à Dôme, ca. 1823

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Pierre de La Mésangère. Lit Ordinaire. Engraving from Collection de Meubles et Objets de Goût, 1802. The bed curtains on Bartow-Pell’s bedstead were modeled on this design.

Our Lannuier bedstead has been included in two major exhibitions: Classical Taste in America, 1800–1840, organized by Wendy Cooper for the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1993, and Honoré Lannuier, Parisian Cabinetmaker in Federal New York, organized by Peter Kenny for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998. The Met’s exhibition publication by Peter Kenny, et al., Honoré Lannuier: Cabinetmaker from Paris, is an excellent source for those who want to learn more about Lannuier.

Robert Bartow built his country seat around 1840, about a generation after Lannuier’s death. Although the bedstead predates the house, its sophisticated classicism complements the mansion’s handsome Greek Revival interiors and our fine collection of classical furniture. This important and dramatic bed, with its distinguished provenance, is the highlight of our period rooms and adds a special dash of glamour to Bartow-Pell.

Margaret Highland, Historian

 

 

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Summer Mourning: Death at Bartow, June 24

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The Robert Bartow family plot at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, near Westchester Square in the Bronx

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St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1855. Illustration from History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the County of Westchester by Robert Bolton Jr.

On June 24, 1867, twenty-seven-year-old Robert Erskine Bartow died at his family’s bucolic country estate. Exactly one year later, his father, Robert Bartow, followed him to the grave at the age of seventy-six. Both are buried in the family plot at historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in what was then the village of Westchester (now part of the Bronx), where their ancestor the Reverend John Bartow was the first rector.

Robert Bartow (1792–1868) grew up on his father’s farms in Westchester and Fishkill, New York. Bartow was a descendant of the Pells—the Lords of the Manor of Pelham—through his great-grandmother Bathsheba Pell. He and his brothers were commission merchants, book publishers, and paper manufacturers. In 1827, Robert Bartow married tobacco heiress Maria Lorillard. In 1836, the couple purchased property that included the site of the seventeenth-century Pell manor house, where Bartow lived the life of a gentleman farmer on his ancestral land. It was here that the Bartows built the Greek Revival mansion that still stands today.

Robert and Maria Bartow’s son Robert Erskine Bartow (1840­–1867) was named after an older brother who had died as a toddler in 1835 (three days after the death of another sibling). Robert E. Bartow graduated from Columbia College in 1862 and completed a graduate degree in 1865, just as the Civil War ended. Like his father, who was warden at both St. Paul’s Church in Eastchester (now Mount Vernon) and Trinity Church in New Rochelle, the younger Robert was involved in the Episcopal Church and was elected to the vestry of Christ Church, Pelham, in 1864. He never married. On the evening of his death, according to the weather report in The Sun, “The windows of heaven were opened.” The rain continued on the following day, accompanied by “a very cold wind.”

Although we do not know what caused these deaths, June obituaries in the New York Times report deaths from typhoid, consumption, apoplexy, heart disease, scarlet fever, “peri-pneumonia,” and short, long, and sudden illnesses in 1867 and 1868. Fatal accidents were another possible cause.

Obituaries for father and son appeared in the New York papers on the dates of their funerals (two days after their deaths). Friends of the family were invited to attend the services at 4:00 at St. Peter’s Church. “Carriages will be at the Mott Haven depot upon the arrival of the half-past two Harlem train from New York.” According to John Disturnell’s 1864 Traveler’s Guide to the Hudson River, this New York and Harlem Railway station was reached after “crossing Harlem River over a substantial bridge, [and] entering the county of Westchester at Mott Haven, where [there] is a thriving settlement, and several extensive manufacturing establishments.” Carriages were a sign of high social standing and were hired by the undertaker for affluent families in the countryside in order to provide convenient transportation to mourners arriving by train from the city.

After someone died, the body was dressed for burial, and the corpse was usually laid out in the parlor in an open coffin set on a table or sawhorse until the funeral. “On a marble-topped table stood the rich, mahogany coffin, in which lay the remains,” wrote Mary J. Holmes in an 1867 short story set in New York.

Peterson's 1870 Mourning dress, bonnets

Mourning walking dress and bonnets, Peterson’s Magazine, July 1870

In 1869, Sarah Annie Frost described funeral etiquette in her book Frost’s Laws and By-Laws of American Society. If invitations were sent, they were to be delivered by hand, and the undertaker was to be provided with the seating order for the carriages. If there was no guest list, the newspaper obituary was to include an invitation “without further notice,” and guests were placed in the carriages or procession in no particular order. Frost advised that a cross of white flowers was usually placed upon the coffin of a married person, and gifts of flowers to the bereaved “must be white only, and sent on the day of the funeral early enough to be used in the decoration of the coffin.” The ladies of the family wore deep black from head to toe, and female guests wore black or somber colors. Men wore black crape hat bands and black gloves.

Nineteenth-century funerals were often held at the residence of the deceased, but they also took place in churches. Sarah Annie Frost instructed: “When the funeral procession is ready to start, the clergyman leaves the house first, and enters a carriage, which precedes the hearse. Then follows the coffin, which is placed in the hearse; the next carriage is for the immediate family and relatives.” Black plumes adorned the hearse for married or elderly people (and white for young people). Pall bearers, if used, were to be “immediate friends of the deceased.” Upon arrival at the church, men were required to remove their hats as “the coffin passes from the hearse to the church, when the guests form a double line, down which it is carried, and the same . . . observance must be made after the service.” When the funeral was at a residence, the corpse was commonly placed in the parlor, but at the church, “the coffin is usually placed in front of the chancel, with the lid removed, and friends pass, from the feet to the head, up one aisle and down another, after the services are over.”  According to the 1868 Book of Common Prayer, the service began with “I am the resurrection and the life.” The rector of St. Peter’s at this time was the Reverend Charles D. Jackson, D.D., whose son William H. Jackson married the Bartows’ daughter Henrietta at St. Peter’s few years later.

Albany Hearse illustration

“The Albany Hearse.” Illustration from The New York Coach-Maker’s Magazine, Vol. 1, June 1858 to May 1859. This hearse was made by the well-known Albany firm of James Goold & Co. (which also made the carriage on loan to Bartow-Pell from the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages). The hearse’s torch and plume sockets were available in silver and black. “The trimmings are black velvet curtains, with silver fringes, cords, and tassels.”

The Bartow family plot is on the grounds of St. Peter’s, so the procession on foot to the adjoining cemetery would have been short. Sarah Annie Frost relates:  “At the cemetery, the . . . clergyman walks in advance of the coffin, and the others . . . stand around the grave.” “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the minister read while earth was “cast upon the body by some standing by” (Book of Common Prayer, 1868).

Elaborate nineteenth-century mourning rituals involved complex etiquette on what to wear and when to wear it, when and how to pay calls, and how long the various stages of mourning should last. Although mourning was sometimes very expensive and overly complicated, these social customs helped people grieve while paying homage to their loved ones.

mourning card with black border 1870

Mourning card. Printer’s sample from Harpel’s Book of Specimens, 1870. Mourning stationery was commonly used in the nineteenth century. In 1869, Sarah Annie Frost advised: “In mourning, the paper and envelopes may have a black border suitable to the relationship of the dead, and the length of time the mourning has been worn. In the deepest mourning, exaggerations of black border are unbecoming and in bad taste. Real grief is always unostentatious.”

Half-mourning bonnet Godey's illustration, August 1866

Half-mourning bonnet, Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1866

In another book by Sarah Annie Frost, The Art of Dressing Well (1870), she wrote: “It is difficult to establish rules for a dress upon which there is such a diversity of opinion as that worn by persons in mourning. It is worn by some a very long time for even a distant relative, and by others but a few months for a parent or a child. There is really no rule . . . but there are rules for the proper degrees of first, second, deep, or half mourning.”

Mourning dress Peterson's March 1873 - detail

Mourning dress (detail), Peterson’s Magazine, March 1873

As a widow, Mrs. Bartow would have been expected to wear mourning for two years or longer, according to Frost. “Widows’ mourning, for the first year, consists of solid black woolen goods, collar and cuffs of  . . . crape, a simple crape bonnet, and a long, thick black crape veil.” Black crape and bombazine were two popular fabrics for mourning clothes. Black dye often discolored the wearer’s skin. “Ladies who are in mourning are often very much annoyed by finding their arms and shoulders dyed by the garments worn, and which often resists successfully the most lavish use of soap and water.” She advised using a “poisonous” mix of oxalic acid and cream of tartar to remove the stains from one’s body.

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New York City mourns the death of President Lincoln. Illustration from Obsequies of Abraham Lincoln in the City of New York, 1866. It was a common practice to drape buildings in black crape, as seen in this view of City Hall.

The Bartow deaths occurred not long after the Civil War and the shocking Good Friday assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Widespread grief among Unionists, former slaves, and others followed his death and added to the personal losses of those whose loved ones had died in the war. And in an age of higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy, people continued to face sorrow and bereavement throughout their lives. Sadly, mourning was an unwelcome, but familiar, occupation in many households.

For the Bartows, June 24 would never be the same.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Beautiful Again: An Argand Lamp Shines Anew

A wobbly old Argand lamp with a dull surface and broken parts sat unnoticed for years in an obscure corner of Bartow-Pell’s dining room. Now, after restoration, this former diamond in the rough shines as one of the most beautiful pieces in our collection.

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Argand lamp, English, ca. 1830. Baldwin Gardiner, New York, retailer. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Charles Class Paterson, 1963.06

The stunning double-arm oil lamp was made in England (possibly in Birmingham) about 1830 and was sold in New York by the stylish high-end retailer and importer Baldwin Gardiner, who was located at 149 Broadway. Although this lamp did not belong to Mr. and Mrs. Bartow, it’s possible that the couple may have made purchases at this popular shop near their New York City residence after they got married in 1827 and started furnishing their home.

The range of surface treatments and the richness of detail announce that this was an expensive lamp. Glass prisms and multi-faceted cut-glass elements reflect light, matte and burnished brass surfaces add complexity, and patination creates contrast. The ornamentation includes a wreath, leaves, and flowers, and the oil font is shaped like an urn, a popular classical form. Using evidence found on the lamp, the conservator restored the original finishes; stabilized the frame; repaired and replaced broken and missing glass elements and shades; and added reproduction chimneys.

Burnishing equip. Illus from Hunt, Robert. A Treatise on the Progressive Improvement & Present State of the Manufactures in Metal. London Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853.

Illustration of burnishing equipment in A Treatise on the Progressive Improvement & Present State of the Manufactures in Metal, by Robert Hunt (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853)

Lacquered finishes were used on all English brass objects that were imported into the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. This method replicated the look of French gilt bronze (also known as bronze doré, fire gilding, or ormolu) but avoided the expense of gold and the high toxicity of mercury. The English technique involved using acid baths to bite into the brass and render it an appropriate shade of matte lemon yellow. The bright or highlighted areas were burnished, and the surface was lacquered (sometimes with tinted lacquers) to tone the color and prevent tarnishing. Lacquer, however, will eventually disintegrate, which means that the underlying brass will tarnish and the carefully designed effect of the contrasting matte and burnished areas will disappear. At Bartow-Pell, the lost art of lacquered brass has been beautifully re-created in our restored lamp.

Lamps like this one were inspired by ancient urns, stands, and vessels, many of which had been discovered by archaeologists in southern Italy. Lamp makers learned of these classical forms through the engravings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), which allowed them to cater to a populace that was enamored of the ancient world and eager to embrace objects made in the classical taste.

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778). Vaso antico di marmo, con urna cineraria (Antique vase in marble with cinerary urn) from Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcofagi, tripodi, lucerne, ed ornamenti (Vases, candelabra, grave stones, sarcophagi, tripods, lamps, and ornaments), ca. 1778

Argand lamp engraving Penny Cyclo 1834 - Copy

Illustration of an Argand lamp in The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London: Charles Knight, 1834)

Argand lamps were invented in 1782 by the Swiss scientist Aimé Argand (1750–1803) and were a vast improvement over earlier lighting devices. They were cleaner and had a much brighter flame, thanks to a cylindrical wick sleeve that allowed better air circulation. Oil—often whale, but sometimes colza (rapeseed) or other varieties—was poured into the reservoir at the top. Gravity then allowed it to flow through the arms into the burners where the wicks were located. Oil lamps required frequent cleaning, however. In the 1828 edition of The House Servant’s Directory, Robert Roberts grumbled: “I have been in some houses where the rooms were almost filled with smoke and stench of the oil, and the glasses of the lamps clouded with dust and smoke . . . this is a very disagreeable thing indeed.” He went on to say that it was the servant’s fault “if they [the lamps] are dirty, or not in good order.”

Lamp shop NY 1845 prob Starr's more contrast

Illustration of a New York lamp shop in Sheldon & Co.’s Business or Advertising Directory (Boston: John F. Trow, 1845)

A robust economy, the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and technological advances made possible by the Industrial Revolution created a favorable environment for commerce and produced a large demand for all types of merchandise. Retail stores abounded in large cities, and Broadway was the place to shop in New York City. Frances Trollope described the scene in her 1832 book Domestic Manners of the Americans: “From hence [the Battery] commences the splendid Broadway, as the fine avenue is called, which runs through the whole city. This noble street may vie with any I ever saw, for its length and breadth, its handsome shops, neat awnings, excellent trottoir, and well-dressed pedestrians.”

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Broadway, New-York, Showing Each Building from the Hygeian Depot Corner of Canal Street to Beyond Niblo’s Garden, 1836. Thomas Hornor, artist and etcher; John Hill, etcher; and J. Stanley & Co., publisher. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library

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Broadway, New-York, 1836 (detail). Furniture Warehouse on Broadway

Baldwin Gardiner (1791–1869) was the younger brother of silversmith Sidney Gardiner (d. 1827). After working in Boston and Philadelphia, Baldwin moved to New York in 1827 and set up his furnishings warehouse on Broadway, where he sold a variety of luxury goods, including silver and imported lamps, such as the one at Bartow-Pell that bears his retailer’s mark.

We thank our generous donors who helped to defray the cost of restoring our glorious lamp, which reigns supremely from the dining room sideboard, just as it might have done in a fashionable and affluent home in the nineteenth century.

 Margaret Highland, Historian

Thanks to Carswell Rush Berlin for his help on this post.

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Chariot Clock: Neoclassicism in the Hands of an Expert

On Thursday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m., BPMM presents “Time Will Tell: Clocks at Bartow-Pell.” Discover the world of gears, drives, wheels, and escapements with John Metcalfe, owner and founder of Antiquarian Horologist, who has restored ticking and chiming to clocks in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, and National Watch and Clock Museum. Learn about the nineteenth-century clocks at BPMM and their place in the history of clock making, as well as the technical aspects of antique clock restoration and repair. Reception after the presentation. Admission proceeds and donations go toward the restoration of clocks in the collection. Cost $10 adults; $8 seniors, students, and members. Registration requested.718-885-1461 or info@bpmm.org

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Chariot Clock (after restoration), French, 1825. Gilt bronze with impressed initials “L G.” Dated 1825 on the spring. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Elliot Tuckerman, 1946.02

 

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Clock design, ca. 1802. Pierre de La Mésangère (French, 1761–1831), Collection de Meubles et Objets de Goût

A superb French chariot clock made in 1825 that has been at Bartow-Pell since it became a museum in the 1940s was recently cleaned and restored by antiquarian horologist John Metcalfe and is now back in its place on the marble mantel in the south parlor. French clocks like this one were desirable decorative accessories in stylish, wealthy American houses during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when neoclassicism was at its peak.

 

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Charioteer (before cleaning). Photograph by Francis Smith

This fine example features Hippolytus (or Artemis) as a charioteer. The figure wears a lion pelt over one shoulder and carries a quiver of arrows while holding the reins of two rearing stallions. A bas-relief of Phaedra and Hippolytus appears on the base. The composition of this mythological scene derives from an 1802 painting in the Louvre, Phèdre et Hippolyte, by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774–1833), in which Hippolytus rejects the illicit love of his stepmother, Phaedra, the wife of his father, Theseus. The story is told in a fifth-century BCE tragedy by Euripides, which begins when Hippolytus has offended vengeful and jealous Aphrodite, the goddess of love, because he is a follower of the goddess of the hunt and chastity, Artemis. (On our clock, as in the painting, Hippolytus stands by his hunting dogs and holds a bow and arrows, thus demonstrating his affinity for Artemis.) It is not surprising that bad things follow, and the play ends with the death of Hippolytus in his chariot.

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Bas-relief on clock base depicting Hippolytus and Phaedra (before cleaning)

 

Phaedra and Hippolytus engraving

Engraving from Painting: Spanish and French by Gerard W. Smith (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1884), after Phèdre et Hippolyte, an 1802 oil painting by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (French, 1774–1833)

The clock’s connections to Greek mythology, art, and culture allowed the original owners of this beautiful and costly imported object to demonstrate their education and knowledge to a society that was captivated by the ancient classical world.

Now is the perfect opportunity to see—and hear—our clock, after its recent restoration by expert horologist John Metcalfe, as it once again chimes and tells us the hour, taking us on a trip back in time.

JohnMetcalfe_clockrepair

John Metcalfe is a horologist, a master of antique clock restoration, and owner of Antiquarian Horologist in lower Manhattan.

To learn more about John Metcalfe’s story, click here.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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