Off With Your Head!
BONJOUR! I’VE ONLY EVER SPENT TWO WHOLE DAYS IN PARIS BUT THIS PAST SATURDAY I GOT THE CHANCE TO REVIST THE CITY OF LIGHTS (SORT OF). IN HONOR OF BASTILLE DAY, HILLWOOD ESTATES AND GARDENS WERE TRANSFORMED INTO AN 18TH CENTURY DREAM, WITH AN ITINERARY TO MATCH. YOU COULD EMBELLISH PAPER SHOES, LEARN HOW TO FLIRT WITH A FAN, AND WATCH THE GROUNDS COME TO LIFE WITH ACTORS DRESSED IN 18TH CENTURY GARB DANCING TO THE TUNE OF A BAROQUE GUITAR. I SPENT THE MAJORITY OF MY TIME LOST IN THE 18 ROOMED MANSION, BUT I MADE SURE TO TAKE PART IN CELEBRATING EVERYTHING FRANCAIS, FROM MIMES TO MACAROONS.
THE ESTATE WAS ONCE THE HOME OF HEIRESS AND PHILANTHROPIST, MAJORIE MERRIWEATHER POST, WHO WAS AN AVID COLLECTOR OF ALL THINGS ‘FABULOUS’ AND EXPENSIVE–FROM RUSSIAN FABERGE EGGS TO FRENCH PORCELAIN. THE FOLLOWING WORDS DETAIL POST’S LIFE AS TOLD BY THE HILLWOOD ESTATE ORGANIZATION:
DEVELOPING HER TASTE
“Born in 1887 in Springfield, Illinois, Marjorie Merriweather Post was the only child of Ella Merriweather Post and Charles William (C.W.) Post, who founded the Post cereal empire. With her father’s entrepreneurial spirit as inspiration, Marjorie embraced her mid-Western work ethic to become one of America’s most successful businesswomen. When both of Marjorie’s parents died in the 1910s, she became, at the age of 27, the owner of the $20 million cereal company that would later become the General Foods Corporation.
It was in this second decade of the 20th century when Marjorie’s taste for collecting was shaped. A young woman of great wealth living in New York, married to Edward Bennett Close and a mother of two, Marjorie began to furnish her elegant new interiors according to the most current trends in design. She developed a preference for the arts of late 18th-century France, in particular the neoclassical style of Louis XVI—a style that was in vogue among New York’s fashionable society. The elements of harmony, balance, delicate decoration, and superb craftsmanship that defined this period continued to guide Marjorie’s collecting taste for the rest of her life.”
SIR JOSEPH DUVEEN
“Few influences played a more critical role in the development of Marjorie’s collecting tastes than Sir Joseph Duveen. A British art dealer whose clients included Henry Clay Frick, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller, Duveen introduced Marjorie to the arts and culture of18th-century France. Though she avoided his enticements to develop a taste for the Old Masters, it is through Duveen that Marjorie carved a niche for herself among the discerning collectors of European works of art through her purchases of furniture and tapestries.”
FROZEN PEAS TO FABERGE
“Marjorie’s second marriage was to financier Edward F. (E.F.) Hutton, with whom she had one child, and together they transformed the Post Cereal Company into General Foods, a pioneer in frozen and prepared foods. The Huttons epitomized the Roaring 20s lifestyle and Marjorie grew ever more socially practiced, hosting a stream of charity and philanthropic events in New York and Palm Beach. She further refined her collecting tastes during the 1920s, turning her attention to the acquisition of fine Sèvres porcelain, outstanding examples of French furniture, and a collection of gold boxes that proclaimed her taste for the jeweled object and, later, Fabergé. In the 1920s Marjorie built and decorated her legendary and multiple residences, including a 54-room New York apartment; her Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago; Camp Hutridge (later Topridge) in the Adirondacks; and her well-appointed four-masted yacht, which Marjorie decorated to perfection.
In the 1930s Marjorie accompanied her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, to the Soviet Union, where he served as ambassador. During these years, the Soviet government was nearing the end of its efforts to sell treasures it had seized from the church, the imperial family, and the aristocracy in an effort to finance the new government’s industrialization plan. Exploring commission shops and state-run storerooms, Marjorie discovered that the fine and decorative arts of imperial Russia appealed to her taste for finely-crafted objects and ignited a new collecting passion and pioneering effort in the field of Russian art.
At Spaso House, the American embassy in Moscow, Marjorie welcomed the role of diplomatic hostess and sharpened the skills that prepared her for the world of politics, diplomacy, and philanthropy that awaited her in Washington, D.C.”
LIFE AT HILLWOOD
“Following her divorce from Davies in 1955, Marjorie purchased Hillwood, which remained her Washington residence for the rest of her life. The mandate for her architects and designers was to refurbish the 1920s neo-Georgian house into a more stately dwelling that could function both as a well-staffed home and as a place to showcase her collections.
Marjorie promptly became one of Washington’s top hostesses and her legendary parties were inseparable from the political, business, and social fabric of Washington, D.C. With her fulltime live-in and local staff, she organized memorable spring garden teas for hundreds of Washington guests, and invitations to formal dinners at Hillwood were highly-prized.
Marjorie’s patriotism and passion continued to guide her life of philanthropy at Hillwood. Crowning a fifty-year commitment to supporting American soldiers and veterans of war, in the 1960s and 1970s Marjorie opened Hillwood to Vietnam veterans, including wounded Marines and Navy corpsmen from Bethesda Naval Hospital and patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, for tea on the Lunar Lawn and live entertainment, allowing them an afternoon of respite and leisurely enjoyment. The effect of her generosity on Washington continues to be felt today. She gave generously and often anonymously and was active in group efforts to raise money for the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Ballet Guild, among many others—with Hillwood as her final and lasting legacy.”
ONCE I FIGURED OUT MY FAMILY DITCHED ME TO TAKE REFUGE IN THE CAFE, I NAVIGATED MY WAY THROUGH THE GARDENS TO FIND AN ICE TEA WAITING (THEY KNOW ME WELL). THE SIGNATURE ICE TEA, AS AMAZING AS IT WAS, COULDN’T COUNTERACT THE LONG WAIT FOR OUR FOOD. IT WASN’T UNTIL MY SMOKED SALMON SANDWICH ARRIVED (DELISH!) THAT I COULD FINALLY CONCENTRATE ON SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE HEAT. A/C WAS ONLY FOR PATRONS WHO CALLED AHEAD FOR RESERVATIONS, WHICH IS WHY WE WERE BANISHED TO THE TABLES OUTSIDE—ANNOYING. TO BE FAIR, THE STAFF KEPT THEIR COOK AND THE BLUEBERRY MACAROON I HAD FOR DESSERT MADE ME FORGET MY TEMPERATURE TROUBLES. MAYBE MARIE ANTOINETTE WAS ONTO SOMETHING WHEN SHE UTTERED THOSE INFAMOUS WORDS, “LET THEM EAT CAKE.” PERHAPS IF SHE SAID MACAROONS SHE WOULDN’T HAVE LOST HER HEAD.