The White House

White House Fabric Swatch, Handsomely Presented


White House Fabric Swatch, Handsomely Presented

 

Fabric swatch salvaged from early White House furnishings, with superb provenance. The swatch appears in a floating mount under a reproduction of the circa 1817 Benjamin Henry Latrobe watercolor study of the proposed South Portico of the White House, and a copy of the provenance. The overall matted size is 12" x 19.75".

 

The 6" x 6.5" square swatch of apricot colored silk is embroidered with cream, pink, and red flowers. Expected wear including a few frayed edges and light to moderate soiling, else very good. The fabric is accompanied by a copy of the provenance reading: "Scraps of upholstery from the original White House used in Dollie Madison's Time Presented by Mandie McSpeiden, July 1921, Carmas Chch, Nash. Te." The fabric eventually made its way into the collection of the Luray Museum of Luray, Virginia.

 

The White House was lavishly redecorated during the Monroe administration. British troops had set fire to the White House during the 1814 Burning of Washington, and almost all of the Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison era furnishings had been destroyed. (Notable exceptions included a full-length Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and a silver service, both rescued by First Lady Dollie Madison (1768-1849)). The building façade had escaped most fire damage. Architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) and James Hoban (1755-1831) oversaw the reconstruction between 1815-1817, during which time the iconic North and South Porticoes were added.

 

It was in fact President Monroe, and not Dollie Madison, who was responsible for the sumptuous redecoration of the White House. The President was initially granted a $20,000 Furniture Fund by Congress with which to obtain suitable furnishings for the Executive Mansion. Monroe favored the French Empire furnishings then in vogue. The White House was decorated with some of Madison's personal furniture, as well as by pieces acquired abroad by two American agents, Joseph Russell and John LaFarge. Russell and LaFarge greatly exceeded their allotted budget purchasing commodes, tea tables, sideboards, desks, clocks, chandeliers, china, silver plate, and elaborate mirrored centerpieces from France. Their most infamous acquisition was a 38-piece suite of drawing room furniture and accessories designed by French cabinetmaker Pierre-Antoine Bellange. This fabric swatch was likely taken from one of the curtains or upholstered settees or fauteuils then purchased.

 

James Monroe wanted the new White House to be decorated with "articles of the best kind, & on the best terms" to command the world's respect for the fledgling republic, who had just won its so-called second War of Independence against the British. The fashionable furnishings impressed visitors, and greatly enhanced American prestige.

 

The fabric came from the Luray Museum of Luray, Virginia. The museum, started by town resident Mary "Mollie" Zeiler Zerkle (1845-1933), safeguarded artifacts of mostly local interest. According to family history, nineteen-year-old "Mollie" nursed Union soldiers after the 1864 Battle of New Market. She married Lemuel Zerkle, and the two lived in New Market, Virginia until 1890. That year, the family relocated to Luray, fourteen miles east across the Massanutten Mountain range, where Lemuel had secured a post as Superintendent of Luray Caverns. Local historian Daniel Vaughn reported that the museum operated between 1938-1960, after which point the collection was sold at auction.

 

Gene H. Baber of Fisherville, Virginia was an avid antique collector. His collection included everything from Civil War letters to epaulettes, from early frakturs to vintage wind-up toys.

 

Provenance: Estate of Gene H. Baber, Fishersville, Virginia; Collection of Mary "Mollie" Zeiler Zerkle and Lemuel Zerkle, Luray Museum, Luray, Virginia

 

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Item: 64634

Price: $500.00
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The White House
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