French Period Rooms at the Met

The last time I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art the Wrightsman Galleries was closed. One could glance in to the collection of mostly French Period rooms, but not enter. The history of the French Period Room in the United States dates back to the Gilded age that also saw the construction of large Boulevards in Paris.

“The Past Present and Future of the Period Room, a symposium in honor of the reopening of the Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts,” was held at the Met February 15 and I took the opportunity to attend.

The idea of the period room offers a unique potential, only surpassed by the house museum, to see decorative arts items in their intended context. At the time many of the period rooms in the Wrightsman Galleries were brought to the United States, all things French was highly sought after as the most advanced form of decoration and popular with dealers and decorators including Duveen and Allard and patrons including Morgan and Vanderbilt.

Its worth noting that many of the period rooms did not come to the U.S. destined for museums. The were instead installed into large New York town homes and estates in places like Newport, Rhode Island. The rooms were often bought and sold several times before ending up in their for all intents and purposes permanent homes in the Met. One even ended up in a Jerry Lewis movie after being sold to 20th Century Fox.

The symposium included a variety of lectures on subjects such as chandeliers, preservation, patrons and paneling. Most importantly, it provided an opportunity to revisit the rooms with the information gained from the symposium in mind.

Some of my favorites include the Bordeaux room once in French Neo-Classical home at 9 East 71st Street. My very favorite in the Wightsman Galleries however is not French at all, but the Dining Room from Lansdowne House designed by Robert Adam.

The Met also has a unparalleled collection of American Period Rooms, some of which are not currently on view. Another great place to see Period Rooms is the Brooklyn Museum.

I’m curious how prevalent the idea of a period room is in the homes of today’s elite. I would think that while artifacts are sometimes installed, the idea of a period room in a private residence is not common. I’d be interested in hearing stories to the contrary.

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