Bling it on!
I'm somewhat of a voyeur: I love going into historic homes and imagining how the occupants lived. From Hyde Park to the Tenement Museum, the Palace of Fontainebleau to Mount Vernon, I use everything from household furnishings to dressing table accessories to visualize how the inhabitants conducted their everyday lives. One of the attractions of the Winter Antiques Show (which I attended last month) was this year's loan exhibition entitled "Newport: The Glamour of Ornament." Thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport County, it's very easy to visit Newport and fantasize about life during the Gilded Age in these palatial summer cottages. Getting a glimpse at the decorative arts that this lifestyle spawned was a side benefit of attending this year's Antiques Show.
About 60 objects from eight of Newport's mansions comprised this exhibit. All were housed in a pavilion modeled after the Great Hall at The Breakers, grandly displayed as a photographic backdrop.
Photograph courtesy of reggiedarling.blogspot.com
Front and center in the pavilion, casting a magnificent first impression and window into Newport society, was this larger-than-life portrait of Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, housed at The Elms.
Portrait of Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, 1905, by Giovanni Boldini
Of all the objects on display, the most ornate was the silver. Imagine this as your dressing table mirror:
It was a gift from her children to Mrs. William H. Vanderbilt, daughter-in-law of "The Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Or imagine this table centerpiece, ordered as part of table service by a Portuguese nobleman in the mid-19th century and collected by one of Newport's families.
Judgment of Paris, c. 1822-23, by Paul Storr, housed at Marble House
Some smaller decorative objects show taste for the sublime. This cameo glass vase was acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, son of William and grandson of Cornelius, who built The Breakers.
I particularly liked the elegance and luminosity of this cordial set of favrile glass designed by Tiffany Studios and housed at Kingscote.
Of all the items on display, this yachting ensemble struck me most.
Newport was where the rich and famous docked their yachts in the late 19th century. This dress, made in 1897 of linen and cotton and embroidered with the New York Yachting Club insignia, was from the honeymoon trousseau of Mrs. John Nicholas Brown. Having such an elaborate outfit just for boating makes the leisure lifestyles of Newport's turn-of-the-century-elite seem so romantic. Compared to the fungible shorts and t-shirts we wear today, this dress -- accompanied by the requisite straw boater -- makes spectating more elegant and stylish. Turns my kind of "voyeurism" into a class act, don't you think?