Living with antiques: No velvet ropes–a collection in New Jersey

                                

For Carol, objects and memories are inextri­cably intertwined. When Nadler died in 2003, she acquired a handful of items from his private collection by which to remember him. These mementos include a carved and painted blackamoor nicknamed Curly for his tangled mop of hair and a pair of early nineteenth-century Chinese mille­fleurs fishbowls that have been pressed into service as planters. With Nadler in mind, the Earles purchased pairs of famille verte Ho-Ho boys, Chinese porcelain figures that the dealer liked to display in his bath.

The Earles also wanted pieces by which to remember the Dillons. A pair of eighteenth-century carved and gilded eagle pier mirrors and matching George II style carved and gilded eagle console tables in the entrance hall are original to Dunwalke East, as is the sideboard and serpentine-front corner cupboard in the dining room (see Figs. 1, 11). They have also been acquiring antique eagle garden ornaments of the sort that have long roosted at Dunwalke, the adjacent estate of Douglas Dillon's father, financier Clarence Dillon (1882-1979) (see Fig. 2). The senior Dillon's house was designed by Cross and Cross and completed in 1928.

Furniture collected for their former Manhattan apartment formed the foundation of their new living room, glazed a warm apricot color that is flattering at night and soothing by day (see Fig. 5). A pair of carved mahogany armchairs of about 1765, a recent purchase from Kentshire Galleries in New York, has undulating arms and Chinese fretwork backs. Other treasures in­clude a mahogany bureau cabinet of about 1755. Elsewhere in the house, a marble-topped console table of about 1740 and a carved and gilded looking glass of about 1745 stud an extensive collection of eighteenth-century English furniture. "Function tends to dictate form in furniture but mirrors are an exception. For me, they are the most interesting, most sculptural things you can buy from the eighteenth-century cabinetmaking world," says New York dealer Clinton Howell, who sup­plied the looking glass.

Antique English, American, and Chinese furniture scaled for children and dolls adds a light touch. Among many intriguing ex­amples is a bombé block-front desk of padouk wood that was made in China for the Western market. Its topmost surface displays two dozen miniature blue-and-white porcelain vases that Carol collected over the years or received as gifts from Nadler.

Two unusual Chinese export plates of about 1735 are each embellished with a single colorful butterfly. The pair, a gift to Dexter, represents Carol's initial foray into porcelain collecting. They were published by David Howard, the late British authority on Chinese export armorial wares.

After much searching on their behalf by Nadler, the Earles acquired a rare long-neck goose porcelain tureen with a brilliantly enameled and gilded body (see Fig. 8). The Chinese Qianlong period piece, among the best examples of its kind anywhere, dates to about 1760 and was probably made for the Spanish or Por­tuguese market. Nadler also supplied a pair of early nineteenth-century blue-and-white covered tureens in the shape of goats, a rare form (see Fig. 5).

After Nadler's death the Earles refocused their collect­ing, acquiring singular works of porcelain, much of it sculptural, from the prominent specialists in export china Michael and Ewa Cohen of London. Some of the Earles' recent purchases, such as a pair of nodding-head court ladies of about 1740 and a figure of the demon slayer Zhong Kui of about 1810, have moving components (see Figs. 4 and 6). "These mechanical pieces are a wonderful rarity in their collection," Michael Cohen says.

Working primarily with the Richard Green Gallery in London, the couple has carefully chosen exqui­sitely rendered late nineteenth-century French and English paintings of everyday life that depict the vital­ity of the metropolis, the languor of the shore, and the intimacy of the garden enclosure.

"It is fantastically good," Green Gallery researcher Susan Morris says of Sortie du Conservatoire sous la niège by Jean Béraud, one of Dexter's favorite paintings (see Fig. 9). She notes the artist's clever use of a subdued monochromatic palette to depict both the gloom and gaiety of Paris during winter's darkest days.

One of the couple's best paintings is Trouville, une famille sur la plage, an impressionist oil on panel of 1881 by Eugène Boudin, whose delicate flickering brushwork conveys the atmosphere of a breezy seaside day (Fig. 10).

Portraits of innocent children in idealized settings complete the paintings collection. The Earles hunted for years for an outstanding example by a favorite ex­ponent of the genre, William Adolphe Bouguereau. Signed and dated 1895, his Le Gouter charmingly depicts a little girl enjoying a treat (see Fig. 7).

The geometrical precision of Dunwalke East's formal parterre gardens complements Schmidt's crisp architectural silhouette (see Figs. 15, 16). The Earles have taken great pleasure in developing their gardens, even poring over meticulous notes left by Douglas Dillon's first wife, the former Phyllis Chess Ellsworth, who collaborated with local landscape architect John Charles Smith to install a rose garden, peony garden, and an orchard.

Working first with Nadler and currently with Katonah, New York, dealer Bar­bara Israel, the couple has assembled an imaginative collection of antique garden ornament that ranges from a quartet of carved eighteenth-centu­ry gritstone figures of Dutch and Flemish origin (see Fig. 12) to a bronze tortoise fountain cast in Italy by Raffaello Romanelli (see Fig. 16). They recently added a custom-designed greenhouse fabricated by the Eng­lish firm Alitex and enhanced by antique architectural fragments, from a door salvaged from the old Peacock Alley at NewYork's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to a pair of English carved stone finials fashioned as artichokes of about 1880 (see Fig. 14). The greenhouse accommodates up to five hundred orchids, a passion that the Earles nurture in Hawaii, where they frequently vacation.

After settling into Dunwalke East, Dexter Earle met Douglas Dillon for lunch at Manhattan's Knicker­bocker Club, where both were members. "He was a totally engaging person," Dexter says, recalling Dillon's fond descriptions of life at old Dunwalke Farm, where cattle once grazed by the hundreds. The men ce­mented the bond formed when Carol Zipkin and Dexter Earle accepted the privilege and responsibility of making Dunwalke East the joyful family redoubt that Mott B. Schmidt surely intended.

 

 

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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