Victoriana at Lyndhurst
November 5, 2013 | Part of a ten-piece suite of parlor furniture designed by the Herter Brothers (probably Gustave Herter), 1869, installed at Lyndhurst by Jay Gould in 1882. Sturges photograph, courtesy of Lyndhurst.
Three Parlors, a new display of three sets of Victorian parlor furniture, is on view at Lyndhurst through the end of 2013. The exhibition will include works, many in storage for decades, by some of the most important artists of the nineteenth century.
Lyndhurst is fortunate to have retained the furnishings of the three families who occupied the estate over more than a century, until it passed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1961. The three suites of parlor furniture were installed, respectively, in 1838 to 1842, 1865, and 1882. The dates of the suites correlate approximately to the three main economic events of the nineteenth century: the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which set New York City as the country's financial capital; the end of the Civil War in 1865, which sealed the industrial dominance of the North; and the end of Reconstruction in 1877, marking the beginning of the Gilded Age. The evolution of these three parlor suites reflects not only the progression of American identity during this period but also the development of attitudes toward material culture familiar today.
While the first parlor suite remains in situ in the mansion, the second and third suites are displayed in Lyndhurst's Carriage House Exhibition Gallery. The earliest parlor, with its suite by Alexander Jackson Davis, was designed for former New York mayor William Paulding. In 2006, using a combination of archival inventories, paint analysis, and period photographs, the room was re-created to approximate its 1838 appearance.
Center table attributed to J. and J.W. Meeks, New York, c. 1850, installed by the Merritt family at Lyndhurst c. 1865–1870. Rosewood with marble top. Photograph by Jeffrey Sturges, courtesy of Lyndhurst.
The second parlor suite, was installed about 1865 for dry-goods merchant and railroad inventor George Merritt and features a monumental sculpture by Giovanni Benzoni. The Merritts sprinkled Lyndhurst, formerly a uniquely American house, with their European purchases. Although their parlor was furnished with American furniture, much of it was rococo revival and was known as being "in the French taste." While many of the cabinet pieces, most designed by the Meeks firm, stayed with the property, Jay Gould (the third owner of the house) gave much of the Merritts' seat furniture to his sister. Her descendants returned it to Lyndhurst in the 1990s and this is its first removal from storage.
The third parlor suite, installed in 1882 for railroad baron Gould, features a ten-piece Herter Brothers set of about 1870 along with rare Orientalist style pieces by Christian Herter, transom windows attributed to John LaFarge, and a monumental landscape by Gustave Courbet.
Three Parlors · Lyndhurst, Tarrytown, New York · to December 31 · lyndhurst.org