The spectacular Hillwood Estate is home to an impressive collection of decorative objects, primarily from imperial Russia. That the collection is largely “decorative” art rather than the “high art” that might be found in more traditional public museums can in no way diminishes it. The intricate artistry of the pieces is without doubt.
The collection is comprised of upwards of 16,000 objects of various forms including furniture, imperial glass and porcelain dinnerware, chalices, chandeliers, candelabras, Faberge eggs, icons, vases and vestments. Available for viewing also are 27 pieces of the Orlov service: a porcelain collection which Catherine the Great presented to one of her favorites, Grigorii Orlov, upon the completion of her coup in 1762.
Majorie Merriweather Post, founder of the museum, was also heiress to the Postum Cereal Company, which eventually became General Foods. When her father, C.W. Post, died in 1914, she served for many years on the company’s board. She also began to redecorate her home with European objects and furniture. Towards the completion of this latter enterprise, she initially sought pieces from 18th and 19th century France. With time, and thanks to fortuitous circumstance, this collection became something more fabulous than mere decoration – it became a historical record of a Russian artistic tradition.
In the 1930s, Post married Joe Davies, a friend of President Roosevelt, and soon her husband was made Ambassador to the Soviet Union. The couple made the trip east in 1937 and thus spent eighteen months in a very tumultuous Russia. The Soviet government was in the process of destroying and selling all found tsarist and religious artifacts. Post, with an eye for important artwork and a sizeable fortune, was in the right place at the right time. The pieces she found in the thirties altered the direction of her collection forever. From then on she was to become a passionate collector of Russian art.
The Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC is “where fabulous lives,” according to the tagline. But fabulous’s gardens and house are works of art in their own right, too. The collection merges with its surroundings to create one otherworldly experience of opulence, all on an accessible scale. This was the design of the collection’s creator, Majorie Merriweather Post, who enjoyed entertaining friends and special invitees with a tour of the particularly stunning rooms and galleries of her home. According to friends, Merriweather conducted these tours with a special flourish and pride in the collection she’d cultivated. The collection was made accessible to the public in 1977 by erstwhile owner and collector Marjorie Merriweather Post.
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Top photo provided by Taryn Jones