The Northeast – Washington, DC – Hillwood Estate
Washington, DC – 38.9437° N, 77.0526° W
From Breakfast Cereal to Faberge Eggs
72hrJetsetterGirl was scrolling the internet for things to do in Washington, DC as her Aussie girlfriend was coming across the Pacific for a visit. Yes, The National Mall and the Smithsonian Museums are awesome, however an afternoon admiring fine arts and strolling around exquisitely manicured gardens was more what 72hrJetsetterGirl had in mind to entertain her mate.
After some research 72hrJetsetterGirl was delighted to discover Hillwood, a Mansion and Gardens located in leafy northwest Washington DC. Hillwood is the life time collection of Russian Imperial Art and French Decorative Art of Marjorie Merriweather Post situated on twenty five acres of speculator gardens.
Who is Marjorie Merriweather Post?
As 72hrJetsetterGirl navigated her way into the District, she opted for the scenic route to DC, courtesy of the “recalculating of her Garmin” – somehow I66W is not that scenic ! In between the frequent “make a turn as soon as possible” instruction coming from the Garmin, 72hrJetsetterGirl gave her buddy a brief synopsis of Marjorie Merriweather Post – businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and collector.
Marjorie was one of America’s most successful businesswomen (Go Girl Power!). In the early 1910s, at the age of 27, she inherited the $20M Postsum Cereal empire from her parents, which later became the General Foods Corporation. Over the years Marjorie became an avid collector of neoclassical style of Louis XVI French furniture, tapestries, Seyres porcelain, gold boxes and all things jeweled which later lead to her exquisite collection of Faberge Easter Eggs.
Marjorie epitomized the Roaring 20s lifestyle and decorated her legendary and multiple residences with fine art pieces. Her residences included a 52 room New York Apartment, her West Palm Beach estate Mar-a-Lago (now owned by Mr Trump) and her well-appointed four masted yacht just to name a few. Yes, definitely lifestyles of the rich and famous!
Hillwood is renowned as having the most comprehensive collection of Russian Imperial Art outside of Russia. How many people would know this? Marjorie’s third husband was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. During the 1930’s the Soviet government was in the process of selling the treasures seized from the church, the Imperial family and the Aristocracy to raise funds to finance the Union’s industrialization plan. Whilst in the Soviet Union, these finely crafted objects ignited Marjorie’s passion as a collector of Russian Art. 72hrJetsetterGirl would not mind having a Faberge Easter Egg or two.
In 1955, following her divorce Marjorie purchased Hillwood as her permanent residence. In 1977 Hillwood opened as a museum to showcase the beauty, elegance of Marjorie Merriweather Post and her exquisite gardens and collections for our enjoyment.
The Mansion that Became a Museum
As the traveling duo wandered along the garden path to the Georgian-style Mansion, taking in the splendor of the pristine floral displays, they knew they were in for a lovely afternoon even on a rainy day. Before commencing the docent tour, the duo decided to have a light lunch of Coronation Chicken Salad Sandwiches and a pot of Earl Grey tea at Hillwood Cafe. Yes that does sound very regal! Now they were ready to step into a very different world to their own and find out how the Mansion became a Museum.
Grand Entrance – Entry Hall
The docent led tour, started in the Grand Entry Hall. What an entry hall! 72hrJetsetterGirl’s eyes lit up with excitement with the grandeur of the French wrought iron and gilt bronze railing of the regal staircase and paintings of nobility. 72hrJetsetterGirl loves visiting a mansion home and with the added touch of Russian royalty she thought she was in heaven. It became very apparent very quickly that Marjorie’s collection is one of the finest in the world. Already 72hrJetsetterGirl’s mate was giving her the double thumbs up for finding this treasured attraction in DC. As we ascended the stately staircase, the portrait of the Russian Empress – Catherine II also known as Catherine the Great is smiling down on you. The docent informed the small party that Marjorie was fascinated by Catherine the Great, who was a self-declared “defender of the arts and sciences” – sounds like Marjorie!
The Dining Room
The well informed docent then led the group through to the French Drawing Room where guests (diplomats, socialites and politicians) used to gather sipping aperitifs cocktails as a prelude to an elegant evening at Hillwood. 72hrJetsetterGirl managed to catch a glimpse of some of the prominent guests to Hillwood’s soirees as their photographs are displayed on the grand piano. Throughout each of the exquisitely decorated rooms, the perfume of fresh flowers filled the air. It was Ms Post’s wishes to continue this practice for perpetuity, just like when she resided in the Mansion. The Dining Room is filled with eclectic objects, with the centre-piece being the 30 seat dining table with a mosaic top containing eleven different stones. Oh to be a guest at one of Marjorie’s dinner parties.
The next stop on the tour, was Marjorie’s bedroom furnished in a pink and gold colour scheme with its Louis XVI canopied bed. A Pierre Tartoue’s portrait of Marjorie’ daughters Adelaide and Eleanor adores one of the bedroom walls. An item of particular interest is the neoclassical desk by Conrad Mauter situated to the side of the bed. 72hrJetsetterGirl would certainly have sweet dreams if this was her bedroom.
Russian Collection – Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs
Throughout the museum there is a treasure chest of stunning and rare Russian collection pieces, ranging from silver covered icons, to fine porcelain to a gold chalice that Catherine the Great commissioned in 1791 as part of a communion set. Definitely Marjorie’s collection could easily pass as the US’ version of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. 72hrJetsetterGirl was very keen to view Marjorie’s stunning Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs Collection. These Easter Eggs were a gift from Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, to his mother, Maria Fedorovna. As 72hrJetsetterGirl toured the Mansion, she noted the decorative light switch covers which are exquisite and highlights Marjorie exceptional decorating skills.
After a very intensive and informative tour of the Mansion Museum, it was time to explore the formal gardens of Hillwood designed by landscape architects Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel. 72hrJetsetterGirl and her mate enjoyed exploring the “outdoor rooms” which are meant to complement the décor of each of the Mansion’s rooms. Each of the outdoor rooms are private, however connected by subtle transitional features as visitors pass from the French Parterre, to the Rose Garden, to the Japanese Garden and then onto the Friendship Walk. In addition to the outdoor rooms, Hillwood has a very impressive Orchid collection as well as a putting green on the Lunar Lawn.
Whilst exploring the outdoor gardens, the traveling duo were very pleasantly surprised to see the “Russian” influence continue. Whilst in Russia, Ms Post was charmed by the Russian country houses, known as Dachas. During the period of the Cold War, Ms Post arranged for a Dacha to be built at Hillwood. Hillwood’s Dacha represents a nostalgic view of Russian culture and used today to showcase special exhibitions.
72hrJetsetterGirl and her Aussie buddy certainly enjoyed their afternoon exploring Hillwood Mansion and Gardens. Definitely a must see for any traveler to the Nation’s capital. Throughout the year Hillwood hosts seasonal special events and exhibitions, details can be found on their website. 72hrJetsetterGirl will certainly return to Hillwood for a visit in Fall (autumn for my Aussie friends) – the colours would very pretty. It is truly a lovely, tranquil place to spend an afternoon with your mate!