White House splendor on display in exhibitionWASHINGTON - Art lovers and historians can grab a rare glimpse of life behind the scenes at the White House with an exhibition displaying furniture and decorative arts from the nation’s most famous home. Opening Saturday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House” gives the public a chance to see rare furnishings from the home of America’s presidents.
There is a 19th century mahogany chair still used in the Oval Office, a bedspread embroidered by then-First Lady Grace Coolidge and a dining set used by the Reagans to host visiting Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Some 95 pieces have been selected for the exhibition, which lasts until May 6, to show off the splendor of the White House and how its famous residents lived, worked and entertained within its four walls.
Many of the objects from the permanent collection of the White House have never been on public display before. Some were made by the top craftsmen of their era.
One of the rarest pieces in the exhibition is a Chinese box that has an interior lined with pink wallpaper. It is “one of the very, very few things that we have that we believe was in the White House before the White House was burned in August 1814,” the presidential residence’s assistant curator, Melissa Naulin, said.
President James Monroe (1817-1825) took on the task of renovating the building after the fire and defied criticism to buy French furniture.
Due to a tight budget, Monroe could not refit the whole house, so “he focused on securing the French furnishings for what he considered was the most important entertaining spaces, the parlor and the state dining room,” Naulin told AFP.
In a letter to Congress, Monroe wrote that the pieces were “really well-made goods and we expect them to be able to be used for about 20 years.” In the end, they lasted for 40.
He ordered silverware and furniture from France, including Limoges china. But in 1826, Congress adopted a law saying the White House had to be furnished with U.S.-made goods.
Next to the pieces on display are photos or paintings showing them in use at the White House, such as a Japanese cabinet in a room where the family of President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) is taking tea.