Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Marquis is at The Alice

When Alice Miner planned her Chazy museum, the initial architectural sketches revealed an environment resembling a gallery with skylights and a very open floor plan. The design she finally chose, however, was akin to the layout of a wealthy Colonial home. That decision was likely significantly influenced by the nationalistic ideas flourishing in the early 20th century. Her collecting was also a product of her era. She acquired many of the hallmark items of what is now referred to as the Colonial Revival Movement; objects and documents associated with our founding fathers and notable citizens, American-made decorative arts, engraved representations of the American Revolution and its keys players, needlework, textiles, memorabilia and more.

There were a few individuals who were particular favorites of Alice and her husband William, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant. Along with fascinating letters and other assorted pieces associated with those luminaries, Alice gathered a collection of objects associated with Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette. Our second floor hallway holds portraits, miniature portraits, a bust, transfer-printed pottery, and even a pair of French polychrome bisque figures representing Lafayette and his wife Adrienne.

Lafayette Memorial Ribbon, 19th Century

It seems obvious that Lafayette was a hero to Alice and William, and books about his life are abundant in their personal collection. In all there are over 30 objects or documents in this Lafayette collection, not including books. They range from a lovely pair of ladies kid-skin gloves transfer-decorated with an image of Lafayette and the words "Welcome Lafayette", to a fragment of hand embroidered French fabric from a dress worn by a Mrs. Prescott of Boston at a ball given for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. In The Alice archives we have a letter that General Lafayette wrote in his later years from La Grange, his mother-in-law's estate. He wrote to a Citizen Armand, or perhaps Arnaud, in Paris, attempting to gain restitution for some property or paintings lost from his father-in-law's estate. The letter is undated but was probably written in the early 1800s.

Clews Pitcher, Landing of General Lafayette, Blue Transfer Print, Circa 1825 (front)
Framed Tinted Lithograph, Published by Villian, Early 19th Century (back)

One of my favorite Lafayette objects in the collection is small, in very worn condition, and easy to overlook. Like the letter written by him, Lafayette may even have held this object in his hands at one time. It is a very well-used silver watchcase delicately engraved on the inside and back. The object is also interesting for it's association with another hero of the American Revolution and later Secretary of War, General Henry Knox. The engraving says, "Presented to General Knox by DeLafayette 177..." with the last number obscured. There is also engraving on the inside front that is partially obscured. All that can be read is "DeLaFa... A Paris", engraved below a diamond and some numbers that may be a maker's mark.

On the second floor of The Alice, one can also find five miniature portraits of Lafayette at various stages of his life. Some show him as a young man with a powdered wig, and two are more life-like images with dark hair. One of the two is a very small and delicate engraving depicting the Marquis in his later years - as he probably looked when he visited the United States in 1824, at the age of 67.

When he returned from France in 1824 to visit the land he felt great love for, the Marquis de Lafayette strongly stirred American sentiment, finding his way into the hearts of the citizens of a fledgling United States. Many of the objects in The Alice collection would never have been created if it weren't for the sentimental journey Lafayette made through the young states. We have some beautiful blue and white transferware commemorating his visit, including a large Clews pitcher showing the "Landing of General Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16 August, 1824". The handle is decorated with the fleur-de-lis, in honor of Lafayette. Another pattern is a blue transferware image of Lafayette standing before the tomb of Washington, and yet a third shows him at the tomb of Franklin, a true hero of many French citizens.

Miniature Engraved Portrait of Lafayette, 19th Century

The majority of these Lafayette pieces are on display in the second floor hall of the museum, where the letter written by the Marquis is also occasionally exhibited. In order to view this wonderful collection within a collection you will need to wait until our museum tours start again. We will be closed for tours for the months of January, February and March, with tours in April by appointment only. Keep an eye out for upcoming event announcements though, including an astronomy lecture this January 19th at 7:00pm.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. The blue pitcher is a great bit of memorabilia, but I understand why the watch would be your favorite. It sounds wonderful. I will have to try to get to The Alice in May. I've never been there.