Published: June 23, 2021
NORWALK, CONN. – The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum (LMMM) has received a gift of three pieces of Herter Brothers furniture from R. Joseph Wiessinger, a collector, resident of Belleair, Fla., and frequent visitor to the museum. The new acquisitions will be displayed for viewing in the museum’s period rooms.
Wiessinger has been an avid collector of Herter Brothers furniture for the past 40 years, a passion that sparked when he received from his parents a walnut wardrobe from the 1870s, which they sent to him to help him furnish his first apartment. He quickly became mesmerized with the color and texture of the beautiful wood finish.
Wiessinger’s gift to the museum featured a bergère armchair with portrait medallion in the crest, gilt incising throughout and upholstered in a boldly patterned floral upholstery in cream, green and yellow with burgundy accents. The portrait medallion aligns the chair with other pieces in the LMMM collection, some that were purchased by Charles Matthews after he acquired the house.
A squared back bergère with bay-leaf inlaid crest and seat rail, incised gilt accents and red/orange silk upholstery with gold braid trim was also part of Wiessinger’s gift to the museum. Its bay-leaf inlay relates to that on a circular tripod music stool on that completes Wiessinger’s gift.
Wiessinger once acquired a Herter chair from an antiques dealer and, digging into data and documents to ascertain its history and provenance, he realized “It was from the 1879-1881 commission by W.H. Vanderbilt for his new mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, in New York City. The Herter Brothers had designed and constructed all the furnishings for that residence.” Wiessinger later donated the chair to the Metropolitan Museum, where it is in the American Decorative Arts wing alongside other Herter Brothers furniture.
Wiessinger said, “It has been a delight to search out and find wonderful historic pieces by high-quality furniture makers and then, after enjoying them in my home, to donate to museums so the public at large can see and enjoy them as well and learn about Nineteenth Century furniture.”
LeGrand Lockwood was the first owner of the house, which was named “Elm Park” and sat on 30 park-like acres. He hired architect Detlef Lienau to design the mansion and construction began in 1864; construction was reported to cost nearly $2 million. Though the grounds would not be finished until 1871, the Lockwood family moved into the mansion in 1868. Furnishings for the house were commissioned from Herter Brothers, Leon Marcotte and George Platt and artwork by Albert Bierstadt, Jasper Cropsey, William Bradford, Joseph Mozier, Randolph Rogers and Lucien Goldsmith Meade, to name a few.
Lockwood lost his fortune on Black Friday, September 24, 1869. Charles Drelincourt Mathews purchased the mansion in 1876 for $100,000 as a summer retreat for his family. Mathews’ daughter, Florence, who lived at the mansion until her death in 1938, wrote about the Herter furniture in her diary.
“The second summer,” wrote Florence Mathews, “Father found the furniture for the large drawing room. It was a curious fact that when the original furniture was designed, two sets must have been made. One sold to Mr Lockwood to match in every detail the room for which it was intended. It was done in rosewood like the doors and with a woman’s head in each piece on a dark blue background to coincide with the heads on the canvas.”
The museum’s extensive collection of furniture made by Herter Brothers includes pieces that were part of the original Lockwood commission that was either not delivered or sold out of the house that the museum has gradually reacquired.
Wiessinger’s gift is not the only furniture the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum has received in recent years. A circa 1869 gilt-incised rosewood parlor suite – a settee and a pair of side chairs – that is now ensconced in the museum’s Oratory came up for auction in the September 26, 2020, sale at New Orleans Auction Gallery. It was acquired for the museum with support from several LMMM trustees and a donor from Louisiana who is a friend of LMMM. The suite matched a parlor suite already in the collection of the LMMM, which had been purchased around 1877 by Charles Matthews because “It matched what LeGrand Lockwood had ordered.”
Another furnishing homecoming took place in December 2017, when friends and supporters of the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum acquired for the museum a side chair that had been part of the original 1869 Lockwood commission. The chair was subsequently owned by Charles Mathews, then was sold after the City of Norwalk acquired the house in 1941.
The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum is a National Historic Landmark at 295 West Avenue. For more information, www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com or call 203-838-9799.
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