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Art for the President's House XIII

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Art for the President's House--An Historical Perspective

But in the Coolidge era the White House was not yet an art museum. Although Mrs. Coolidge's portrait captures her arrayed in the latest fashion, the First Lady was more interested in adding colonial-style furniture--inspired by period rooms in the American Wing--than she was in collecting paintings and sculpture. In the hope that the American people would aid in furnishing the Executive Mansion, she helped persuade Congress to authorize the acquisition of appropriate antiques as gifts. As with copied portraits, reproduction furniture sufficed when antiques were not available.

A serious effort to document White House furnishings was led by the next First Lady, Lou Henry Hoover. An enthusiast of memorabilia and old photographs, she occasionally directed her energies toward the collection of paintings and sculpture. Mrs. Hoover agreed in 1930 that the White House portraits be photographed and documented by researchers from the prestigious Frick Art Reference Library. Researcher Katharine McCook Knox's description of her own work on this project demonstrates a professional attitude toward the White House and its history, reflecting the enthusiasm for documentation characteristic of early efforts in the field of American art history. Mrs. Knox recalled entering the White House and glimpsing the portrait of Julia Gardner Tyler (shown at left) far down a corridor:
[Julia Gardner Tyler]
I welcomed this opportunity of examining the back of the canvas, somewhat to the wonderment of the nice electricians [who were working nearby and removed the portrait from the wall]....On the back of the canvas, Francesco Anelli had spelled the fair Julia's name Giulia, as in the Italian manner. He dated the canvas 1848 and signed it F. Anelli. The merchant stamped on the back the following: "J.W. Hawkhurst's Paint and Art Store, 114 Grand Street, New York, Artists and Painters Brushes and materials of every description."

The result of this research was a loose-leaf volume, presented to the White House in 1931, and much used by the President's staff to answer inquiries about works in the collection. The Frick provided photographs of White House paintings for 38 years, a period when, as former curator Clement E. Conger said, "the collection was insufficiently organized to meet the requests of the public."

Mrs. Hoover made use of President and First Lady portraits in continuing the renovations of the rooms. Though the portraits of George and Martha Washington had been displayed in the Red Room since 1902, she had them reinstalled in the stately East Room. In transforming her second-floor drawing room into the "Monroe Drawing Room," she installed a portrait of Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, copied in 1932, slightly more than a century after that First Lady's death. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln replaced a tapestry hung in the State Dining Room during Roosevelt's renovation, and one of John Quincy Adams was hung prominently in the Green Room. That room had finally been completed by the advisory committee convened by Mrs. Coolidge.

The committee continued its work on the Red Room during the tenure of Franklin Roosevelt, choosing a number of presidential portraits to hang on the walls. The creation of these period rooms, using professional advisers, indicated a growing sophistication in the management of the collection; procedures associated with museum curatorship were being adopted.

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Art for the President's House

Art for the President's House II

Art for the President's House III

Art for the President's House IV

Art for the President's House V

Art for the President's House VI

Art for the President's House VII

Art for the President's House VIII

Art for the President's House IX

Art for the President's House X

Art for the President's House XI

Art for the President's House XII

Art for the President's House XIII

Art for the President's House XIV

Art for the President's House XV