Metropolitan Museum Unveils Luxurious Historic Interior from America's Gilded Age

George A.  Schastey & Co.  (1873–1897), Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, New York City, 1881-82.
George A. Schastey & Co. (1873–1897), Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, New York City, 1881-82.
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of The Museum of the City of New York, 2008)

The most sumptuous moment in America’s Gilded Age is revealed through the work of some of its most noted design firms in Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age, opening December 15 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The centerpiece of the three-part exhibition is the opulent Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room from the New York City house commissioned by art collector and philanthropist Arabella Worsham (later Huntington; ca. 1850–1924). A complete work of art, with its elaborate woodwork and decorations, it is a rare surviving commission by the New York-based cabinetmaker and interior decorator George A. Schastey (1839–1894), who is the subject of the second part of the exhibition.

Although little-known today, Schastey operated a large and successful decorating firm in the late 19th century, catering to some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals. His work and important role will be highlighted by loans from public and private collections, some of them newly attributed to him and never before on public view. Furniture by some of his contemporaries also will be included.

An adjoining gallery will display works by Schastey’s best-known competitor, Herter Brothers, which were created for the firm’s most important commission, the William H. Vanderbilt House. In total, the exhibition will include more than three dozen examples of furniture from America’s Gilded Age. Visitors will gain new insights into the luxurious and artistic interiors found in New York’s wealthiest households in the late 19th century.

Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room (Gallery 742)
The Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room is a jewel-box of a room and a quintessential expression of the Aesthetic movement, which was in vogue during the late 1870s and early 1880s. The movement stressed the artistic and embraced an amalgamation of different styles, as seen here in the flat, stylized, natural ornamentation in combination with carved flourishes in the Renaissance style. The room comes from the 4 West 54th Street home of Arabella Worsham, mistress (and later, wife) of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. She commissioned Schastey to decorate the house in 1881.

The private room, intended solely for Worsham’s use, is a totally cohesive artistic interior with intricate woodwork, a built-in wardrobe, two full-length dressing mirrors, and a vanity en suite with a delicate dressing table, dressing glass, and chairs. Careful study of the ornate marquetry ornamentation—executed in satinwood and purpleheart with mother-of-pearl inlays—reveals a multitude of seashell and pearl motifs that reference Worsham’s great love of pearl jewelry, while depictions of hand mirrors, scissors, hair combs, brooches, necklaces, and earrings suggest the dressing room’s intended purpose. The room exemplifies the work of Schastey’s interior decorating firm and his close relationship with his patrons.

In 1884, Worsham sold the house, complete with furnishings, to John D. Rockefeller, who made few changes to it. Gifted to The Museum of the City of New York after Rockefeller’s death in 1937, the room has found new life at the Metropolitan Museum, where it was recently conserved and firmly identified as the work of Schastey, and takes its place within a suite of American interiors arranged in historical sequence.

George A. Schastey (The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery, Gallery 746)
The exhibition will feature furniture from several other rooms of the Worsham-Rockefeller house, notably the Moorish reception room (now at the Brooklyn Museum) and a bedroom (now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond), all by Schastey. Other decorations from the house will add context and texture, such as a glorious pair of leaded-glass windows by noted stained-glass artist John La Farge.

Furniture newly identified as the work of Schastey’s firm will demonstrate the quality and range of his production. A highlight is a magnificent art case piano. Steinway & Sons documents identify Schastey as the instrument’s designer and Newark, New Jersey thread manufacturer William Clark as its original owner.

To provide a context for Schastey’s work, the exhibition will also feature works by some of the period’s competing cabinetmaking and decorating firms: Pottier and Stymus, Charles Tisch, Herts Brothers, and Herter Brothers. The display will enhance the public’s understanding of George A. Schastey and will reveal the interconnected relationships among New York decorators at the highest level.

Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age: George A. Schastey is made possible by the Enterprise Holdings Endowment and The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation. Additional support is provided by Karen H. Bechtel.

Herter Brothers and the William H. Vanderbilt House (Deedee Wigmore Galleries, Gallery 743)
A refreshed installation devoted to Herter Brothers’ most important commission—for the William H. Vanderbilt House (on Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd streets) complements the debut of the Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room and the exhibition on George A. Schastey. Completed in 1882, their designs for the Vanderbilt house resulted in the most opulent interior of the period.

Among the new discoveries being shown for the first time are a pair of rosewood side chairs for Vanderbilt’s library; a pair of gilded and mother-of-pearl armchairs and gilded console table from the drawing room, one of New York’s most sumptuous rooms of the day; and a cabinet for the Japanese room of the Vanderbilt House. The Metropolitan now owns the largest holdings of Herter Brothers work for the Vanderbilt commission.

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