The Newport Mansions feature one of the greatest collections of fine and decorative arts of the Gilded Age. Set in elaborate period rooms, these objects are not always visible up close, and their significance is often overlooked. 

Beginning Friday, May 27, The Preservation Society of Newport County will shine a spotlight on important Gilded Age artifacts with “Anything You Want: A Closer Look at Treasures from Newport’s Gilded Age.” The title of the show prompts visitors to ponder the question: Why did Gilded Age consumers desire such things? The exhibition runs through Sunday, October 30, in the second-floor galleries at Rosecliff. Get a preview at NewportMansions.org. 

Cigarette case with transparent enamel decoration. Unidentified maker, Russia, 1890-1910. Silver-gilt, enamel. Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Edward J. Berwind, 2008. On display in the exhibition “Anything You Want” at the Rosecliff galleries May 27 through October 30, 2022. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Hansen/The Preservation Society of Newport County

“This will be a wonderful showcase for some of the objects in our collection that even our most observant guests may have missed,” Preservation Society CEO and Executive Director Trudy Coxe said. “People will have the chance to examine these pieces closely and learn about the breadth of our collection.” 

Detail, Louis XVI-style guéridon from Marble House, lapis lazuli top inlaid with tiger’s eye compass design. French, c. 1880, attributed to Paul Sormani. Gift of Mrs. Gladys Brooks Thayer. On display in the exhibition “Anything You Want” at the Rosecliff galleries May 27 through October 30, 2022. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Hansen/The Preservation Society of Newport County

Visiting Curator Ulysses Grant Dietz has chosen more than 100 treasures from across the Preservation Society’s properties. These objects were crafted in many different countries and periods, spanning the late 1400s to the early 1900s, but all of them were collected and appreciated during the Gilded Age (approximately 1865 to 1915). “Many of the objects in this exhibition were not actually made during the Gilded Age,” noted Dietz, the Chief Curator Emeritus of the Newark Museum of Art. “But my motto is: If it existed in the Gilded Age, then it’s part of the Gilded Age.” 

Dressing table with mirror. Attributed to Leon Marcotte & Co. (active 1860-1918), New York, 1860-1865. Ebonized mahogany, rosewood, gilded bronze (ormolu), glass. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Van Alen, 1977. On display in the exhibition “Anything You Want” at the Rosecliff galleries May 27 through October 30, 2022. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Hansen/The Preservation Society of Newport County

HBO’s new drama “The Gilded Age” was filmed extensively at the Preservation Society’s historic houses. Spectacular objects from these same houses will be on view in the exhibition. Just like the fictional characters in the show, the real-life people of the Gilded Age were consumers, users, and admirers of beautiful things. The objects presented at Rosecliff represent the diversity of their lived experiences. They include a grandiose dressing table from Mrs. Astor’s New York City house, now in Chateau-sur-Mer; a glamorous marble-topped sideboard made in Paris for the Berwinds’ French-style chateau, The Elms; and a washstand made in a Michigan factory and used by the largely immigrant staff employed by the Vanderbilts at The Breakers. The exhibition explores how these objects reflect the lives of Newport’s residents during the Gilded Age and further interrogates period ideas about class, gender, and racial difference. 

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, is a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic arts, architecture, landscapes, and social history. Its 11 historic properties—seven of them National Historic Landmarks—span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development. 

For more information, please visit NewportMansions.org.

Source: Preservation Society of Newport County

Community Submission

This content has been contributed to What's Up Newp. The views and opinions included within are not necessarily those of What's Up Newp, our contributors, or our advertisers.

We welcome letters to the editor on current local topics. Email them to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.