Stepping onto the grounds of the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Northwest D.C., is like being invited to take your time checking out the glittering jewels, gleaming furniture, sparkling objets d’art and beautiful gardens of the wealthiest and most glamorous woman you’ll ever know.
And it is a true invitation.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post Cereal Company and one of the founders of General Foods, bought the home in 1955 intending it to be a museum for the 18th-century French and Russian imperial decorative arts that she collected. She wanted my girlfriend Paige and me to covet the 18th-century French dinnerware in the light-and-flower-filled breakfast nook. She wanted us to take a long walk through the hillside gardens, laughing just a shade too loud for such an elegant place.
She wanted us to absolutely drool over her Cartier jewels, currently displayed in the exhibit “Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems,” in the Adirondack Building, one of the charming buildings hidden among the forested walks.
Marjorie Merriweather Post began collecting 18th-century French furniture and art to decorate her home. When she accompanied her third husband to the Soviet Union, where he served as ambassador, Marjorie became entranced with Russian imperial art and began to truly refine her collector’s eye. The first piece she purchased from Cartier years before her trip was prophetic - the amethyst Fabergé box connected her love of Carier, Russian imperial art and Fabergé, of which she would go on to collect 90 pieces.
In the small Adirondack Building is a green emerald once worn by Mexico’s Maximillian I and smuggled out of the country by his wife, an Indian pendant brooch with a 250-carat emerald, and a diamond clasp meant to be worn with the diamonds dripping down Marjorie’s back.
There’s also a story.
During the Great Depression, Marjorie Merriweather Post put her diamonds and emeralds in a safety deposit box. With the money she saved on insurance, she opened the Marjorie Merriweather Hutton Canteen, a soup kitchen in New York. She made sure the canteen had flowers on the table and blue-checked tablecloths, because she believed everyone deserved a little elegance.
Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Dazzling Gems
Tuesday- Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
On display until Dec. 31, 2014