Bringing Objects Home
Grant Quertermous, CAHPT Curator & Director of Collections
In the nearly fifty years that Richard H. Jenrette collected American decorative arts, he and his partner, William L. Thompson, assembled an impressive collection to furnish and decorate their historic houses. Their goal was not just to fill those houses with beautiful objects but to fill them with artifacts that had a direct connection with their historic owners.
Early in his collecting career, Jenrette focused almost exclusively on American, rather than European, decorative arts. He sought pieces that were well suited in style and scale to his early nineteenth-century houses. He was motivated to find objects that were directly associated with those properties, including pieces of furniture known to have been in them, portraits of their owners, and even some of their personal effects.
It was natural, therefore, for Jenrette to assemble the largest private collection of Duncan Phyfe furniture, currently more than 300 objects, covering the cabinetmaker’s evolution from the early 19th century origins of the firm until its 1847 dissolution. Particularly important are a set of objects owned by Robert Donaldson at Edgewater. There are also more than fifty pieces of furniture commissioned from Duncan Phyfe & Son by John Laurence Manning for Millford.
The fine art collection was assembled with equal care. It includes portraits by American artists such as Charles Willson Peale, Charles Peale Polk, Gilbert Stuart, and John Vanderlyn. At Ayr Mount, a ca. 1815 portrait of William Kirkland is in the dining room, where, according to family tradition, it has hung since the house was built. Charles Leslie’s portrait of Robert Donaldson is at Edgewater, while a series of Manning family portraits by James DeVeaux remain at Millford.
Mr. Jenrette’s eye as a collector was always accompanied by his integrity as a historian—his conviction that Manning objects belonged at Millford and Donaldson portraits at Edgewater. As a consequence, our collection provides a wonderful opportunity to study an array of exceptional objects in their historic context, as they were originally used and experienced, instead of up on pedestals, encased in glass.