I fully intended to write this post months ago for four reasons. One, because I said I would. Two, there was a Cartier exhibit of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s jewelry at the Hillwood Museum that I had mentioned. Three, because the grounds of the museum are so lovely and I love walking around the estate. Four, because I am fascinated by Mrs. Post and her life. I made plans to visit with a friend in the spring, then the summer…well, life got in the way. I finally made it to the exhibit on the final, extended day of the exhibit, which was last Sunday. I went with #1 daughter and my husband. It was a beautiful January winter day and we were actually able to walk around the magnificent grounds a bit. Afterwards we went to a sports bar and watched the Packers smash the Cowboys. Always a delight! Sorry Marsha!Have you ever been to Hillwood? If not, you must go. It is a grand American estate and a return to a style of living not often seen in today’s world. Another bonus, it is located in downtown Washington, D.C. with Rock Creek Park bordering one side. The house belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to the Postum Cereal Company that later became General Foods Corporation which is now General Foods International. The house is filled to the brim with her many, many collections of beautiful things.The Cartier exhibit was located in one of the out buildings on the estate called the Adirondack Building. It is a rustic cabin style building resembling her home Camp Topridge in upstate New York. The exhibit was small but well done. Several of Mrs. Post’s pieces are part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection but are on loan for this exhibit.Before we begin, I must ask if you are familiar with the first product of the Postum Cereal Company? Postum was a “healthy” alternative to coffee consisting of wheat berries, bran and New Orleans molasses. The company’s second product was the cereal grape nuts. Both products are still being made. Those two products made C.W. Post a multi-millionaire in 1898. God Bless America!Miss Marjorie Post was brought up in the family business and as a result, was a smart, innovative businesswoman well before her time. She was one of the first women to sit on a corporate board (General Foods) and did so for twenty years. Unlike her niece, Barbara Hutton, Miss Post learned from an early age how to be successful in business and how to manage money. She also knew how to spend it. She was a voracious collector of beautiful things from jewelry to Russian icons. She lived very, very well.She was the only child born in 1887, to Ella Merriweather and Charles William (C.W.) Post. She inherited the Postum Cereal Company at age 27 when her father died. The company later became General Foods Corp. She was considered one of the wealthiest women in America at the time. Her Mother died a couple of years before her Father. Her Mother had been the childhood sweetheart of her Father who ended up running off with his secretary! Mrs. Post always said her Mother died of a broken heart. Her Father died just a couple of years after his ex-wife’s death by committing suicide. His cause of death was from a self inflicted gunshot wound.Miss Post married four times. Her first marriage was at 18. In total, she had three children, all daughters, that were also married and divorced numerous times. I mention this because I believe their money allowed all of the women to chart their own course. They did not need to rely on anyone to take care of them.Miss Post’s first marriage was to Edward Bennett Close who was a banker, and that marriage produced the first two children. It also lasted fourteen years. Via his second marriage, Edward Bennett Close would become the paternal grandfather of actress Glenn CloseHer second marriage was to E.F. Hutton and they had one child together, the actress Dina Merrill. The marriage lasted 15 years. In 1923, E.F. Hutton became the chairman of the board of the Postum Cereal Company, and they developed a larger variety of food products, including Birdseye Frozen Foods. The company became the General Foods Corporation in 1929. Hutton was supposedly the love of Hutton’s life but he had a wandering eye. It was during this marriage that Mrs. Hutton began to really spend money and accumulate things.During her lifetime she built and owned luxurious homes, including a 54 room triplex penthouse in New York City. When she moved of out of the apartment, they had to break it up because no one could afford all 54 rooms. There was also a 70 room Tudor home on Long Island. Camp Topridge, a rustic Adirondack property in upstate New York where she summered. Mar-a-Lago, her Palm Beach winter retreat now owned by Donald Trump and Hillwood, her Washington, D.C. home for the spring and fall seasons. She also owned the Sea Cloud, which at one time was the worlds’s largest private sailing yacht. Hutton, Marjorie and Dina would spend up to three months a year sailing around the world in the years 1932-1934.Ms. Post’s third husband was Washington lawyer and diplomat, Joseph E. Davies. The couple were married for twenty years. Davies was the second ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1938 under Joseph Stalin. During this time, Davies and Post acquired many valuable Russian works of art from Soviet authorities. These treasures must be seen to be believed. One item I will mention is the Romanov nupital crown that the last Tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, wore in her wedding. There are also several Faberge eggs. She certainly knew what she was doing and brought out as much as she could. The Soviets were desperate for money and she had it…. still hard to believe that things things were let out of the country. At least they have been preserved and are on display for all to see.During the 1930s, the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin began selling art treasures and other valuables seized from the Romanov family and former Russian aristocrats after the Russian revolution in order to earn hard currency for its industrialization and military armament programs. Critics have claimed that these items were expropriated; however, Post and Davies’s transactions were from the recognized governmental authority. Neither she herself (nor Davies for that matter) were involved with the original seizing of the items. Allegations later surfaced that many works of art from the Tretyakov Gallery and other collections were either donated or offered at nominal prices to Post and Davies, who were both art collectors. Davies is also alleged to have purchased art expropriated from Soviet citizens well after the Russian Revolution, including victims of Stalin’s Terror at discount prices from Soviet authorities.Her fourth husband was Herbert May, a prominent Pittsburgh businessman and top executive of Westinghouse. In June 1958, a strikingly beautiful woman of 71, Marjorie married handsome 65-year-old Herbert A. May. According to legend, the trouble with their marriage soon came out. He preferred members of his own sex and complained to a friend, “My God, she wants to do it every night!” With a sparkle in her eye, Post was still interested in men into her 80s. She lived until 1973 and was 89 at the time of her death. This marriage lasted six years.Mrs. Post began collecting in earnest in 1919, while living in Manhattan. While married to Hutton and with business booming, she also began to seriously collect jewelry. Many of her important Cartier pieces were acquired in the 1920s. She remained one of the company’s most important clients the rest of her life. The exhibition at Hillwood offered a perspective on the taste and refinement that characterized Post’s style, criteria for collecting and overall way of life.In 1928, Mrs. Post purchased Marie Antoinette’s earrings from Pierre Cartier. The earrings are now in the SmithsonianThe earrings are composed of two large, pear-shaped diamonds weigh 14.25 and 20.34 carats respectively and are originally from India or Brazil, the only significant sources of diamonds in the eighteenth century. The tops of the earrings are not original.The splurging was on!
The spectacular pendant shoulder brooch below, was one of Post’s favorite jewels. Diamonds and emeralds cascade from a diamond-encrusted buckle, the design of which serves as a testament to Cartier’s brilliant creativity and exotic inspiration during the Art Deco period.
Composed of seven carved Indian emeralds, the main one of which dates to the seventeenth century and the Mughal period, the piece was originally designed as a string of emeralds made at Cartier London, where it was sold to a Mr. Godfrey Williams in 1924 for 10,000 GBP. When Post came into possession of the brooch, she brought it to Cartier New York, in 1928, to convert the pendant to its current design. In one of Post’s many painted portraits, the brooch is featured prominently on her shoulder in a 1929 portrait of Post and her daughter by Giulio de Blaas.
Marjorie Merriweaher Post with her Daughter, 1929 Artist: Giulio de Blaas
To Be Continued!
There is so much information I decided to make this a two part series.
Part two will debut on Friday, January 16th!