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50 Years of Decorating the White House

Friday, February 10, 2012

This mahogany 19th-century Gueridon Table and this Shelf Clock both became part of the White House collection in 1961. This mahogany 19th-century Gueridon Table and this Shelf Clock both became part of the White House collection in 1961. (Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)

In 1961, when John F. Kennedy became president, his wife Jacqueline redecorated the White House and made it a museum. Her dramatic makeover moved us to ask William G. Allman, the chief curator of the White House, to give us his favorite pieces of furniture, decorative objects and works of art that became part of the White House in the past 50 years.

Allman's picks, by first lady, are listed below. (He got as far as Mrs. Laura Bush, as Mrs. Michelle Obama's acquisitions are not finalized yet. All photos are courtesy of the White House Historical Association, which Mrs. Kennedy also founded.)

Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)

Two of the many pieces that became part of the White House during Mrs. Kennedy's time as first lady were these two mahogany 19th-century pieces: a Gueridon Table and a Shelf Clock. The table, which is also made of fruitwood and specimen marbles, bears a Charles-Honoré Lannuier label. The movement in the "Lighthouse"-form clock from Roxbury, Massachusetts was created by Simon Wallard.

These gilded beechwood armchairs also came to the White House during Mrs. Kennedy's days. They were made in Paris by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé and are part of a suite ordered for the Blue Room by President James Monroe in 1817. Mrs. Kennedy brought them back to the White House in 1961. (Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)

These gilded beechwood armchairs were made in 1817 in Paris by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé. They are from a suite ordered for the Blue Room by President James Monroe in 1817. Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association.

Other additions to the White House during Mrs. Kennedy's time include an 1800 Rembrandt Peale oil on canvas of Thomas Jefferson and an 1821 group of five Charles Bird King portraits depicting Pawnee Tribe leaders who visited the White House from 1821 to 1822. (Photos courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

Below, an 1800 Rembrandt Peale oil on canvas of Thomas Jefferson and a set of five 1821 Charles Bird King portraits of Pawnee Tribe leaders who visited the White House from 1821-22. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson (1963-1969)

Among the items that came to the White House during Mrs. Johnson's tenure was a 1785 Sheffield, England silverplate coffee urn bearing the initials "JAA." It was owned by John and Abigail Adams. Another piece was this one-of-a-kind 1949 Douglas Granville Chandor portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt. (Urn photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association. Chandor portrait photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))A 1785 Sheffield, England silverplate coffee urn owned by John and Abigail Adams and this Chandor portrait of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt became part of the White House collection under Lady Bird Johnson. Urn photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association. Chandor portrait photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Other acquisitions during Mrs. Johnson's time include an 1819 Samuel Finley Breese Morse portrait of James Monroe, a 1908 Cassatt work called "Young Mother and Two Children" and a 1956 Charles Marion Russell work called "Meat for Wild Men."

Mrs. Pat Nixon (1969-1974)

This mahogany desk (c. 1800) came to the White House during the Nixon administration. It was made by White House architect James Hoban reportedly from leftover construction lumber. This 1810 Duncan Phyfe easy chair also came into the White House collection in the '70s during Mrs. Nixon's time as first lady. (Desk photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection). Chair photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)

These 19th-century Hoban mahogany desk and Phyfe easy chair came into the White House collection during the Nixon administration. Desk photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection). Chair photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association. Cooler photo by Will Brown for the White House Historical Association.

Other items acquired on Mrs. Nixon's watch include an 1821-'26 portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (a.k.a. Mrs. John Quincy Adams) by Gilbert Stuart, a 1795 cut glass chandelier from London and a mahogany Eagle-inlaid bonnet Tallcase Clock with musical chimes. (The clock was a gift from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1973.)

Mrs. Betty Ford (1974-1977)

This colored wax bas-relief sculpture on glass (c. 1800), attributed to John Christian Rauschner, is the only known likeness of White House architect James Hoban. It entered the collection in 1976 while Mrs. Ford was first lady. (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

This colored wax bas-relief sculpture on glass (c. 1800) attributed to John Christian Rauschner is the only known likeness of White House architect James Hoban. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

The 18th-century mahogany Thomas Affleck easy chair below and the 1805-'06 Nast porcelain fruit cooler used by President and Mrs. James Madison also became part of the White House collection while Mrs. Ford lived there. (Chair photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association. Cooler photo by Will Brown for the White House Historical Association.)This 18th century mahogany Affleck easy chair and 1805-'06 Nast porcelain fruit cooler used by President and Mrs. James Madison became part of the White House collection in the 1970s. Bruce White and Will Brown for the White House Historical Association

An 1889 walnut swivel chair used by President Benjamin Harrison was another key acquisition during Mrs. Ford's time at the White House.

Mrs. Rosalynn Carter (1977-1981)

The pair of oil paintings "Liberty" and "Union" became part of the White House collection in 1978 while Mrs. Carter was first lady. The pair, a gift from the nutrition giant Shaklee Corporation, was made by Constantino Brumidi in 1869 for the ceiling of the White House Entrance Hall. The works hung in the hall from 1869 until 1891. (Photos courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

"Liberty" and "Union" are a pair of oil paintings acquired in 1978 by Rosalynn Carter. They were made by Constantino Brumidi in 1869 for the ceiling of the White House Entrance Hall. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

 

In 1979, Mrs. Carter made sure that two gilded beech sofas made in 1817 by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé in Paris for President James Monroe returned to the Blue Room. (Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)

One of two sofas ordered for the Blue Room by President James Monroe in 1817. Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association.

Other pieces acquired during Mrs. Carter's time at the White House include a bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin made by Jean-Antonie Houdon and a George Caleb Bingham oil c. 1846-1847 called "Lighter Relieving a Steamboat Aground."

Mrs. Nancy Reagan (1981-1989)

This 1870 oil by Albert Bierstadt, "Rocky Mountain Landscape," became part of the White House collection in 1981 while Nancy Reagan called the White House home. (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

This 1870 oil by Albert Bierstadt, "Rocky Mountain Landscape," became part of the White House collection in 1981 under Nancy Reagan. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Mrs. Reagan was also living at the White House when this porcelain fruit cooler was obtained. The piece was part of the state dessert service of President James Monroe and was made in 1817 in Paris by Pierre Louis Dagoty and Edouard D. Honoré. (Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)Nancy Reagan acquired this porcelain fruit cooler in 1986. It was part of the state dessert service of President James Monroe. Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association.

Other items Mrs. Reagan helped bring to the White House include 24 mahogany armchairs made by William King Jr. and four sofas that were originally in the White House East Room in 1818, and a 1792-1793 John Trumbull oil of John Adams. 

Mrs. Barbara Bush (1989-1993)

While Mrs. Barbara Bush lived in the White House, this 1851 watercolor on ivory of James Buchanan became part of the collection. In 1990, this 1903 illustration by Jules Guerin for Century Magazine, "South Front of the White House" was a gift of the White House Historical Association. (Buchanan photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection). Guerin illustration courtesy of the White House Historical Association)

While Barbara Bush lived in the White House, an 1851 watercolor of James Buchanan and "South Front of the White House," a 1903 illustration for Century Magazine, became part of the collection. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Mrs. Barbara Bush also helped usher in this 1810 mahogany card table to the White House in 1992. Its label reads Charles-Honoré Lannuier. (Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association)

Barbara Bush brought this 1810 mahogany card table to the White House. Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association.

Also during her stint a 1902 plaque depicting a spread-winged eagle perched within a wreath was returned to the White House. The piece was one of three such wall ornaments hung above the Family Dining Room mantel and over the doors to the Blue Room and to the President's Study that were installed in the 1902 Theodore Roosevelt Renovation before being discarded in 1950 during the Truman Renovation. 

Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton (1993-2001)

This 1930 oil by Georgia O'Keefe, "Mountain at Bear Lake, Taos," became part of the White House collection in 1997 while Hillary Rodham Clinton was first lady. (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

This 1930 oil by Georgia O'Keefe, "Mountain at Bear Lake, Taos," became part of the White House collection in 1997 under Hillary Clinton. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

So did this 1886 oil by Henry Ossawa Tanner called "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City." (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

So did this 1886 oil by Henry Ossawa Tanner called "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City." White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Other acquisitions during Mrs. Clinton's time as first lady include: An 1804 oil portrait of Dolley Payne Todd Madison (Mrs. James Madison) and a pair of mahogany side chairs (c.1760-1789), which were believed to have been used by Presidents George Washington and John Adams in the presidential residences in New York and Philadelphia.    

Laura Bush (2001-2009)

This George Munger ink and watercolor on paper, "The President's House," depicts a northeast view of the White House after it was burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814. It was acquired in 2001 while Mrs. Laura Bush was living at the White House. (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

This George Munger ink and watercolor on paper, "The President's House," depicts a northeast view of the White House after it was burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

"The Builders" by Jacob Lawrence (1947) also became part of the White House collection in 2007 under Mrs. Laura Bush. (Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association (White House Collection))

"The Builders" by Jacob Lawrence (1947) became part of the White House in 2007 under Laura Bush. White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Other acquisitions from Mrs. Laura Bush's time at the White House include a porcelain chamber stick from 1861 and a 1919 George Bellows work called "Three Children."

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