Sunday, February 21, 2016

Plaza Art Auction New York City items of Jefferson Monroe Levy of Monticello

Louis XV Beadstead conveyed to TJMF, auctioned NYC
When Jefferson Monroe Levy acquired Monticello, there were few items remaining that were original to Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Levy was wealthy and successful, never marrying and this was not his primary home. He therefor set out to restore the interior of Monticello to museum quality purchasing items that he believed to represent Thomas Jefferson's style. When he conveyed Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation he also sold to them many of the furnishings he had collected. I'm sure Mr. Levy felt that not only was the building historically significant but also the items he had spent years accumulating. He was in dire financial straights needing money to cover his debt. He cried the day he signed over Monticello and died just 3 months later of heart failure.

First pg of NYC Auction Catalog
Read my prior blog post to catch up on the details of the two auctions that were held to distribute Mr. Levy's vast collection. In December of 1928, over 5 days, an auction was held at the Plaza Art Auction Rooms in New York City. The first page of the Auction Catalog shows a photo of Monticello and the following introductory page headline refers to "Art Furnishings" from Monticello. What makes this Auction a bit tricky is that it included items from other consignors, one being millionaire John Markle, who owned a successful Mining Company. He set up a Foundation of his own in 1927 to distribute his wealth prior to his death in 1933. The catalog has sporadic notations as to items being from Monticello but of the 8 photos in the catalog, 6 were of items from Monticello, several of which were photographed in rooms at Monticello. I did find documents online indicating that all proceeds from this sale were used for the purchase of Monticello but the catalog makes no reference to this. My conclusion is that items were in fact donated by various individuals and Foundations to help with the purchase of Monticello and that all proceeds were given to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.

Second pg of NYC Auction Catalog
To help decipher which items potentially belonged to Mr. Levy, I found a list of over 300 items conveyed to Monticello in the book written by Melvin Urofsky, The Levy Family and Monticello. This list is organized room by room and is very specific but at times refers to "books" or "cases of books", "chairs", and "carpets" so the actual physical number of items transferred would be much more than 300 items. Interestingly, no mention of statuary or exterior property was specified as being transferred to The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. We do have historic photographic and newspaper documentation that the 2 lion statues on the West Portico were transferred to The Foundation. There is also one statue from the grounds of Monticello listed in the auction catalog. Interestingly I have never seen this particular statue in historic photos but I have seen 2 other Greek style statues.

Marcus Aurelius Statue #750, #751 not listed as from Mont.
It's remarkable that so many elaborate items were auctioned over 5 days (don't forget, there was also an auction at Monticello the month prior). Each day approximately 200 items were up for purchase for a total of 1057 items. Piles and piles of English, French, and American books, carpets, rugs, tapestries, oil paintings, furniture, statuary, and silver were auctioned.

On Day 1, 255 individual book titles were auctioned, of which many were large volume sets, giving a day total of over 2,210 individual books. There is no mention of any from Monticello but Thomas Jefferson stored 6,000 volumes of books in his book room so there certainly was space in the library for the many volumes that were auctioned.

A few of the book titles were as follows:
  • The Works of Thomas Jefferson, a 12 volume set, priced today at $1,200.00
  • Shakespeare's Works, a 12 volume illustrated set, priced today at $5,000.00
  • Ships papers of the Brig of Olivia, signed by Jefferson and Madison
Day's 2-5 consisted of just over 800 auction items, mainly decorative Furniture, Oil Paintings, Linens, Rugs, Carpets, Tapestries, China, Dinner Services, Chairs, Clock Sets, Oil Paintings, and English Silver. A few items of interest were:

  • Ebony Chickering Grand Piano
  • Ornate Gild French Beds
  • Louis XV carved Salon Sofa
  • Miniature Commode with inlaid walnut and 2 drawers
  • Painting Gainesborough Dupont (mid to late 1700's) Portrait of Lady in Blue. (There is a Lady in Blue at the National Gallery
  • Ormolu Firedogs - Decorative Gilt Andirons  
  • Moonlight Landscape Blakelot similar works sold $30,000 in a future auction

3 piece Clock and Vase set at Monticello
Thirteen items were specifically noted in the catalog as being in rooms that Thomas Jefferson occupied or at Monticello. I found it interesting that on occasion they referred to Thomas Jefferson, not Monticello, even though the items were being auctioned specifically because they never belonged to Thomas Jefferson (good marketing tactic).

The following catalog items were noted as being from Monticello:

  • Gilt Beadstead, hand carved Louis XV (#300 Bed with Canopy)
  • Two green and gold hand carved Bedsteads (Twin Beds), said to come from King Ludwig in Munich and used by "The Mad King" 
  • Bronze and Rosewood Inkstand
  • Set of 22 Flags of the Nations (acquired during a period of years at Monticello)
  • Roman Gilt Table, Carved with marble top inlaid with lapis lazuli and precious stones
  • Bronze 42 Light Chandelier 
  • Italian Marble Bust, Lotus Eater
  • Marcus Aurelius Statue on lawn at Monticello
  • Round checkerboard ebonized table, top inlaid with semi-precious stones, signed Palozzo dei Caesari, Febraio, 1869
  • Model of First Corliss Engine
  • Miniature water color painting presented to Monticello
  • Pandora Clock and Pedestal, representing the mischievous goddess with her casket of troubles that once adorned the palace of Louis XV
  • Royal Sevres Clock and Vases, bought from France
  • Blue and gold Clock, with 2 four-branch candelabra  

1912 Holsinger historic photography collection
Once again the search for the last pair of Levy Lions has been thwarted. From this last bit of research, one can conclude that not all items transferred from the Mr. Levy to The Foundation were documented. As we have discovered 3 outside marble statues were conveyed but not documented. So far, we have no evidence that the pair of sitting lions made it to auction BUT we do have hearsay that 2 lion statues were sent to the dump. I still have hope that their fate was otherwise.

To read my entire research into the mystery of the Levy Lions, I'm listing the sequence of links for your convenience:

Blog #1: The Levy Family and Monticello
Blog #2: Monticello Levy Lions
Blog #3: Historical Levy Lion Library Research
Blog #4: The Monticello Levy Lion Saga Continues, Part IV

I would like to thank the amazing library staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for helping me with this weeks blog research.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

1928 Auction of the Levy Property at Monticello and New York City

Two auctions occurred at Monticello during its 244 year lifespan. The first was in 1827 after Thomas Jefferson passed away. His daughter was required to sell all furnishings, the house, and 140 slaves to pay his accumulated debt. It took 4 years to "unload" the house for a mere $7,500.

The second auction was held in November of 1928 after the new owners, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, set on a fundraising mission in 1923 to raise 1 million dollars to purchase Monticello. The goal of The Foundation was to rehab Monticello back to the 1809 - 1826 Jefferson era which meant disposing of items belonging to the prior owner, Jefferson Levy. The work continues to this day to remove all property and building modifications that were made during the 90 year sporadic ownership of Monticello by the Levy family. Fortunately in the 1980's steps were taken by The Foundation to restore the Levy family history.

1914 Sitting Lions and interesting sign to visitors by Holsinger
For many, many years Monticello was open to just about anyone that meandered up the mountain. Property owners were often not on site and Monticello was a "second home" managed by hired help to look after things. Because it was an ex-President's home, there was money to be made by charging admission but often there was little control over what people did or where they went. So Monticello had become quite the popular place to visit especially when automobile travel made the voyage easier. By 1900 it is recorded that 50,000 people made the trek each year. Apparently things were being damaged as a posted signs states, "Visitors allowed on grounds 20 minutes, Do no pull or break shrubbery, No lunching on the grounds". So one would imagine that a nationally advertised auction held at Monticello would be a HUGE deal. I've found no record of what occurred at the auction, as to what was sold or the turnout. Was it a stampede up the mountain or a fizzle?

More statues @ Monticello by Holsinger
When the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation originally took over Monticello it was headquartered in New York City. What you may not know is that there was another auction held in New York City as part of the 1928 disposal of Levy family items. In December, a month after the auction at Monticello, select items were sent to New York to be auctioned. I envision a few "high society" items and found a reference to some statuary being included in this sale. Because I had been researching the auction of 4 Lion statues for several years, I was very interested in trying to track down exactly what items were part of this auction. Maybe the missing "Sitting with Shield" lions were included!

Grounds @ Monticello by Holsinger
After some serious googling, I found a reference to a brochure listing the items in the NYC auction. Up until this point, I had not encountered any published references to the exact items auctioned. Because this auction was only 1 months after the auction held at the Monticello, I felt these items had been pre-selected and never part of the auction held at Monticello.

What sort of items do you believe were auctioned? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? I was until I received the contents of the brochure and was I ever surprised.

It's so revealing that I'll have to write about it in my next blog post. So stay tuned!

1925 Restoration of Monticello from the book by M. Urosfky
Historic photos by Rufus Holsinger are copyrighted and not for commercial use as noted from the UVA Special Collections Library.

The last photo is a snapshot of the Levy Lions amid scaffolding is from the book, The Levy Family and Monticello by Melvin Urosfky.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Monticello Levy Lion Saga Continues, Part IV

Saunders Trail Pond
A beautiful walk on Saunders Trail at Monticello re-energized me concerning the topic of the Levy Lions. One of the great Charlottesville mysteries, that has yet to be solved, is what happened to 4  ~ very public ~ life size lion statues that resided at Monticello up until the late 1920's. My quest to track the Lions began after reading the fascinating book, Saving Monticello, written by Marc Leepson. In his book it was reported that one of the 4 massive lion statues, which I refer to as the Canterbury Lion, was only a 10 minute drive from my house! To follow the tale of the lions, first click here => to read my original blog post about the Levy family history.

The Canterbury Road Lion Statue
Yesterday, after walking the trail, I decided to check in on the Canterbury Lion statue. After residing 33 years at this location for all to see, I was shocked to find that it had been MOVED. I gasped and drove by twice just to make sure I was seeing things correctly. The lion was GONE and the house under renovation. My mind is swirling with questions... "Where is it", "How in the heck did they move it", "Did it get damaged", "Was it sold"! Fortunately, I received an email from the daughter of the family that lived in the home. As life goes, her father passed away and the house was sold. I was relieved to learn that the 3000 lb lion was harnessed and hoisted by fork lift into a special truck to take a little road trip over the mountain to his new home. He is now safe and sound with the Granddaughter of the original purchaser, gazing up at the little mountain that is Monticello.

1925 photo of Cary Jean sitting on the Canterbury Lion 
For nearly 95 years the Canterbury Lion has been purported to be one of the "Foot on Ball" lions or at least a lion that was purchased at Monticello. It was purchased, by Herbert Collins, the Grandfather of the family that resided on Canterbury Road, at Monticello in 1923. His Granddaughter, Sherrie, provided the wonderful photo of her mother sitting on their Lion. We have dated the photo to 1925 based on her mother's age of 2 years old. Getting the car dated might provide another clue.

Historic photographs show that there were 4 life sized lion statues at Monticello during the Levy family reign. The "Foot on Ball" pair was even on the back of the $2.00 bill for the world to see. Read my second blog post to get familiar with all 4 lions and then read my last blog about more of this mystery.

1912 photo by Holsinger Foot on Ball lion W. Port. Monticello
Recently I unearthed a clue concerning the West Portico Lions. Before any piece of ground is touched at Monticello, the archaeology team gets to work. Interestingly that is exactly what happened on the West Portico stairs where a pair of Levy Lions once stood. Detailed measurements made by the team put the brick platform width at 18" (referred to as the west portico cheek wall @ 1.5'). To further complicate matters, historic photos show a slate cap that appears to overhang the excavated cheek wall. As pictured, the base of the Levy Lion Statue fits within the slate top, therefore one must conclude that the base width of a standing Levy Lion statue would have to be smaller than the width of the slate cap. It appears the cap was replaced in 1938, long after the lions were removed from Monticello so an estimate must be derived based on photographic evidence.

The base of the majestic Canterbury Lion is 20" wide by 60" long. It is possible that it could fit on the slate cap given we do not know its exact width. The oral history insists that the Canterbury Lion has a connection to Monticello. I have found no photographic evidence or written documentation that there were more than 4 large lion statues at Monticello (2 Ball on Foot and 2 Sitting with Shield). If this lion never sat on the West Portico, it is possible we have a 5th lion that was possibly stored inside the home as the vast majority of historic photos are of the grounds at Monticello. Conveniently, Mr. Collins owned a moving company so it certainly would have been an easy pitch to The Foundation - "If you want to get rid of a 3000 lb lion, I can move it - TODAY".

Side view of 2 Levy Lions that remain lost in history.
There are still 2 "sitting with shield lions" that are unaccounted for. Crucial information has been found concerning the search for the Lions and I can't wait to reveal the details in my next Levy Lion blog post. So stay tuned!

A special thanks to Sherrie Breeden who was determined to move this massive beast and keep him as part of their family legacy. I am so grateful for her continued communication and for providing historic family photos for all to enjoy!


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