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.

-Rebecca

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful and informative post. I could not imagine owning any one of these exquisite pieces. Thanks for the share and will stop by often. Rejuvenating the team blog, please stop by if the opportunity arises.

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  2. Thank you so much for all your sleuthing on the Levy Lions! I found the blog due to my interest in the ownership of Monticello by the Levy family. I have a 2 dollar bill with the lions on it and would love to find out what happened to them!

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  3. Lisa, read my Blog #2 post to read where the "west portico" lions now reside (the pair that is pictured on the back of the 2 dollar bill). The link is at the end of this blog post.

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