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Marjorie Merriweather Post, a figure from a bygone world

4 January 2018

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On this portrait of 1929, by Giulio de Blaas, Marjorie Merriweather Post - with her daughter Nedenia - wears the brooch made up of seven engraved emeralds, the main one of which dates back to the mo- mol period and dates back to the 17th century. Courtesy: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden.

The 19 and 20 last December, Sotheby's sold the collection of Eleanor Post Close and his son, Antal Post of Bekessy. Their mother and grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heir to the food empire General Food, was one of the richest women in the United States, a philanthropist and a great collector of pre-revolutionary Russian art. and jewelry. Portrait of one of the last American "aristocrats". - Isabelle Cerboneschi.


e result of the sale of the collection of Eleanor Post Close (1909-2006) and his son, Antal Post of Bekessy (1943-2015), held in Paris the 19 and 20 December 2017, exceeded very far the estimates: the 700 lots were awarded for the sum of 7'139'047 euros.

More than a thousand collectors, merchants, institutions, participated in this sale and 94% of the lots were sold. Some 1500 people visited the exhibition preceding the auctions, fascinated by this collection of furniture and painting of the eighteenth century, impressionist, modern and contemporary, which symbolized the taste of this family of American collectors for art and the art of living in the French way.

The excitement generated by this sale is linked to the legend of the Post dynasty, whose most emblematic figure was Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress of the Postum Cereal Company, which she transformed into an agri-food empire: the General Food .

In December 2013, during a Cartier jewelry exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, among all the jewels, all the tiaras that adorned the royal fronts, a portrait signed Giulio de Blaas attracted the attention. That of an elegant woman, of great beauty, who held her child in her arms. And on his left shoulder, a brooch adorned with seven Indian emeralds engraved and set with diamonds, which flowed cascading. This woman was none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Represented with her daughter Nedenia Hutton (who later became actress Dina Merrill) she was one of the richest women in the United States and one of the greatest jewelry collectors: Tiffany, Harry Winston, and especially Cartier. his preference. The archives of Cartier New York are full of preparatory drawings, gouaches, sketches of transformations kept in huge files. These boards, which I discovered during the reopening of the Cartier Mansion on 5e Avenue in New York in September 2016, reveal the taste of this woman for the colored stones, for the flamboyant jewels, that she was redrawing at according to fashion and his desires. She was nicknamed "the American Empress" * and she was one of the last representatives of a past lifestyle.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was born in 1887, the only daughter of Charles William Post and Ella Letitia Merriweather. His father had made a fortune in cereals. Fragile constitution, he was convinced that a balanced nutrition could have a beneficial influence on the health and had launched in 1898 the first packets of fruit cereals for the breakfast. During his lifetime, he had familiarized his daughter with business, taking him with him for meetings or business trips. On her death in 1914, Marjorie Merriweather Post received the majority of shares in Postum Cereal Company Ltd, making her the richest woman in the United States. She was only 27 years old and lived with her first husband (she had four), Edward Bennett Close.

It was at the instigation of this visionary woman that the company took off in 1923. Her second husband, the financier Edward Francis Hutton, was then chairman of the board, but it was Marjorie Hutton who, as a wise businesswoman, allowed the transformation of the firm. She knew how to anticipate the behavioral changes related to the evolution of the society and, seeing that the women gained little by little their independence, understood that they had to save time in cooking thanks to frozen products. Following several buybacks, the company became the powerful General Foods Corporation. In 1936, after her divorce, Marjorie Merriweather Post became the first woman to join the board of a large American company.

Beauty as manifesto
This businesswoman was lined with a perfect host with a very safe taste. That's how she was raised at Mount Vernon Seminary, Washington, where her father had registered her when she was 14 years old.

"She was adorable! exclaims Iris Apfel, who knew her. It had three main houses: Mar-A-Lago ** in Palm Beach, Florida, which now belongs to Donald Trump and has transformed into a club, Camp Topridge, on St Regis Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, and a magnificent property in Washington DC, Hillwood, which has become a museum *. With my husband Carl, we made him tons of fabrics! When we started our company, Old World Weavers, I was still answering the phone. One day, she calls, "I am Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post and I must speak to Mr. Apfel immediately." I ask him why. She answers: "Last night, I put all my curtains and I have to talk to her about it." I thought the worst: what had we done? We had created for her a large quantity of silks with many fillings. She seemed to hate everything. So I passed my husband and she said: "I am currently sitting at the top of a 6 meters in my living room and I admire my curtains: they are absolutely beautiful! The quality of the fabrics is fantastic! I love feasting! But I have a problem: I am studying trimmings, one in particular with many small balls of silk. Could you tell me how many balls I should be able to count on a yard? My husband replied: "But Mrs Post, they are handmade! Every morning I eat your "Raisin Bran" cereal: can you tell me how many grapes am I supposed to find in each spoonful? "She replied," Touched! Sir, I'm really stupid, it does not make any difference and besides they are beautiful, I love them, and if I do not go down the ladder, I could break my neck, so thank you very much and excuse me. "

In the private salons of Cartier New York, Marjorie Merriweather Post she asked how many brilliants would adorn her finery? No one is there to remember it. On the other hand, what we know is his love of beauty, pushed him to the extreme: "She was undoubtedly one of the most faithful and the best customer of Cartier New York. She was a very independent woman who did not let anybody else give her jewels, says Maison Cartier, New York. Although she had many husbands, she was the one who bought her jewels, with a few exceptions, which was quite unusual at the time. She started collecting them very young. And not only jewelry, but also frames to frame painted portraits, miniatures or photographs. In our archives, we have more 200 frames designs that she has ordered for her or to offer. "

Marjorie Merriweather Post liked to marry her jewelry to her outfits. She was one of the clients of Martha Phillips - a New York fashion figure who died in 1996 - who opened a shop on the 12 floor of a building on Madison Avenue in the early 30 years. Despite the crisis, it sold nothing less than 100 dollars at the time. Marjorie Merriweather Post went to the store with her jewels to be sure that the color and shape of the collar of the dresses she was going to offer would put them in a good position. In 1971, when she was 84 years old, her expenses for her clothes and accessories still amounted to 250'000 dollars a year.

"Sometimes she came with stones, sometimes she bought them," says Maison Cartier New York. One day, she came with a series of beautiful amethysts and she wanted them to be mounted with turquoises. "The alliance of the two colors was far from innocuous at the time, in the world of the high jewelery: the first to have dared to marry these gems was the Duchess of Windsor, with her gorget in gold, turquoises, amethysts and diamonds, created at her request by Cartier in 1947. "Everyone thought at the time that this combination of colors was shocking," says Cartier New York. But the Duchess of Windsor inspired women, and by the middle of the century, that color alliance became very fashionable. "This is the vein of Marjorie Merriweather Post's amethyst and turquoise necklace. date of 1950-51.

Marjorie Merriweather Post owned one of the world's largest collections of pre-revolutionary art. She had bought it from the Soviet government during the era of Joseph Stalin, when she lived in Russia. She had followed her third husband, Joseph E. Davies when he was appointed US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. The couple lived there from 1937 to 1938. His collection is currently permanently displayed in his house-museum, at Hillwood Mansion. His collection is currently permanently exposed at Hillwood Mansion. She had designed her Hillwood home as a museum. A place that would be the witness of an era gone, a time of opulence where reigned elegance. "She wanted to unveil a certain way of life that was disappearing and would never exist again. And show the collections she had created and loved, "explained Dina Merrill *.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was a philanthropist who did not like to talk about the millions she was distributing. Among the innumerable causes that she funded, there was the creation of "soup kitchens" in New York during the depression that helped feed what was left of nothing, and that of an American field hospital in New York. France during the First World War, which earned him to be decorated with the Legion of Honor by the French Republic.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, who died in 1973, was one of the last representatives of a missing America. His daughter Eleanor Post Close bathed in this environment of elegance and beauty: the 126 pieces of Mar-A-Lago were decorated with heterogeneous furniture that formed a surprisingly coherent whole: a mix of Hispano-Moorish, neo-Gothic, Rococo and classical French. It is undoubtedly in this environment that Eleanor Post Close has developed its taste for furniture and French art of the eighteenth century.

The latter chose to settle in France after the Second World War. Upon her arrival in Paris, she acquired a mansion on the Parc Monceau, then the former residence of the Comte d'Artois, along the Seine. Later, she acquired a private mansion in Friborg. Endowed like her mother with a very sure taste, she has created over the years a magnificent collection of furniture and paintings of the eighteenth century as well as some masterpieces of modern and impressionist art: Edouard's paintings Vuillard, Gustave Courbet, or Zao Wou-Ki entered silent conversation on the walls of his various properties.

His son Antal Post of Bekessy has also become a fervent collector with eclectic tastes, passionate as much by the romanticism of the nineteenth century as twentieth century modernism, through the drawings of artists belonging to the movement of the Viennese Secession (Koloman Moser and Herbert Boeckl).

The collections of Eleanor Post Close and Antal Post of Bekessy, which were scattered last December by Sotheby's, testify to their passion for beauty in all its forms, a passion they have inherited ...

* Read: "American Empress, The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post," Nancy Rubin, January 2004.

** The sumptuous residence of Mar-A-Lago with its 126 coins - was bought in 1985 by the current President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, for the sum of 8 million dollars, before he turns it into a private club ten years later.

Hillwod Museum: www.hillwoodmuseum.org

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On the portrait of Frank O. Salisbury (1946), Marjorie Merriweather Post wears a necklace of diamonds and sapphires from 1936-37 in the geometric shape typical of Cartier's Art Deco jewels. Courtesy: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden.

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Creative drawing of the brooch pendant, Cartier London, 1923, remodeled by Cartier New York, 1928, H. 20,32 cm. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, legacy of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973. Cartier New York Archives.

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Cartier brooch in platinum, diamonds and emeralds of the seventeenth century (for a total of 250 carats). Courtesy: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden.

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Central motif of a necklace, graphite pencil and gouache, executed for Marjorie Merriweather Post in platinum, sapphires and diamonds. (13,6 x 12,2 cm), © Cartier New York 1937

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Diamonds and sapphires necklace from 1936-37 in geometric shape, Cartier New York. Courtesy: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden.