City Opera Thrift Store was a cache of busts last week. They were done by a woman named Lilly in a span of thirty years starting in the 1950’s. Lilly liked this model in particular as there were many representations of her there. I imagine it was her aunt. You might imagine that she looks more like an uncle, but if you saw her from behind you would see her chignon and realize your folly as I did mine.
Elsie de Wolfe had Marie Antoinette’s bust on the mantel of her dining room at 122 East 17Th Street. Elsie loved Versaille and she shared this her first house in New York with her friend and companion Elizabeth Marbury. You can see this image on page 31 in Elsie de Wolfe, The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration, by Penny Sparke. This was Miss de Wolfe’s first recoration of the house–she and Miss Marbury did live there together for 20 years!
Miss de Wolfe liked to change out her busts. Here’s the new one after she redecorated the dining room and here it is in another shot. She also liked to use the same bust in different apartments. Here is one in the original location in her drawing room. And, here it is later after she traded it on to Miss Marbury’s new friend Anne Morgan, placed in Miss Morgan’s boudoir.
In Elsie de Wolfe, Sparke shares with us one of my favorite areas of the house. There are no images so we only have descriptions:
(de Wolfe) …decided to eliminate the cozy corner and add a small
conservatory in the bay window. By placing a piece of white marble in the bay
behind a raised area that concealed a drainpipe, she was able to transform a
17Th-century marble baptismal font into a fountain and have six ornamental
goldfish swimming in its water.
Sparke is so specific: six goldfish. You can read Miss de Wolfe’s recounting of the conservatory from her own book, The House in Good Taste.
In the mornings I walk through Gramercy Park on my way to work, and I pass by 122 East 17Th Street and I often think, “There’s Elsie’s and Elizabeth’s old house.” And then I wonder, “What happened to those goldfish?”