Winterthur Museum seems impossible to imagine as a home. How could the vast structure—all nine stories of it—have housed a small family of four? The sheen of quality in the museum collections, polished by curators for decades, blocks any sense of one individual’s creation. But quietly interspersed among the 175 rooms of American treasures are some curious things: 18th-century French wedding rings; du Pont family portraits of varying quality; and late-Victorian silver not quite “up to standards.” In the research library at Winterthur, rare books of serious scholarship share storage space with bulging boxes of recipes, birthday cards, receipts for dog food, and various papers documenting the pleasures, grief, and tedium of everyday life. These relics shine a sliver of light into the lives of the du Pont family that called Winterthur home from 1839 to 1969.
In the upcoming book The du Ponts of Winterthur, author and Winterthur Estate Historian and Garden Objects Curator Maggie Lidz traces the fascinating story of the estate and its occupants through pages and pages of family photos, memorabilia, and personal remembrances. Henry Francis du Pont, the last private owner of the Winterthur estate and founder of the museum, said he collected to preserve “evidences of early life in America.” In a similar way, this book contains mementos from the life of one family. Featured are a number of intimate family objects never published before.
Les amusements de l’amour (The Amusements of Love) was a gift from Pierre Samuel du Pont to Nicole Charlotte Marie Louise le Dée. In this handwritten book about their love affair, the left side of the book on the opening page is his portrait, and the right side of the last page of the book is a mirror. The couple was married January 26, 1766. Passed down from generation to generation, the book is now in the Winterthur Museum collection. 1961.1246.
Another item featured in the book is a sticker of children riding in a chauffeur-driven car from Ruth Ellen du Pont’s childhood scrapbook.
Also featured in The du Ponts of Winterthur is the group of 18th-century French wedding rings from the early generations of the family: wedding rings of P. S. and Nicole le Dée du Pont and the wedding rings of their son, Eleuthère Irénée and his wife, Sophie Madeline du Pont, who were married November 26, 1791. The note accompanying the rings is from the couple’s youngest daughter, also named Sophie Madeline du Pont: “Ma’s wedding ring given me by Sister Victorine.”
Available for purchase March 2014, The du Ponts of Winterthur is written by Maggie Lidz, edited by Onie Rollins, and designed by Suzanne Gaadt (cover design by Gayle Croes Bezerra).
Purchases made at the Winterthur Bookstore benefit the museum. Visit the Bookstore, order online at winterthurstore.com, or call 800.448.3883, ext. 4741. Members receive a 10% discount.
Post by Winterthur Estate Historian and Garden Objects Curator Maggie Lidz.