Yuletide Meets Downton Abbey

“We lived in four places every year, according to a clockwork schedule. New York; Southampton, on Long Island; [and] Florida’s west coast. But the anchor, the basis of everything, was Winterthur.”

– Ruth du Pont Lord, daughter of Henry Francis du Pont

For Henry Francis, his wife Ruth Wales, and their two daughters Pauline Louise and Ruth Ellen, Winterthur was “home,” where every year the family and friends gathered for the holidays.

This year’s Yuletide Tour at Winterthur draws influences from the blockbuster exhibition Costumes of Downton Abbey, on view in the Winterthur Galleries until January 4, 2015. Similar to the exhibition, the Yuletide theme showcases the parallels of an American country estate and the British country home.

Downton Abbey Tree,  designed by Mack Truax, Yuletide 2014

Downton Abbey Tree, designed by Mack Truax, Yuletide 2014

The Court, the first stop along the tour transports visitors back in time, screening movie clips from the 1930s and 40s. Clips from classics such as The Philadelphia Story, The Bishop’s Wife, and Sabrina depict sporting scenes on a country estate. It was common for the family to screen first-run movies in this space. Woven in among the scenes from the classics are photographs of the du Ponts enjoying their own pastimes on the estate, especially sledding in the snow.

One of many decorated trees on the tour, this year’s newest tree, located in the Empire Vestibule, pays homage to Costumes of Downton Abbey. It is decorated with ropes of pearls, beaded ornaments, tiaras, bells, and, in honor of the workers, an old-fashioned feather duster as the tree topper.

Both the American country estate and British country home were dependent on dedicated staff for their seamless operation, especially during the holidays. Down the hall from the elegant Downton Abbey tree is a display of the staff lounge. With a table set for tea, a small Christmas tree, dumbwaiter, telephone, and radio, the lounge was the staff’s retreat, where they could relax or entertain their own guests.

The staff lounge at Winterthur was equipped with an enunciator panel, making it easy for the family to request service at the touch of a button. This illustrates how the American estates were more technologically advanced than their British counterparts. On the period drama series, Downton Abbey, the family summoned staff by ringing a bell, just like those seen in the exhibition.

Montmorenci Staircase, Yuletide 2014

Montmorenci Staircase, Yuletide 2014

While this year’s theme draws inspiration from Costumes of Downton Abbey, visitors can expect to see their favorite Yuletide traditions along the tour.

The Baltimore Drawing Room paints a Christmas Eve cocktail party. At small tables with place cards, Henry Francis and his guests enjoyed caviar and martinis. While today’s caviar comes from Russia, at the time, the caviar would have come from the world’s main source—the Delaware River at Penns Grove, New Jersey!

The Montmorenci staircase is beautifully adorned in evergreen garland and pink poinsettias, which Henry Francis preferred over red. All ready for a party, a swing band is situated under the staircase and figures on display are dressed in mid-1920s outfits from the Delaware Historical Society.

The Du Pont Dining Room is decked out in red! A centerpiece of red oncidium, small orchids, sits grandly on the dining room table along with red glassware and a Santa carving at each place setting. According to Emily Post, dinner etiquette was to talk only to those on your left and right. In that respect, such a large centerpiece would not have obstructed the dining conversation.

Du Pont Dining Room, Yuletide 2014

Du Pont Dining Room, Yuletide 2014

The dried-flower tree in the Port Royal entrance hall is always a favorite among guests. Each year the tree is made fresh from flowers all dried by Winterthur staff. While the tree was not part of the du Pont family’s holiday traditions, is has become a Winterthur tradition as a tribute to Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont and his love of horticulture.

This year’s Yuletide Tour is sure to get you in the holiday spirit! Hopefully you can draw inspiration for your own holiday decorating and entertaining.

Presented by the Glenmede Trust Company, Yuletide is on display now through January 4, 2015. For more information and a full schedule of related programming, please visit winterthur.org/yuletide.

Costumes of Downton Abbey is presented by M & T Bank and DuPont. With support from the Glenmede Trust Company.

Post by Hilary Seitz, Marketing Communications Department


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