Frieze and ceiling

Virgilio Tojetti Italian
George A. Schastey American, born Germany
George A. Schastey & Co. American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 742

In 1881, Arabella Worsham, then-mistress of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, hired George A. Schastey & Co. to decorate her townhouse at 4 West Fifty-Fourth Street in New York City. The resulting artistic interiors would have been considered the height of cosmopolitan style in the early 1880s and were emblematic of Worsham’s quest to fashion her identity as a wealthy, prominent woman of taste. When Worsham married Huntington in 1884, she sold the house, fully furnished, to John D. and Laura Spelman Rockefeller, who made few subsequent changes to the decorations. Following Mr. Rockefeller’s death in 1937, the house was demolished, yet some furnishings, large-scale architectural elements, and three interiors were preserved, and the rooms were donated to local museums by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Every room in the house had an elaborately painted ceiling and frieze. Those in the dressing room—hand-painted and stenciled on canvas—are by Virgilio Tojetti (1849–1901), an Italian-born decorative painter who collaborated with George A. Schastey during the 1870s and 1880s. Sprightly, dancing cherubs, each one distinctive, animate the frieze. Consistent with the dressing room’s theme of personal adornment, they hold garlands of shells and pearls that evoke the necklaces and earrings depicted elsewhere in the room. Smaller renderings of pearl and gold brooches ornament the lower register of the frieze.

Frieze and ceiling, Virgilio Tojetti (Italian, Rome 1849–1901 New York), Oil on canvas, American

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