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Gilded Age Venetian Room Reopens to the Public

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Following four months of restoration, the Venetian Room, one of the few remaining masterpieces of New York’s Gilded Age, reopened to the public on June 1, 2018. 



Housed within the Payne Whitney Mansion, home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine, the Venetian Room was commissioned in 1902 by Oliver Hazard Payne as a wedding gift to his nephew, the financier and philanthropist Payne Whitney, and his new wife, Helen Hay. 

Between 1902 and 1906, the famed Gilded Age architect Stanford White of the firm McKim, Mead and White designed and oversaw construction of the mansion. 

On June 25, 1906, White’s involvement in construction was cut short when he was murdered at Madison Square Garden in a lover’s dispute. Newspapers sensationalized the story and entitled the ensuing case “The Trial of the Century.” Despite this chaos, the Payne Whitney mansion was completed in 1909 by McKim, Mead and White and Helen lived in the mansion until her death in 1944.

Shortly after the death of Helen Hay Whitney in 1948, the Venetian Room was dismantled and stored at a family residence where it remained until 1997 when it was offered to the French Embassy for reinstallation in its original location, with the aid of the French-American Foundation. 



Stanford White had selected works for the Payne Whitney Mansion from galleries and auction houses in France, Italy, and England, and the Whitney family acquired several exceptional pieces. The painted settee and armchairs date from the late eighteenth century. A French Louis XV clock embellished with porcelain flowers sits on the mantle. The room’s paintings were created by 18th century European artists. 

© Beowulf Sheehan

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Of outstanding note is the Young Archer statue, purchased from a London gallery. In 1997, the statue was authenticated as an original work of Michelangelo; his only sculpture on American soil. The Young Archer is currently on loan from the French government to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The wall surfaces, finishes, ceiling cove, and marble baseboard of the Venetian Room were crafted by artisans in the US. 



In 2016, it was decided that the condition of the Venetian Room necessitated conservation. The decorative elements were actively deteriorating. Microscopic analyses were conducted in order to identify original techniques, and a full report was prepared by specialists from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Only experienced professional conservators could stop the ongoing degradation.

Beginning in March 2018, the France-based decorative arts restoration firm, Atelier de Ricou, commenced a multi-step restauration, from an initial cleaning of ornamental elements to restoration and preservation.   

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Founded in 1989, the Atelier de Ricou specializes in decorative painting and restoration of historic artwork and monuments, including sculptures and paintings. Having worked on more than 300 sites in France, the United States, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, England, and Greece, among other countries, the firm was well-suited to restoring the Venetian Room, which represents the confluence of American and European 18th century furnishings. 

A team of three conservators worked full-time on the Venetian Room. They replicated missing decorative pieces by creating delicate molds, applied gold leaf where the original finish had dulled, and removed the copious soot that had accumulated on the room’s furnishings. 

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou

A new double door at the mansion’s entrance now insulates the room from dramatic temperature changes and pollution, ensuring that the Atelier’s restoration efforts will last far into the future.  

The room is again available for viewing by both design aficionados and curious visitors on their way to Albertine Books, the bookstore and reading room in French and English, located within the Cultural Services. 



Funds for the Venetian Room restoration project were raised thanks to many generous sponsors and donors. The French Embassy would like to thank the following individuals and institutions for their continued support and generosity. 

Scientific Committee: Dana Arifi, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, French-American Foundation; Isabelle Denis, Head of the Department of Properties and Decoration, French Ministry for European and Foreign Affairs; Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Chair, New York State Council on the Arts; Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Curator of American Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Joseph Godla, Chief Conservator, The Frick Collection; Silvina Leone, Interior Designer, Preservation & Restoration Consultant, Art Advisor; Pascale Patris, Conservator, Objects Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Franck Sanchis, Program Director, World Monuments Fund; and Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts, The Frick Collection.

Donors: The Selz Foundation matching grant, effected through the World Monuments Fund, The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation, French Heritage Society, Air France, Elena and Dmitri Alden, Atelier Premiere - New York, Giovanna Calvino, Odile de Schietère-Longchampt and Michel Longchampt, Stephan Haimo and Veronica Bulgari, Silvina Leone, François and Ketty Maisonrouge, The Payne Whitney Family, Joanne D. Payson and John Whitney Payson, Pascale Richard, Robert de Rothschild, Sana Sabbagh, David Sadroff, and George and Jeri Sape.

Additional support has been provided by: Fiduciary Trust Co. International, International Center of Medieval Art, René-Pierre Azria, Susan Baker and Michael Lynch, Antonio Bechara, Raphael Camp, Sebastian Casseta, Alexandra Chantecaille, François Château,Yann Coatanlem, Robert Couturier, Rosalind and Eugene Glaser, Robert Grimes, Ronald Guttman, Catharine C. Hamilton, Luc Hardy, Susannah Hunnewell, Michele Gerber Klein, Cary Koplin, Patricia Landeau and Harry Macklowe, Alexandra Lauvaux, Catherine Simon Marion, Mauro C. Romita, MD, Jean G. Rosanvallon, Patricia Rossignol, George Sape, Lisa Selz, Connie Crosby Uberto, Virgile de Voldère, Sam White, Victoria Wyman, Donald E. Zilkha

Courtesy of Atelier de Ricou