On June 30, 2021, Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States, and Allan Chapin, Chairman of the French American Foundation, signed an agreement marking the foundation’s donation of the restored Venetian Room to the French state. A ceremony was held in the Venetian Room at the Payne Whitney Mansion, headquarters of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.
This exquisite room, dubbed the Venetian Room by the original inhabitants of the Payne Whitney Mansion, which was commissioned in 1902 by Oliver Hazzard Payne for his nephew on the occasion of his marriage, is truly an extraordinary vestige and rare example of the great Gilded Age period in New York.
As the very last creation of the acclaimed architect Stanford White, this room was created in 1906 as a reception room for lady of the house Helen Hay, whose love of Italian and European art and architecture is evident in every detail. The Whitneys lived and entertained guests in the mansion until its sale in 1949. It was acquired by the French government in 1952 to house the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and has served as its headquarters ever since.
Although the harmony and coherence of this room now seems incontestable, it was in fact dismantled after the death of Helen Hay Whitney in 1948 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 crucial aid of the French American Foundation.
The French American Foundation’s dedication to this architectural marvel did not end there, however; the foundation also played a key role in the restoration of the Venetian Room in 2018, participating in the Scientific Committee that oversaw the project from start to finish. The French Embassy is immensely grateful to the foundation for returning the Venetian Room to its original status as a core, integral element of the Payne Whitney Mansion through their generous gift of ownership.
Ambassador Etienne noted that this agreement envisions a long-term partnership between the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French American Foundation that will enable this space to welcome joint events over the years to come. Recognizing the foundation’s stewardship of this architectural treasure, Ambassador Etienne affirmed the Embassy’s commitment to continuing the French American Foundation’s legacy as responsible custodians of the Venetian Room and the Payne Whitney Mansion.