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In 1936, because of her brother’s mismanagement she was forced to close her business, Elsie de Wolfe, Inc. and declare bankruptcy (none of her archives survive). She spent the war years in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, in a house she named “After All” which she decorated, using her famous end-of-career black and white motif, with the help of the young designer Tony Duquette. She helped launch his extraordinary career. In 1946 she returned to her Versailles house and died four years later.
Charles Duveen’s father, Joel Joseph, and his uncle, Henry had been in the works of art and interior design business since the 1870s and by 1900 had become the internationally famous firm, the Duveen Brothers with galleries in Paris, London and New York. After Joel’s death in 1909, the eldest of his twelve children, Joseph (later Lord Duveen of Millbank) led the firm in a new direction. They disposed of their general business in interior design and devoted themselves to selling extremely fine works of art. It was then that Charles created his own independent antiques and interior design business. With the agreement that Charles would not use the Duveen name, Joseph paid him an annual fee, hence the name Charles of London or C.J. Charles. His business in New York and London flourished for over thirty years. His rooms at Coe Hall from the early 1920s, are some of his best surviving work.
Charles Duveen, brother of the famous art dealer Lord Duveen of Millbank, is credited with making the Tudor style of dark paneled rooms a prevalent taste in expensive houses on both sides of the Atlantic, using oak furniture. It is a vocabulary based on the formal court interiors and state reception rooms of 16th century English monarchs, a more masculine than feminine style of work.
Apart from Coe Hall’s architects, Walker & Gillette, Charles Duveen, as head of his antiques business, did more to shape the style of the rooms than any other person. By the 1880s his antique dealer family, who were Jewish and Dutch, had created the famous art dealer and decorating business, the Duveen Brothers of Paris, London and New York. At Coe Hall, his firm, Charles of London, supplied roughly 80% of the furnishing. There were also over twenty established antique dealers who also sold furniture to Mr. Coe. But today in the archive room at Coe Hall there are a limited number of bills or letters between 1920 and 1923 for each of those firms, but for Charles of London there are hundreds. He supplied over four hundred decorative art objects, including light fixtures, tapestries, tables, chairs, cupboards, beds and even china and linens. Mr. Duveen’s correspondence with William R. Coe is mostly cordial, though there are some disagreements about costs. In 1923 Mr. Coe wrote to Frank Partridge, one of his London antique dealers, that Charles Duveen “had been responsible for a great deal of the decoration and furnishing of my house and I have paid him an enormous amount of money.” Although the Coe Hall archives might not be complete, the Charles of London invoices that are extant for all the artifacts bought for the house add up to about $450,000. Additionally, Mr. Coe spent a total of roughly $75,000 (today about $900,000) in payment to other antique dealers, including Jacques Seligmann et Fils, Stair & Andrew, Lenygon & Morant, J. Rochelle Thomas, Frank Partridge, and French &Co.
By 1920 the rather conservative Tudor or Elizabethan style of room decoration was a taste that had been established for over twenty-five years, both in England and the United States, where it had been widely promoted in books and magazines. In 1920 Charles Duveen was very successful; he lived in New York City, had a house in Hastings-on-Hudson, where he sailed on the river, and a house in England. He ran a large showroom in mid-town Manhattan where his antique and interior design business was highly regarded (even if a little old fashioned compared with the lighter touch of Elsie de Wolfe’s newer design successes).
Mr. and Mrs. Coe were intensively involved with the building and decoration of Coe Hall. They often asked for furnishings and paintings to be delivered pending approval; in September 1921 Mr. Coe wrote to the Paris dealer Germain Seligmann about a tapestry that was at Coe Hall on approval, asking that it be exchanged because, “it has been hung and it looks very dead in the house.” Similar issues arose from time to time with paintings. Mrs. Coe had the seat furniture, today in the reception room, delivered, also owned by Seligmanns, to see if it would work well in the room, it did, and they bought the suite. The curtains for her bedroom were made from fabric that she had in hand and passed on to Charles of London to be sewn up. Curator at Coe Hall, Gwendolyn L. Smith, who is co-curator of the exhibition, writes that, “these kinds of details recorded in the archives, of which there are many more, enable us to recreate the rich and fascinating history about the building and decoration of Coe Hall, one of the few great surviving mansions on Long Island”. More of this story is told in our new exhibition, with rare and fascinating artifacts kindly loaned from descendants of Charles Duveen. It opens at Coe Hall on Saturday March 29th (Members Preview Friday March 28th 5:30-7:30pm) and runs through September 30th.
Fabulous Interiors by Elsie de Wolfe & Charles Duveen, 1915-1945
On view March 29th – September 30th
Open daily 11:30am – 3:30pm at Coe Hall, Planting Fields
Free with $4 admission to Coe Hall and $8 parking fee
Tea House is open!
Open daily 12:30pm – 2:00pm
Entrance to the Tea House is free with $8 parking fee.
Events & Public Programs
Friday, March 28, 2014
Opening Night & Preview Party
Fabulous Interiors by Elsie de Wolfe & Charles Duveen, 1915-1945.
5:30pm – 7:30pm at Coe Hall
Saturday, March 29th, 2014
Broadway Sings Cole Porter at Coe Hall
7:00pm – 10:00pm at Coe Hall
$40 Non-Member / $20 for Members/ No Parking Fee
Sunday, March 30th, 2014
Glamorous Design Lecture at Coe Hall
Eileen Kathryn Boyd, Interior Designer Of New York And Long Island Speaks About Her Design Work, Design Trends And Influences
2:00pm at Coe Hall / $15 Non-Members / Free for Members
Sunday, April 6th, 2014
Lecture at Coe Hall by Gwendolyn L. Smith, Curator at Coe Hall
Charles of London, The English Country House & Coe Hall
2:00pm / Lecture is FREE with $4 admission to Coe Hall and $8 Parking Fee
Saturday, April 19th, 2014
The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, presented by the Theatre Three of Port Jefferson
3:00pm – 4:00pm at Coe Hall
FREE with $4 admission fee to Coe Hall / $8 Parking Fee
Sunday, May 4th, 2014
Poetry Reading, presented by the Poetry Society of America
The works of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Great Hall / Free with $4 admission to Coe Hall
Read by Alice Quinn, former poetry editor of the New Yorker. Mary Stewart Hammond will read her own poetry at 2:00pm in the Great Hall.
Friday, May 9th, 2014
Movie Night at Coe Hall – To Catch a Thief
Saturday, May 10th, 2014 – Mother’s Day Weekend
Family Pancake Breakfast at Coe Hall
10:00am – 11:30am / $8 Parking Fee
$20.00 Non-Members, Adults & Children / $15.00 Members, Adults & Children
Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Into the Garden: Plein Air Painting with Annie Shaver-Crandell
10:00am – 3:00pm
FREE with $8 Parking Fee – meet at the end of the West Parking lot by the Main Greenhouse.
Tea House by Elsie de Wolfe, Planting Fields, 1915
Watercolor presentation drawing for a Charles of London scheme (Private Collection)
HOURS & INFORMATION
9:00 am - 5:00 pm daily
$8 per car until Nov, 18th
COE HALL HOURS:
Self-Guided Visits to Coe Hall
11:30 am - 3:30 pm 3/27 – 10/2 daily
October Weekends only
Members & Children under 12 are free