New York—Talk about conspicuous consumption!
Think New York City is flying high these days? Are you trying to keep up with the 1%? You haven’t seen anything until you step back into time at the Museum of the City of New York to see how the super-super rich like the Vanderbilts really lived it up at the turn of the 19th century.
Gilded New York, which opened this week and will run for a year at this Upper East Side museum, explores America’s “aristocracy” and elite class and the material possessions they used to express and flaunt their status.
The exhibit is the first in the newly unveiled Tiffany & Co. Foundation Gallery.
Vintage jewelry lovers will drool over the offerings on display, from delicate jewelry to feather-tipped fans. The exhibit presents some 100 works, including costumes, jewelry, decorative objects and portraits, all from the mid 1870s and the early 1900s.
A sampling: accessories that sat on a woman’s dressing table or completed her fashionable ensemble: an engraved glass flask in the shape of a swan’s head sold by the New York firm of Theodore B. Starr; an evening fan of eagle feathers with a tortoise shell frame, a silver purse handle ornamented with mermaids designed by the recently re-discovered New York jeweler F.W. Lawrence, and a silver cigarette case set with sapphires by Tiffany & Co. shown at the famous 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
In addition to material items, the exhibit will also feature paintings and photographs that captured the excesses of the time (namely the photo “Billings Horseback Dinner at Sherry’s, 1903,” where New York’s prominent gentlemen are dinning at a restaurant while remaining on horseback).
Wives and daughters also adorned themselves in lavish fabrics for parties at Fifth Avenue mansion ballrooms and and hotels. And while corporations flourished in New York City and kept the men in the boardrooms, a popular Ladies’ Mile of luxury retail establishments and cultural institutions gave the ultimate Ladies’ Who Lunch an enriching way to spend their days. And while the rich of the times were criticized for their excesses, the city did take a cultural leap during that period in art, architecture and the decorative arts to become more prominent on the world stage.
The exhibit also has a companion book” “Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, & Society.”
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street.