Question of the Overmantle

Yesterday’s guided tours through Allerton House were extremely well attended. Tour groups required division to manage the crowd. Well done! Maureen Holtz, co-author of a well-written and well-researched book on Robert Allerton did a wonderful job in telling the story. Many books sold and Maureen was kept busy signing books and sharing her wealth of knowledge about Robert Allerton’s life.

Privately, Maureen’s opinion was sought on the authorship of the overmantle in the Music Room/Library.

IMG_9345This current overmantle does not appear to be the original painting at the time the House was gifted in 1946. The University published a booklet in 1951. It was narrated by Dean Rexford Newcomb, College of Fine Arts, and personal friend to Robert Allerton. The booklet has an excellent photograph of the Music Room/Libary overmantle. In a 1964 photo spread in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, one of the photos shows a class of some 100 desks in tight rows in this room with an overmantle having same profile as that of the 1951 example.

If the current overmantle is not the original overmantle, the thorny questions are these:

  • When was the overmantle replaced?
  • By whose authority was the decision made to replace the overmantle?
  • Where is this permission or authorization for its replacement documented in University records or archives?
  • Where, then, is the original?

During the 2 o’clock tour yesterday, Maureen described the former painted ceiling of the Music Room/Library. Robert’s best friend, Frederick Bartlett, a Chicago muralist and artist, had painted a Rousseau inspired jungle scene. The Chicago columnist, Mme X, described the painted ceiling in detail in her social column in the Chicago Tribune. The House Archives also contain photographs of the murals.  According to an interview in 1971 with John Gregg and former House manager, when Robert and John remodeled the Music Room into its present design, the jungle scened ceiling canvases had been rolled up and stored in the compartments behind the bookcases. The House Manager agreed they were there. John Gregg toyed with the idea of trying to unroll them and have a look. During the tour, Maureen suggested that someone in the Park or House employ may have walked off with the rolled Bartlett canvases.

Returning to the question of the overmantle in the Music Room/Library, letters written in 1907 between Jane Emmet de Glehn and her mother reveal from the Smithsonian archives reveal that Robert Allerton had commissioned an overmantle from Jane’s husband, Wilfred (von) de Glehn. The letters also reveal that Wilfred had painted a “decorative panel.” These letters also tell of Robert’s visits to their lively salon in London. Jane Emmet de Glehn was first cousin with Ellen Emmet Rand. Ellen was a frequent visitor to the Monticello estate. Her paintings are on display throughout the first level of the Allerton House. These same archival sources also reveal family discussion about Ellen and Robert’s eventual marriage.

The questions at hand include:

  • Whether the current overmantle is the same one pictured in 1951 and 1964?
  • Whether the artist in the 1951, 1964 or present examples of the overmantle is Wilfred (von) de Glehn. He frequently signed his paintings on verso of the canvas. 
  • What became of the de Glehn overmantle? Was it ever installed? Was it taken to Hawaii?

Did the overmantle walk off on the same legs as the stored Bartlett canvases?

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