One of the glories of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the American Wing. A highlight of the collection is its fully-furnished period rooms that range from the simplicity of a Shaker retiring room to the elegance of a Frank Lloyd Wright living room. Among the 30 period rooms (that are arranged contiguously in a rabbit warren of galleries) is the Richmond Room. It is a handsome parlor salvaged from the red brick, neoclassical William C. Williams house (built 1811-12) that once stood in Virginia’s capital city on North Eighth street between Marshall and Clay streets. Its owner was a prominent lawyer. When the house was razed in 1936, primary elements of the parlor were acquired by the Met and installed on Fifth Avenue.
This evocative museum space (Gallery 728) with Richmond connections depicts upscale domestic life in the early 19th century. Material for the rich mahogany woodwork was probably acquired by Williams from the Caribbean region or Central America. The baseboards were fashioned from King of Prussia marble with veins of blue and gray. Another highlight of the room is the scenic wallpaper (a reproduction manufactured in 1985 by Twigs company). The “Monuments of Paris” pattern was stylish in the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (it is not original to the Williams house). Closer to home, the wallpaper pattern is also installed at Point of Honor, a Lynchburg house museum, and in the Pauley Education Center at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Richmond Room furniture is from the workshops of Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854) and Charles Honore Lannuier (1779-1819).
In the spring and summer of 2022 the Richmond Room was one of 19 period rooms that the Met featured in a temporary exhibition, “In America; An Anthology of Fashion” (through September 5, 2022). Each gallery was given a theatrical interpretation with the addition of period costumes. The Valentine history center in Richmond lent the Met three elaborate gowns designed and made in Richmond by Fannie Criss Payne (1867-1942), a Cumberland County-born designer and seamstress. Guest curator Regina King, an actress and motion picture director, created a visual narrative that suggested the story of a talented and successful African-American and woman entrepreneur in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries.
Photograph courtesy of Rich Grizet