Maymont Mansion Collection
The Maymont Mansion Collection is comprised of works of decorative and fine arts acquired by James and Sallie Dooley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. James Dooley was a prominent business and civic leader of post-Reconstruction Richmond. He and his wife Sallie were well-educated and well-traveled millionaires who became two of the city’s greatest benefactors. In addition to other sizable bequests to Richmond charities, the childless couple left a collection of their furnishings and objets d’art to the City of Richmond, along with their intact, 100-acre estate, Maymont, to be used as a museum and park. The city opened Maymont to the public in March 1926, just six months after Mrs. Dooley’s death.
From the original furnishings of Maymont Mansion (completed in 1893) and the Dooleys’ summer home, Swannanoa (completed in 1913), selected pieces were left to nieces and nephews, and the remainder left to form the museum collection. Unfortunately, papers, blueprints and documents at Maymont were burned following Mrs. Dooley’s death, and in the 1930s, pieces that the City considered superfluous were sold. Despite these “edits” of the original contents, the interiors and a large collection amassed by Maymont’s owners remained relatively untouched until the beginning of the restoration in 1970. Maymont Mansion is unusual among historic house museums in that no intervening generations, families or adaptive conversions separate us from the original owner’s thirty-two year occupancy. Today Maymont Mansion offers a well-preserved document of Gilded Age design and the taste of well-educated, cosmopolitan millionaires of the period.
Maymont’s interiors demonstrate the decorative complexity, historical eclecticism and affinity for European elegance that prevailed in upper-class décor in the late 19th century. Like their peers, the Dooleys favored such items as French tapestries, oriental rugs, heavily carved furniture, ormolu encrusted pieces, Neoclassical sculpture, fine French and Asian porcelain, and luxury items from Tiffany and Company. Indicative of the Dooleys’ reverence for the “Old Masters,” the collection includes many well-executed oil copies of paintings in the Pitti Palace, the Alte Pinathotek and other major collections that the couple visited on their trips abroad. Also, objects associated with prominent figures were highly desirable, and Americans traveling in Europe were susceptible to dealers’ questionable provenances, hence such items at Maymont as the teapoy supposedly given to Benjamin Disraeli by Queen Victoria in 1878.
The bequeathed collection totals 949 objects. Of these objects, approximately 60 percent originally furnished Maymont and about 40 percent originally furnished the Dooleys’ summer home. Of the objects on exhibit in the 12 restored rooms of the upper floors, approximately 98 percent are Dooley-owned pieces. Since the nonprofit Maymont Foundation undertook the operation of the estate in 1975, 287 pieces have been added to the collection through private donations, including Dooley-owned items and objects of the period, many of which were associated with their cohort. A support inventory to enhance interpretation includes 573 items. The library holds 1,226 volumes from the Dooleys’ original collection. Archives hold approximately 1,000 items including Dooley letters, blueprints, maps, invoices and photographs. The Maymont Mansion reference library totals approximately 500 books. The belowstairs exhibition holds 761 turn-of-the-20th-century household accessories and appliances, acquired through private funding to furnish seven period rooms that opened in 2005.