A Pair of Neoclassical Armchairs, and Its Many Homes

February 1 2011, 4:34pm

This pair of Italian armchairs (originally form a set of 4), circa 1800, was once owned by illustrator and doll maker, Rose O’Neil (1874-1844). Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, O’Neil was a talented artist, becoming the first female cartoonist, most famous for creating Kewpies, cherubic figures first depicted in The Ladies Home Journal, but which grew beyond illustrations to be used for dolls, figurines, coloring books, and tableware.

With her growing fortune, Rose traveled and worked throughout the US and Europe. She frequently visited Paris, though she did not own a home there.  “Her mentor, French sculptor Auguste Rodin, had encouraged Rose to show the world her private drawings, a series entitled ‘Sweet Monsters.’ In 1921 Rose had an entire exhibition of the monster drawings at the Galerie Devambez in Paris. The following year the exhibition was shown again to an American audience at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York. Both shows met with rave reviews.” Three photographs, sent to us courtesy of the Bonniebrook Historical Society, depict the chairs in situ with Rose and guests. Rose loved antiques and was known to purchase furniture for both her home in Capri, Italy, the Villa Narcissus, and also for her estate in Connecticut, Carabas Castle.  Many items of furniture from the Villa were later transferred to her Carabas home.  When that home was sold, many items of furniture were moved to Bonniebrook, the O’Neill’s 14-room mansion in Missouri. By the 1940’s, however, Rose had lost most of her money due to the Great Depression, her extravagant nature, and from fully supporting family and friends for decades. The chairs in Canabas Castle. These chairs were purchased in Paris for one of Rose’s grand homes. Upon her permenant return to the US, she sold two of the chairs to Bertha Rockwell (an artist and aunt of the most recent owner), which were then were left to Bertha’s sister, noted architect Mary Rockwell Hook. When Rose died in 1944, the other two chairs she had kept were either left to, or acquired by, Mary Rockwell Hook to reassemble the set of four. Upon the death of Mary Rockwell Hook they were bequeathed to her neice, Jean Blackman. The chairs at Bonniebrook. The location of this last photo below was previously identified as being taken at Villa Narcissus, but as the furnishings moved from house to house, one cannot be sure.

It is purported that the set of chairs was purchased by Napoleon to be given as a birthday present to one of his sisters, who were each set up as  nobles in Italy:  Elisa became grand duchess of Tuscany, Pauline was made princess of Guastalla, and Caroline was queen of Naples. This provenance is remains unconfirmed.