Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss commissioned this topographical rendering of Dumbarton Oaks for the overmantel frame of the French Renaissance chimneypiece in their Music Room. The map depicts in bird’s-eye perspective the more than fifty-three acres of buildings, gardens, and planned wilderness that they had developed after purchasing the property in 1920. They employed aerial photography to allow the cartographer, Ernest Clegg, to detail the gardens exactly as seen from the north of the property, now Dumbarton Oaks Park. Unfortunately, much of the original color and some details have been lost due to the exposure of the watercolor pigments to light. To protect the original work from further damage, a color-corrected reproduction is now displayed in the room. At the center of both sides are two coats of arms: on the left the Bliss escutcheon is inscribed QUOD SEVERIS METES [as you sow so shall you reap], and on the right the Woods escutcheon is inscribed PREND MOI TEL QUE JE SUIS [take me as I am].
Ernest Costain Clegg, born in 1876 in Birmingham, England, was a student at the Birmingham School of Art. Around 1905, he became a professional cartographer, and in 1909, Tiffany and Co. in New York City employed Clegg as a special designer, illuminator, and heraldry artist. After World War I, Clegg set up a studio in New York. An article of 1925 advised: “For overmantel decoration in the library or the study nothing could be more suitable than a pictorial map. For the country house they are especially desirable, particularly when they portray the surrounding country… . Mr. Ernest Clegg, a well known artist of New York, has devoted many years to cartography, with unusually successful results. Delving into the history of a place, Mr. Clegg has evolved a series of maps that have all the charm and beauty of the old-time maps combined with accuracy and historical reference.”
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 372f, ill.
Commissioned from Ernest Clegg by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss for installation on overmantel in the Music Room, 1935.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1935-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.