The architectural space of the Dumbarton Oaks Founders’ Room was added to the main house ca. 1860 by then owner Edward Magruder Linthicum when he built an eastern L-extension to the main house. It served, at least during the ownership period of Henry Blount, 1891-1920, as the kitchen and butler’s pantry. Between 1921 and 1923, after the Blisses had purchased the property in 1920, their architect, Frederick H. Brooke, redesigned this room as a living room in a Georgian Revival style. Plans for the Brooke wall panels and ceiling moldings are preserved in the McKim, Mead & White Papers (Bliss House) at the New-York Historical Society. In 1927, the Blisses began planning design changes to the Living Room and commissioned Lawrence Grant White (1887-1956) of the New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to create a bay extension on the north-east side of the room with a door leading to the gardens.
In early 1929, the Blisses commissioned the Parisian designer Armand Albert Rateau (1882-1938) to redesign the room's interior. Rateau had previously recommended the incorporation of four canvases by Hubert Robert (see HC.P.1922.02-05.[O]) on the north and south walls, a suggestion that Mildred Bliss found “admirable.” In correspondence of February 5, 1929, Mildred Bliss wrote White: “I await with great eagerness the sketch and suggestions, etc., to be submitted by the omniscient Rateau. He told me he hoped to be able to get them to us by the last of March.... He is an expensive but, I feel, indispensable luxury.” On September 30, 1929, White wrote Robert Bliss: “Rateau showed me drawings he had made for the other rooms in the house…. I also like the scheme for the living room very much indeed; but I thought the paneling of the wainscoting and the cove cornice a little too big in scale for the treatment of the walls. He was inclined to agree with me. It should make a most interesting room.” [New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Papers, Bliss House.]
In the redesign, Rateau and his firm provided carved and parcelgilt boiseries (paneling), doorways, radiator covers of leather faux-book design, sliding mirrored panels for the west windows and door (the “glaces argentées anciennes” noted on Rateau’s plans), and an “antiqued” overmantel mirror. The Rateau firm also provided the mid eighteenth-century French Rococo marble mantel. The four Hubert Robert canvases were installed on the north and south walls as Rateau originally had suggested. They were attached to hinged wall panels that, when opened, revealed bookcases (the “armoires, tablettes sur crémailleres” noted on Rateau’s plans). The dado area of the north, south, and west sides had drop-front cabinetry for the storage of prints, drawings, and other important ephemera. The seams of the gray-painted and glazed oak wall panels were covered with gilt, carved batens, and the wall sections were bordered by parcelgilt, carved colonettes of stylized “palm tree” design, the tops of which sprout floral and leaf motifs. The “boiserie” ensemble was completed and shipped to Dumbarton Oaks in 1930, and the interior was installed in 1931.
Thompson, Arthur P. "Inventory and Appraisal of the Personal Property Owned by the Hon. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss." Washington, DC: typescript, 7/29/1938, 30-44b.
Carder, James N. "The Architectural History of Dumbarton Oaks and the Contribution of Armand Albert Rateau" in A Home of the Humanities, The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. James N. Carder, editor. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, 98-103.
Commissioned in 1929 by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss from Armand Albert Rateau, Paris, through the architect Lawrence Grant White for installation at Dumbarton Oaks, 1931.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1931-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.