The Dumbarton Oaks Music Room ceiling was designed by Armand Albert Rateau (1882-1938) and fabricated in Paris in 1927-28 before being shipped to Washington, D.C. for installation. The patrons of Dumbarton Oaks, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, had wanted an antique Renaissance ceiling and flooring for the Music Room, and on October 13, 1926 Robert Bliss wrote his architect, Lawrence Grant White (1887-1956): "We are starting people to hunt for old ceilings and old floors for the music room and will let you know what success we have in this quest." [New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Papers, Bliss House.] They located an antique ceiling, which later proved to be of inadequate size for adaptation, and on December 7, 1926, White wrote: "We are much interested in the Renaissance polychrome ceiling, and await the drawings with interest and strongly advise buying it if you like."
Having been unsuccessful in locating appropriate antique examples, in 1927 the Blisses commissioned a reproduction sixteenth-century painted French oak beam ceiling from the firm of Armand Albert Rateau, Paris. This was inspired by the ceiling of the guardroom of the Château de Cheverny near Paris. Rateau worked from plans for the ceiling sent him on January 13, 1927, and in correspondence on November 23, 1927, Rateau wrote White that because he was simultaneously executing for Leeds Castle in Kent, England, ceilings of the same sort, he would have quite accurate pricing.] [New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Papers, Bliss House.] In undated, ca. January 19, 1928, correspondence, Rateau revised his previous quote for the ceiling to $28,000.00 and promised a delivery date of September 5, 1928. In correspondence of February 2, 1928, Rateau wrote White that he still had not visited the Château de Cheverny, but in correspondence of March 8, 1928, he wrote that he had the exact sections measured in place at Cheverny and on March 13, 1928 wrote that his head decorator had just spent ten days there and had studied the composition of the paint in order to reproduce it exactly. On August 6, 1928, Rateau wrote White that he was shipping the ceiling immediately. "It is the first time that an ensemble of such importance has been executed with so much regard for exactitude and I shall be very happy to have your opinion as soon as possible." [McKim, Mead & White office translation.] By October 6, 1928, the central portion of the ceiling was in place, and by November 12, 1928, the ceiling was complete, although the floor had yet to be installed. In the end, the ceiling cost $32,000.00. On March 1, 1929, Robert Bliss cabled White: "Just arrived and thoroughly delighted our Music Room."
The painted designs on the principal beams are a repetition of lozenges, rosettes, anthemia, leafage, and other related designs with occasional representations of confronted putti, all fairly exact copies of the Château de Cheverny guardroom ceiling. Due to flaking, the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room ceiling has undergone several partial restorations and repainting, beginning in 1946 (Brunori) and especially in 1981 (Kernekin). The latest complete restoration was undertaken in 2007 (Lippert for Evergreene).
White outfitted the ceiling with electrical outlets and on July 27, 1928 wrote Robert Bliss: "I am concerned about the illumination of the ceiling in the Music Room. From these new outlets, it will be possible to hang fixtures of the type of sanctuary lamps, which I think would look well in the room." [New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Papers, Bliss House.] On December 8, 1933 the Blisses purchased an assembled pair of Spanish seventeenth-century silvered-bronze sanctuary oil lamps (electrified) (see HC.F.1933.268-269.[LD]) from French & Co., New York, which were hung in the Music Room.
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, 96-97.
Commissioned in 1926 by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss from Armand Albert Rateau, Paris, through the architect Lawrence Grant White for installation at Dumbarton Oaks, 1928.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1928-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.