Here follows the story of a remarkable family, a story which could easily have graced the pages of a Henry James novel.
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Eleanor Post Close (1909-2006) and her son Antal Post de Bekessy (1943-2015) hailed from an elegant American aristocratic dynasty that revolutionized the food industry at the end of the 19th century and that was led by the exceptional businesswoman, philanthropist and society leader, Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973). Mrs. Post was the formidable leader behind the transformation of the Postum Cereal Company, which she inherited from her father at the outset of the 20th century, into the extraordinarily successful US corporate giant, the General Foods Company, making her the wealthiest woman in America in her time.
Mrs. Post used her wealth to great and widespread effect, setting the national and even international standard for generous philanthropy and for gracious living and culture. Among many other causes, she funded the establishment of an American field hospital in France during World War I, was a notable supporter of the American Hospital in Paris, and was awarded the Légion d’honneur by France. She filled the extravagant residence she built at Mar-A-Lago in Florida with exquisite 18th century furniture and art, her love for which of which she successfully handed on to her daughter, Eleanor, whose own independent collection is one of the highlights of this sale. She also amassed one of the greatest American collections of Russian art, now on view to the public year-round at the Hillwood Mansion she owned in Washington, D.C. and contributed to the Smithsonian Institution upon her death. Her broad and eclectic interest in many different types of art is exemplified not only in her daughter Eleanor’s extraordinary independent collection but in the wide-range and diversity of the collection of her grandson, Antal. Marjorie’s portrait, encased in a frame created by Cartier, and a model of the legendary 360 foot yacht, Sea Cloud, in which Marjorie toured the world, are included in the sale and exemplify her connection to it.
It was in Europe that Marjorie’s daughter, Eleanor, always proud of her U.S. citizenship and origins, chose to settle soon after the end of World War II. Like her mother, who had a passion to share her love of art, Eleanor Post Close contributed to the collections of the Hillwood Museum and generously supported other establishments, including the Château de Versailles, to which in 1961 she offered two exceptional eighteen-century Sèvres porcelain-mounted serre-bijoux created by the cabinetmaker Martin-Carlin and that had been part of the Alfred de Rothschild collection. She also supported the American Hospital of Paris and the Smithsonian Institution, to which she offered in 1964 a magnificent pair of diamond pear-shaped earrings of Queen Marie-Antoinette that had been originally acquired by her mother from Cartier, and which are now on view at the National Museum of Art History in Washington. This reciprocal love of France also earned for her the Légion d’honneur.
In the tradition of her extraordinary mother, after her arrival in Paris, Eleanor first acquired a beautiful private mansion that opened onto the Parc Monceau and then an elegant 18th century summer chateau on the banks of the River Seine, once inhabited by the Count d’Artois, the future King Charles X – the last Bourbon king. A few years later, Eleanor expanded her connections with Europe by acquiring a hotel particulier in the lovely Swiss city of Fribourg, where she spent much of her time with her late husband, the famous conductor, Leon Barzin. An elegant woman of great culture, she regularly received in all of her homes, art-lovers, music-lovers and aristocrats.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Eleanor Post Close asserted herself as a collector and demonstrated a natural eye and assured taste. Over the years, she built up an impressive group of works which she placed with care in her different homes.. A superb suite of four Louis XV armchairs by Louis Delanois, two beautiful neoclassical reliefs by Clodion and a lion by Eugène Delacroix evoke her exquisite taste and extraordinary love of French aesthetics and style. Captivated by everything beautiful, the important collection of 18th century furniture and paintings that she brought together were enriched by modern and impressionist masterpieces, which wonderfully opened a window onto modernity. In her salons, works by Edouard Vuillard were presented next to those of Gustave Courbet, Nicolas de Largilliere and Zao Wou-Ki: painters from different generations, engaging in a continuous, harmonious dialogue.
Her son, Antal Post de Bekessy, who maintained homes in New York and later Pennsylvania, frequently visited France and Austria. Antal remained very attached to the St Paul School of Concord, New Hampshire, and to Princeton University, from which he graduated. Throughout his life, Antal worked with many important artistic and cultural institutions, including not only Hillwood, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and the Vienna Opera. His efforts in support of the conservation and the appreciation of French art and architecture were recognized by the Minister of French Culture, which raised him to the order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. Antal was also an avid collector, eclectic in his interests and tastes but especially passionate about 19th century romanticism and 20th century modernism. He paid special homage to the Austro-Hungarian roots of his father, the courageous writer and novelist Janos de Bekessy (also known as Hans Habe), through his notable acquisition of Austrian art, including drawings by artists of the Viennese Secession group such as Koloman Moser and Herbert Boeckl.
In sum, the collections bequeathed by Eleanor Post Close and Antal Post de Bekessy that form the objects of the sale reflect their dedication and passion for the expression of beauty and the manifestation of the highest culture and taste, thus continuing faithfully and assiduously the aesthetic and cultural heritage they inherited from their mother and grandmother, the extraordinary Marjorie Merriweather Post.