Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston…Jewels, Gems, and Treasures and...Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd, 1847.
I just had to write about poor Mary Todd Lincoln. Misunderstood, misrepresented, and overextended on her personal budgets, she was not unlike a few of the customers I’ve known over the years. By far, the majority of people I deal with are very responsible about the money they spend with me. Let’s face it, people don’t need what I sell. I sell luxury items that are usually the first thing to go when things get tough…or so you would think. For some, it's impossible to let go of the image of prosperity. They’re just not comfortable enough with themselves to stop the kind of spending that is putting them in jeopardy with either their spouse who sees things differently, or a budget that can’t sustain this kind of spending…for whatever reason.

Mary Todd Lincoln was a person who came from wealth and prominence and wound up marrying an older, more common man. Later, she came under a most painful type of scrutiny by the entire United States population while experiencing intense personal disaster. Was it really such a crime to buy drapes that were never hung or to purchase too much  china for the White House? Just read up on Nancy Reagan for a modern version of this kind of First Lady.

Mary Todd was born in 1818 to a privileged, influential and aristocratic family whose ancestors had a distinguished record in the American Revolution. She was more educated than most women of her time, and some felt this may have given her the confidence to speak her opinions openly, something that women did not do a great deal of at this time. She was smart, ambitious and very interested in politics, and she took an active role in promoting her husband’s political career. "Lincoln had great respect for her judgment and never took an important step without consulting her," recalled Emilie Todd Helm, Mary’s half-sister. Mary viewed her extravagant redecoration of the White House and money spent on her wardrobe as a necessary expense in order to earn respect for her husband and the Union, while others saw it as gross consumption during a time of restraint and strife.

Mrs. Lincoln was probably one of the first women to find solace in retail therapy. Just imagine if you were in her shoes: she lost half-brothers in the Civil War, three of her four children died, she suffered from a severe head injury in a carriage accident, and then her husband was shot in the head as she sat next to him. After all of this, her surviving son had her committed, and she later suffered a spinal cord injury in a fall. As if this wasn't enough for one person to handle, she eventually fell on hard financial times and stood by and watched as many of her personal belongings were sold off. All this while fighting Congress for the right to a measly widow’s pension. So maybe she went a little cagoots and bought 100 pairs of gloves and never wore them. Good taste is a curse.

She remains a mystery as far as First Ladies go. Was she a feminist fame-seeker, a woman who was used to having nice things, or was she just feeling a little Black Swan now and then?  Many considered her bi-polar. My god, bi-polar people are some of my best customers.

This earring brooch suite is Mary Todd Lincoln's mourning jewelry. Totaling approximately 4.70 carats, the 58 mine cut diamonds color range is J-K with VS-VS1 clarity.  It was part of a large group of Mrs. Lincoln's clothes, jewelry, and furnishings that were offered for sale through Brady & Company of New York City. Mrs. Lincoln fell into dire financial circumstances after the assassination of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. The sale price was listed as $350.00.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston purchased this suite in 2008 for their current exhibition for $24,150.


Jessie said...

What a beautifully written analysis of Mary Todd Lincoln. I had no idea she had suffered so much. Yes, she overspent, but I hope shopping brought her a momentary escape from the emotional pain she felt.

scott davidson said...

Cityscape seems a good subject for murals. But many themes can of course be painted there, for decoration and as a break and escape from looking at cement. This painting by American painter Charles Sheeler,, would make a good mural as it is as a good painting. The image can be seen as who supplies canvas prints from original art.