A Setting for Diplomacy
The Martha Washington Ladies Lounge has been used by the secretary of state and others, including first ladies, for meetings and small gatherings. The two-room suite, named for the nation’s first First Lady, is designed in the American Queen Anne style, which is known for delicate carvings and curves. Furniture from this era, first popular in the early 18th century, stands on curved legs with padded feet, and in this room the curves are repeated in the low platforms under the windows that look out on the Lincoln Memorial. This architectural woodwork, including the arched doorway supported by Ionic pilasters, is inspired by early 18th-century interior treatments in homes in Newport, Rhode Island.
In a sociable arrangement, as though set for a cordial afternoon visit, an early tea table made in Philadelphia sits before a rare upholstered settee. Above the settee is a pair of gilded wall brackets, also from this period but likely from England, that are carved in the form of Phoenix birds. An 18th-century English brass chandelier provides lighting for the room, and rugs cover the mahogany floors.
Paired artwork hangs on the walls. A portrait of Sarah Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, is paired with a portrait of her husband, Richard Bache. The two were painted after the Revolution in London by John Hoppner, and the portraits here are copies by Thomas Sully and John Russell, commissioned by their children and grandchildren. Profile portraits of Hugh Nelson and Eliza Kinloch Nelson by Charles Saint-Mémin are also shown together in this room. Altogether different, and quite astonishing, is a small butterfly painted by Albert Bierstadt using a folded paper technique. Prosper Marilhat’s View of the Potomac is also of interest, picturing the river as the city of Washington was just beginning to be built, from sketches made by the young sons of the French royal family who had escaped from the revolution that had taken the life of their father.
The Potomac River that Martha Washington knew looked like this. She never lived in Washington City, as the White House was still under construction when her husband’s presidency ended. But their home, Mount Vernon, stood just south of the new capital, on the river’s edge. The warm hospitality she practiced there and in the President’s House in Philadelphia is evoked in the room that bears her name.
- An early tea table made in Philadelphia sits before a rare upholstered settee.
- The view towards the Gallery from the Martha Washington Ladies Lounge.
- The lounge prior to its architectural transformation by Edward Vason Jones.