18 August, 2011

The Emperor's Rug

"One should," Mrs.Rockefeller McCormick said, "call them Persian carpets, but I call them rugs, as a carpet to me has meant, since childhood, a floor covering which is tacked down under the baseboards." (I have chosen to title this post according to Edith's designation, although the piece now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the title, "The Emperor's Carpet.")

In 1931 Edith Rockefeller McCormick added "The Emperor's Rug" to her already extensive collection. The rug, (a royal Persian) was once the property of Peter the Great, who in turn presented it to Leopold I of Austria. Edith had read about the rug previously, and when it became available at auction, she was the successful bidder.

At the time, people were fascinated (as they would be now) that she paid $165,000 for it. To her, it represented an addition to her famous collection; one of the rarest of Persians that had once belonged to a Shah, a Czar and and Emperor. This makes perfect sense to me because it supplemented one of Edith's three personal callings; student of psychology, real estate mogul and collector.

She regarded psychology (which she had studied and practiced extensively in Europe and America) to be her profession; her operations in real estate were her business, and her activities as a collector were her hobby. These three things were of course in addition to being an opera patron, philanthropist , and social arbiter.

It needn't have cost $165,000, but the bidding was heated, she had a rival, and she was determined to get it. What many people didn't realize at the time was who that rival might be; her own brother, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

(The rug would remain a part of Edith's estate until 1938, when an offer of $90,000 would be made. The offer - but not the identity of the bidder - would be disclosed by executors of the McCormick estate in a report to the Probate Court. The Metropolitan Museum of Art would acquire the rug in 1943, where it remains today [although not on display] as "The Emperor's Carpet.")

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