10 February, 2014

A Treasure Rediscovered

This is the Pompeian Room at Villa Turicum, not long after its completion in 1912. (Charles A. Platt received the commission in 1908 - his plans being favored over those of another architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.) The room derives its name from many elements within; the oil painted walls, a marble fountain, and four columns from that era which reportedly cost $40,000 apiece at the time of Villa Turicum's construction.

As Villa Turicum was being built, the McCormicks began to seek art, furniture, and other objects worthy of placement within their new country estate at Lake Forest. In April of 1909, Harold McCormick enlisted architect Charles Platt to obtain a 3rd century A.D. Roman marble sarcophagus at auction - from the estate of financier Henry W. Poor. (The piece had been obtained for Poor by his architect; Stanford White, for Poor's Gramercy Park townhouse in New York.)

The piece was described as thus: A Marble Strigillated Lion Sarcophagus, Roman Imperial, 3rd Century A.D.

The sarcophagus was of rectangular form with rounded ends; one end boldly carved in relief with a lion attacking a boar, the other end with a lion attacking an antelope, a tree behind each scene. It measured 24 1/2 by 76 by 25 1/2 in. (62.2 by 193 by 64.8 cm.)

The piece would remain at Villa Turicum for 25 years, until the auction of January 1934 when the contents of Edith Rockefeller McCormick's two homes (she divorced Harold in 1921, and retained 1000 Lake Shore Dr. in Chicago and Villa Turicum) would head to auction. Edith's death from cancer a week shy of her 60th birthday 1932 would not bode well for her treasures. The Great Depression was still in full force, and priceless items sold for pennies on the dollar.

I discovered the sarcophagus two years ago, when it surfaced again after residing with a family in Europe for 78 years. On the afternoon of December 6th, 2012 one of Edith Rockefeller McCormick's treasures returned to the auction block with a pre-auction estimate of 80,000-120,000 USD.

It sold for $182,500, an amount much more befitting it's value.

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