ART MARKET / A parlour fit for a Gatsby: He was rich, glamorous, an American collector of Americana. Less well known was Henry du Pont's English furniture, which goes on sale next week. Geraldine Norman reports

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The Independent Culture
HENRY Francis du Pont (1880-1969), who inherited a vast fortune based on the manufacture of gunpowder, is affectionately remembered by his fellow Americans for turning his family home at Winterthur, nestling in the valley of the Brandywine River in northern Delaware, into one of the country's greatest and most eccentric museums.

He built an eight-storey extension on to the old house between 1927 and 1951, thereby increasing the number of rooms to 180. In this shell he installed panelling and architectural features from old American houses that were being pulled down across the country. He bought furniture and textiles for each room to match the date and geographic provenance of the architectural setting. The collection, which ranges in date from 1640 to the late 19th century and represents styles from 13 different states, is the finest accumulation of American decorative arts in the world.

Many people are unaware that du Pont bought French and English furnishings before his interest in Americana was kindled. Now Christie's has pulled his European material out of storage and are putting it up for auction in New York on 14 October. It was mostly bought for the magnificent double apartment on Park Avenue that he moved into after his marriage to Ruth Wales - a socialite from one of the best New York families - in 1916. From 1951, when he moved out of Winterthur and turned it into a museum, up to his death in 1969,

the furniture was used to decorate the reception rooms in a 40-room Regency-style villa he had built across the park. He left the furnishings, along with the bulk of his fortune, to the Winterthur Museum and it is the museum which has consigned them for sale to boost its acquisition funds.

The du Pont fortune was made by Henry's great grandfather, Eleuthere Irenee du Pont: Henry Francis had a seat on the board but never worked for the company. He studied horticulture at Harvard and was a great admirer of Gertrude Jekyll and other British garden designers. The wild gardens he made at Winterthur are considered almost as highly as his American antiques. Great bowls of flowers always adorned his reception rooms and he had 20 different dinner services and 100 sets of place mats to match the flowers on the table.

The sale provides a fascinating reflection of the furnishings of the super-rich in the heady days of 'the Great Gatsby'. The elegant pieces shipped from genteel homes in Europe - there's only a whiff of aristocratic or royal furniture - have been restored and look brand new. One or two pieces are actually fakes. Despite his later status as a great connoisseur collector, du Pont bought whatever was in fashion in the 1920s and, like other rich ingenus, was taken for a ride by the antiques trade.

His most expensive purchase was a massive mahogany breakfront bookcase which cost dollars 12,500 ( pounds 8,000) in 1928. In fact, as Christie's points out, it was constructed from several different pieces of old furniture with a few modern touches added. The two side cabinets do not match the central section and the elegant openwork cresting is 20th-century - in 1928 it was no doubt attributed to Chippendale, Britain's greatest designer-cabinetmaker. As a piece of theatrical decor, it is now expected to sell for the same price as in 1928: a much devalued dollars 12,000-dollars 18,000 ( pounds 7,800- pounds 11,700).

His second most expensive purchase, at dollars 11,500 ( pounds 7,500) in 1919, was an early 18th-century Brussels tapestry woven after a harvest scene painted by the Dutch artist David Teniers. It is thought to have belonged to the 6th Earl of Portsmouth and bears the signature of Judocus de Vos, a weaver who supplied military tapestries to the Duke of Marlborough for Blenheim Palace. This is perfectly genuine but Christie's doesn't expect it to sell for more than pounds 16,250- pounds 23,000 - a very poor return.

Tapestries were high fashion in America in the early 20th century but fell from popularity with the Depression. Prices have never recovered. The sale also includes a suite of five Louis XV Aubusson tapestries.

In terms of 1990s taste, the most sensational offering is a set of 18 carved mahogany dining chairs made by Thomas Chippendale himself around 1773. They were ordered by Sir Penistone Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne, and sold to du Pont in 1923 for dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,500). Present-day collectors pay an enormous premium for furniture with a documented history; Christie's estimates they will fetch pounds 195,000- pounds 325,000. The price would be higher if they had not been 'rerailed': the rail into which the seat cover is tacked has been replaced.

A group of eight matching ormolu wall lights, each with three acanthus scroll branches hung with berried laurel garlands and centred by a classical urn, is also expected to attract a six-figure price. Three of them are from a set made by Philippe Caffieri in Paris around 1766 for the royal palace in Warsaw. The others were probably cooked up in Paris at the turn of the century.

The bulk of the furnishings, however, are attractive, liveable with, 18th-century pieces of no special distinction - apart from the fact that du Pont loved old textiles and the upholstery is often handsomely woven or embroidered. His aim when choosing furniture was to find pieces that looked good together and served as a backdrop for his parties. He and Ruth were incorrigibly sociable.-

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