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House Collection

The House Collection consists primarily of the historic interiors, Asian, European, and American artworks, and interior furnishings that Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss installed at Dumbarton Oaks and gave to Harvard University in 1940 and 1969.

Principal to the House Collection is the Music Room, which was designed in 1927 by Lawrence Grant White of the New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. In the Music Room are displays of tapestries, sculptures, paintings, and furniture. Also in the room is a 1926 Steinway concert grand piano signed by Ignacy Paderewski, who had played this instrument many times in the home of Mildred Bliss's mother in Santa Barbara, California.

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History of the Collection

In her teenage years, Mildred Bliss (née Barnes) began collecting prints, watercolors, rare books, and textiles. After their marriage in 1908, the Blisses began collecting together, first purchasing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English antique furnishings as well as western medieval tapestries. Their growing interest in medieval art later led to important acquisitions of French Gothic sculptures. They were also attracted to the French Impressionists and famously acquired Degas’s Song Rehearsal in 1918 at the artist’s estate sale.

After purchasing Dumbarton Oaks in 1920, the Blisses began planning as early as 1924 for a Music Room. This room, more than any other in the house, would come to embody the Blisses’ taste both as collectors and connoisseurs. In 1929, the Blisses purchased Italian Renaissance furniture from the Brambilla collection at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. They also acquired significant antique rugs, which, due to their fragility, can no longer be displayed. In the early 1930s, they obtained two important, large-scale tapestries, The Month of April and The Prince of Malice, and a portrait of Mary of Burgundy by the German Renaissance artist, Bernhard Strigel. As they prepared to give the property and collection to Harvard during the late 1930s, the Blisses continued to acquire for the Music Room. These latter acquisitions were of exceptionally high quality and included Tilman Riemenschneider’s early sixteenth-century lindenwood sculpture Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon and El Greco’s early seventeenth-century Visitation.

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