Mrs. Jessie duPont (née Dew Ball) was born into one of Virginia’s finest families and counted George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball, among her relatives. The Ball family originally settled in coastal Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century. Her family’s deep roots in her home state had a lasting impact on Mrs. duPont and would influence her charitable initiatives throughout her life. Ms. Ball attended school in Virginia and became a teacher as soon as she graduated. When she was 24 years old, her family moved to San Diego, California and Ms. Ball continued teaching and eventually became a vice principal.
While in California, Ms. Ball maintained her longstanding correspondence with Mr. Alfred Ireneé duPont, whom she had met twenty years earlier. Mr. duPont had visited Ms. Ball’s family home many years ago, when Ms. Ball was only fourteen years old, for a duck shooting trip and the two formed an instant friendship. Despite their age difference, the pair bonded over their shared love of business. Their strong connection withstood several years apart and after decades of letter writing, the pair were married in 1921.
The newlyweds returned to the East Coast and settled at Mr. duPont’s home, Nemours, in Wilmington, Delaware. Their original connection over business remained the foundation of their marriage and Mrs. duPont became Mr. duPont’s right-hand in every aspect of his affairs. She quickly learned the details of his business and charitable efforts, so that she could support her aging husband. After Mr. duPont’s death in 1935, Mrs. duPont upheld the vision they had created together. Through their charitable trust, executed by Mrs. duPont, the pair supported historic preservation projects, educational grants, and a pediatric hospital.
Most notably, Mrs. duPont made substantial contributions to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She was one of the museum’s founders and original trustees. She held various leadership positions on the Executive, Development, Membership, and Public Relations committees. As a result of Mrs. duPont’s donation to the first building campaign, the largest of any donation given to the museum at the time, the museum’s largest gallery was named in memory of her relative, Mary Ball, the mother of George Washington. Her generous contributions also allowed for acquisitions of works such as Renaissance paintings, Flemish tapestries, and two paintings by American Realist painter, Andrew Wyeth. Additionally, Mrs. duPont secured funding to provide sustained landscaping and gardening for the museum.
After Mrs. duPont’s death in 1970, her estate donated Lots 451 and 452 to the museum. Lot 451, a Belle Époque emerald and diamond ring by Tiffany & Co., combines the intrinsic value of a superb quality gemstone and the timeless design of the great American jewelry house. Since the mid-nineteenth-century, Tiffany & Co. has been at the forefront of elegant American designs, in both jewelry and their objets d’art. Lot 452, a ruby, emerald, diamond and natural pearl brooch, centers on an impressive 11.20 carat ‘Pigeon’s Blood’ ruby. The Pigeon Blood designation is reserved only for the finest quality rubies that embody an extremely rare, deeply saturated red color. Lots 451 and 452 are being sold to benefit future acquisitions by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, allowing the museum to continue its mission of educating and serving the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, just as Mrs. duPont did throughout her life.