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It is surely fitting that Audrey Love's generosity to the performing and decorative arts was remembered during the week of her 100th birthday last November. She celebrated the event in true style- by attending, as elegantly dressed as ever, the opening night of La Traviata performed by the Florida Grand Opera in Miami, a company that she regularly sponsored. At the same moment some of the highlights of her magnificent art collection were on their way back across the Atlantic from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to which she had generously loaned them and where they had been greatly enjoyed by the public.
She was born in 1903, the daughter of Edythe Guggenheim and Admiral Louis Josepthal. Her uncle, Solomon Guggenheim was, of course, the founder of the Guggenheim Museum of New York. Her life-long interest in the arts and philanthropy must have stemmed from this heritage. Having graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College, she determined to make a career on the stage and, without using her family connections, she landed a part in the 1920s Broadway production of They Knew What They Wanted.
Although in later life she took part in a number of radio plays, her acting career was shortly thereafter interrupted by a trip to the Far East with her mother to attend her sister's wedding. In 1926, on the proverbial slow boat to China, actually from Shanghai to Tianjin (Tientsin), she met Cornelius Ruxton Love, Jr., who she married two years later. A Yale graduate and diplomat from an old Brooklyn family, he was secretary to the US Ambassador to China. He retired from the diplomatic corps returning with his future wife to New York and became, in later life, a successful member of the New York Stock exchange. During the War Mrs. Love worked for the American Woman's Voluntary Service eventually becoming its President for seven years. Subsequently she was involved with a remarkable range of charitable causes mainly in New York and Florida. In 1989 she was awarded the Legion d'Honneur for services to French culture.
Ruxton Love's earliest serious collecting passion was for Chinese art and he acquired many pieces on his trips to China. He was an inveterate collector with an ever increasing and broadening interest in the arts. For many years, right up until his death in 1971, he closely followed the auction and dealer market on both sides of the Atlantic. For instance, in the silver world, he bought the superb engraved Elizabethan ewer and basin from the historic J. Pierpont Morgan sale in New York in 1947 (now one of the glories of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Over twenty years later he was still buying in the field. In 1968 he acquired two splendid Regency silver-gilt sideboard dishes, the Nike dish made by Philip Rundell for the first Jewish English baronet, Sir Isaac-Lyon Goldsmid and the Triumph of Bacchus dish supplied by Paul Storr to the 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, from sales at Christie's in London.
As with so many great collections, the mixture of varied and contrasting objects-- from Regency ormolu and Napoleonic silver-gilt, to Italian pietra dura and George II furniture, to Chinese lacquer screens and Roman sculpture-- combined brilliantly together to decorate their elegant New York triplex at 655 Park Avenue. However, it would be wrong to think of the Love collection as limited to the decorative arts. For many years the walls were covered with wonderful paintings by that quintessential American artist, George Bellows (1882-1925), many of which had been purchased by Ruxton Love directly from the artist's widow. While the bulk of these were sold in the early 1970s, two paintings by Bellows from the Love collection will be offered in the American paintings sale on December 2, 2004.
The Bellows were eventually replaced by a series of paintings by Josi Maria Sert (1875-1945) that lined the lower staircase. These works were originally painted for the New York residence of Mona Williams, later Mona Bismarck, before being acquired by the Loves. Nicknamed the "Tiepolo of the Ritz," Sert had started his career by working for the Ballets Russes, and his paintings helped enhance the apartment's air of theatricality. It was a look that reflected Audrey Love's passionate interest in the stage. It is perhaps ironic that, for many years, the bulk of this eclectic treasure trove was housed literally next door to the 7th Regiment Armory, home of the prestigious Winter Antiques Show and, in recent years, the International Antiques Show, as well.
While her jewelry of course was bought to wear and enjoy, the silver, furniture and other works of art reveal the Loves exceptional ability to spot the rare and unusual in a wide variety of fields. It was with remarkable foresight, for example, that Ruxton Love purchased the Duke of York's Hercules centerpiece in a sale at Christie's in London in 1967 at a time when such 19th century silver was still deeply out of fashion. The preparation of these various auction catalogues has resulted in the re-discovery of a number of very exciting works of art. The imposing group of six English Egyptian-style ormolu candelabra and stands, the rare Chinese Imperial enamels and furniture, the Hope Pharaoh and the magnificent 19th Century jeweled and enameled gold Russian Field Marshall's baton, are just a few cases in point. Indeed, the Russian baton is thought to be the only such example ever to appear at auction.
Although the collection was largely unknown in its entirety, in recent years Mrs. Love was always willing to lend examples from it to scholarly exhibitions. A selection of the French works of art, for example, was included in the major Arts under Napoleon exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum New York in 1978. Some of the finest Regency and Napoleonic silver-gilt was also loaned for an exhibition, Antiquity Revisited, English and French Silver-Gilt from the Collection of Audrey Love held at Christie's New York in 1997 and at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California in the following year.
More recently, the magnificent silver-gilt candelabra and the Hercules centrepiece that were supplied to King George III's second son, the Duke of York, were lent by her to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. What satisfaction it must have given her to receive one particular unsolicited letter from a visitor to that exhibition who wrote last year "when I came across the special display of the Duke of York's silver centrepiece and other candelabra from your collection I was most surprised. I had no idea such candelabra existed. Displayed as they are, in a group in their own case they look magnificent. It is especially nice to see this group of Royal silver back in London again."
As well as lending to museums, the Loves donated fine works of art to a number of American institutions over the years. Reflecting their ownership of a country house in Connecticut and a winter retreat in Key Biscayne, these include the Bruce Museum, Greenwich and the Lowe Art Museum of the University of Miami, of which Mrs. Love was a founding member. Perhaps the most notable gift of all was a set of twelve Elizabeth I superbly engraved parcel-gilt silver plates made around 1567, which were donated by Mr. Love in 1965 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Love gave a number of significant early 19th century pieces to the same museum in his memory.
Audrey Love bequeathed her Napoleonic furniture and silver to the French nation to be displayed at the Louvre, Versailles and Malmaison. It was also her legacy that the proceeds from the sales of the remarkable collections that she and her husband formed over some fifty years will go to a foundation in her name. This will support for many, many years to come those causes to which she dedicated so much of her long life-- medical research and animal welfare as well as, of course, the performing arts and the museum world.