The Legacy of Chauncey Devereux Stillman
Throughout his eighty-one years, Chauncey Stillman cultivated a rich life of the mind and spirit. A notable collector, conservationist, and philanthropist, Stillman forever advocated for the union of the world of art with the world of nature. It was a philosophy that culminated in the verdant fields, formal gardens, and stirring fine art of Wethersfield, the collector’s magnificent estate in Amenia, New York. There, Stillman lived by the principles of faith, generosity, and beauty, building a poignant legacy that continues to resonate today.
Born in 1907, Chauncey Devereux Stillman was a member of one of the United States’ great banking families. Across multiple generations, Stillman’s forefathers transformed land and financial interests into a considerable fortune that included a controlling stake in what is now known as Citibank. After graduating from Harvard in 1929, Stillman moved to New York, where he studied Architecture at Columbia University. The collector served in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. Although he never formally practiced as an architect—serving instead as a director of the minerals firm Freeport for over four decades—Stillman’s interest in design was reflected in the tremendous achievement that is Wethersfield and its gardens. An avid equestrian and carriage enthusiast, Chauncey Stillman came across the future Wethersfield estate on a fox hunt in 1937. Comprising some twelve-hundred acres of Dutchess County woods and pasture, the land had been badly damaged by soil depletion and mismanagement, prompting the collector to combine several failing farms into one new property. In a nod to his family’s Connecticut roots, Stillman christened his new estate Wethersfield, and implemented a rigorous method of organic fertilizing, crop rotation, and planting to restore the land’s potential. At the time, Stillman’s efforts were radical, yet his approach ultimately turned the estate into a paragon of conservation and sustainability.
In 1939, Chauncey Stillman commissioned architect L. Bancel LaFarge to design a residence at Wethersfield. LaFarge, who went on to serve as chief of the wartime ‘Monuments Men’, who were responsible for protecting Europe’s cultural treasures, and a founding member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, created a stately Georgian-style brick manor house at the property’s highest point. Elegantly appointed with period European furniture and works of fine and decorative art, the house would become a beloved retreat and site of contemplation for Stillman, his family, and friends. From the house at Wethersfield, Chauncey Stillman could look out on one of his greatest feats: Wethersfield Garden. Designed by the collector, in collaboration with landscape architects Bryan J. Lynch and Evelyn N. Poehler, it is a true horticultural masterwork—the architectural critic Henry Hope Reed called it the “finest classical garden in the United States built in the second half of the twentieth century.”
In his house at Wethersfield, Chauncey Stillman displayed works from a remarkable private collection, that included paintings and works on paper by artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jacopo da Pontormo, Lorenzo di Credi, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Francesco Francia, Nicolas Lancret, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Gilbert Stuart. Stillman's foundation has supported students at educational institutions including the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, where students continue to exhibit their work at the college’s Chauncey Stillman Gallery.
A man who preferred quiet philanthropy to self-promotion, Stillman’s name came to greater prominence in 1989 with the auction of Jacopo da Pontormo’s Halberdier. The Mannerist masterpiece was purchased by Stillman in 1927 at the auction of his grandfather and father’s estate. He exhibited the Pontormo widely, lending it to institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fogg Museum of Art, and the Frick Collection. After Stillman’s death, his estate offered the Pontormo at Christie’s New York to benefit his foundation, where it sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum for an astounding $35.2 million. This remains the most expensive Old Master ever sold at auction in the United States.
Nearly eighty years after its establishment in 1938, the Wethersfield Foundation operates with a renewed sense of purpose, guided by the exemplary advocacy of Chauncey Devereux Stillman. The organization continues to preserve the house, gardens, and carriage museum at Wethersfield, while promoting the conservation of the natural world. Mr. Stillman also established the Wethersfield Institute for the promotion of educational, philosophical and scientific pursuits.
Property from the Collection of Chauncey D. Stillman sold to benefit the Wethersfield Foundation