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Mrs. Stanford’s Jewels: A Spectacular Collection of Victorian Jewelry
09 / 08

 

MRS. STANFORD’S JEWELS – NOW ON EXHIBIT AT STANFORD’S CANTOR MUSEUM

 

A little background…During the 19th century, Jane Lathrop Stanford, philanthropist and wife of Leland Stanford (attorney, Governor of California, Robber Baron, and founder of Stanford University), amassed an amazing collection of jewels.

 

Oil Painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

After arranging her jewelry on red velvet in order to photograph and catalog her collection, Mrs. Stanford decided that she really liked the look of the photograph. She decided to commission, local artist, D.M. Cooper to create an oil painting of the collection (c. 1898).

 

It’s currently part of a small exhibition of Astley D.M. Cooper’s work on display at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum through November 16, 2015. Always looking for examples of 18th and 19th century jewels, I went down to take a look. The painting is visually stunning, but to me it is most interesting as a piece of design history.

 

My only wish is that Cooper had painted the jewels in greater detail. One reason for this might be that he painted the final touches from memory. Cooper, a drinker and lover of life, became irritated with Stanford’s demands for formal dress and temperance. “Irked by her pretensions, Cooper stormed out of the Stanford mansion before completing his work.” (A Painter Comes Home, Geoffry Dunn, Metro, March 7-16) The painting was finished later, in the peace, in his studio.

 

Close up view of a portion of the oil painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels showing a six strand pearl necklace and other pieces of jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

 

A CLASSIC COLLECTION OF VICTORIAN JEWELRY

 

I happened to find the following information regarding Mrs. Stanford’s collection in “Bejewelled by Tiffany,” (Clare Phillips). It might give you some insight into the quality of her collection. The Stanford name can be found multiple times in Tiffany & Co.’s surviving ledgers from the 1870’s and 1880’s. Her collection is also purported to include pieces from the Queen of Spain (Isabella II)’s collection.

 

Stanford’s collection includes many classic 19th century pieces, the kind you might see in the Victoria & Albert museum in London or at the Met in New York: bangle bracelets, a diamond arrow brooch, a diamond studded pocket watch, cameos, parures, jeweled hair combs, portrait brooches….

 

A close-up of Astley, D.M. Cooper's Jane Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

JEWELLERY IN 19TH CENTURY OIL PAINTINGS

 

Within the Cantor Museum, there were surprisingly few portraits of Mrs. Stanford wearing her jewels (especially ones including the details that I love). This was perhaps the best: Jane Lathrop Stanford, 1881, by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (France) oil on canvas, Stanford Family Collection. The detail of the jewelry is not completely clear, but no one can mistake the lovely (and large) sapphire ring that she’s wearing on her index finger.

 

Close up of a portrait of Jane Stanford showing her jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat “Jane Lathrop Stanford,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

Although it is well-documented, I’m not sure that today it is commonly known that Stanford University struggled financially after Leland Stanford’s death. Mrs. Stanford worked tirelessly to ensure its financial stability.

 

SELLING THE COLLECTION

 

Jane Stanford traveled to London during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in order to find a buyer for her jewelry collection, but was not successful. In her will, Mrs. Stanford provided for her collection to be sold and for the proceeds to fund museum acquisitions. According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle, September 1, 1906, “The world famous collection of precious stones and jewelry, the property of the late Mrs. Jane Stanford, will be sold by the Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University Association as soon as possible… Many offers from leading Eastern jewelers are already on file…”