by Stephanie Stewart Howard
With all the beauty in Belmont Mansion, guests frequently find themselves astonished that many original pieces dating to Adelicia Acklen’s lifetime are no longer in the collection. Fortuitously, Belmont recently celebrated the return of 190 fine objects, from furniture to art, original to the house, that had been passed down to her descendants, the Kaiser family of St. Louis, via Adelicia’s daughter Pauline and her husband, James Lockett. Their daughter, Pauline Adelicia, in turn was the mother of Franck Kaiser, latest inheritor of them. He passed away in 2000; his wife, Beverly Hurt Kaiser, has now moved to Nashville and presented this collection back to the mansion.
While it’s impossible to note every piece, some of the art stands out. “There’s quite a bit here,” says Executive Director Mark Brown, “from paintings to toothbrush holders.” They are, needless to say, splendid toothbrush holders, but the art draws special focus.
Among the portraits returned are several by self-taught Nashville artist Washington Cooper, a go-to for the family, according to Brown. “All but six of the surviving family portraits are by Cooper,” says Brown. “He also paid for his younger brother, William, who painted the equestrian portrait of Adelicia, to study art in Philadelphia. They were a talented family.”
Of note in the Kaiser collection are paintings of Adelicia’s parents, Oliver Bliss Hayes and Sarah Hightower Hayes. The portraits show a very attractive middle-aged couple, both stylishly dressed and coiffed.
Brown’s own favorite among the returned portraits is a baby picture of Victoria Franklin, circa 1840, also by Cooper. The child was perhaps six months old at the time and plays with the hem of her white dress. (All young children at the time wore white; it was easy to bleach—counterintuitive today.)
There are also beautiful portraits by Cooper of a youthful Adelicia in 1840 and her lovely daughter Pauline as a young woman in 1875, both of which offer fresh, enigmatic faces looking out of the canvas with soft, wistful eyes.
Asked about his favorite pieces, Brown shows off a bronze sculpture of a “Bacchante” (female follower of Dionysus), recumbent on a double base of black and green marble, by French sculptor Francois Devaulx, dated 1846—faintly risqué and exquisite in its languid beauty.
There is a plethora of other objects to explore, including exquisite oak dining room chairs that appear almost Art Nouveau in style but date to about 1860, made by John Henry Belter. There are several pieces of china and crystal dated to perhaps 1850. All of them together help us piece together more elements of the life of the incredible Adelicia Acklen and her family. The objects are as wonderful for their insight into their owners’ lives as for their distinctive artistic beauty.
The antiques are currently on display at the Belmont Mansion, which is open for tours Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information about the mansion, please visit www.belmontmansion.com.