Henry F. Du Pont and Winterthur: A Daughters Portrait

Ruth Lord, Author, R. W. B. Lewis, Foreword by Yale University Press $29.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-300-07074-3
Lord's touching memoir centers on the fabulously wealthy father she hardly knew, who was, by turns, mild-mannered and imperious. Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) was a collector of Americana and the founder of the Winterthur Museum near Wilmington, Del., which opened in 1951 on a site that was originally his home and whose decorative arts and lavish gardens continue to be a national treasure. When Henry, a solitary, inhibited Harvard student, lost his mother at age 22, his emotional devastation led to his decision to ""give up feeling."" After 14 years of bachelorhood, his marriage in 1916 to the vivacious Ruth Wales (the author's mother) helped him rejoin the human race. But Henry, by this account, remained an aloof, controlling parent. Lord draws on letters, journals, family archives and interviews with relatives to fashion an unusually candid family portrait. Her gallery of the du Pont clan reaches well beyond her immediate forebears, extending from French aristocrat/economist/political theorist Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) to Delaware gunpowder magnate Eleuthere Ir n e du Pont (d. 1834), to the author's pompous, irritable grandfather Henry Algernon du Pont, a Civil War hero. Her portrait of du Pont also includes his 1961-1962 collaboration with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to restore the White House's 1802 interior design, as well as his successful campaign to save New York's Cooper Union Museum. Lord successfully mingles tart wit, honest introspection and filial concern as she reaches the conclusion that the Winterthur ""represented for [her father] a surrogate son."" (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/08/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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