American arts benefactor and philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman passed away on April 20, 2019. An often private presence on the New York social scene, Jayne and her husband Charles Bierer Wrightsman helped develop the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s French Decorative Arts wing (Wrightsman Galleries) through extremely generous donations (Vanamee, 2019). They have been dubbed the museum’s “most important benefactors (Baetjer, 2019).
Another element of the former model’s persona that dazzled American society was her personal style and in particular, her jewelry collection. “What really struck me about her taste was how educated it was while not being overly academic,” said the head of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Auctions in New York Catharine Becket to Vanity Fair (Vanamee, 2019). Some examples of her jewelry collection can be seen in a 2012 Sotheby’s auction that garnered millions of dollars. Included were collections of pearls, diamonds, a 17th-century emerald rosary, and a mid-19th-century diamond bow brooch worn by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II (Vanamee, 2019; “Magnificent Jewels from the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman,” 2012). These jewels display Jayne’s taste for dazzling pieces in classic and referential shapes. “Everything was beautiful, but she had broad cultural interests,” says Becket (Vanamee, 2019).
Like the fine and decorative art that the Wrightsmans’ donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a portion of Jayne’s wardrobe has been given to the museum’s Costume Institute. Included is a collection of gowns, evening separates, and accessories that showcase her signature style. “Her clothes, which were incredibly well tailored, served as a blank canvas on which to hang jewels,” said Becket (Vanamee, 2019).
During Jayne’s early beginnings in the 1960s social scene, she wore fashionable gowns that blended classic shapes with ornate details. As she got older, her clothing continued to incorporate eye-catching detail, but with a streamlined silhouette.
A famous example of her personal style is seen in a 1966 Cecil Beaton photograph of Jayne at her Fifth Avenue home (Bowles, 2019). She is documented wearing a 1965 Balenciaga quarter-sleeved gown that is accessorized with feathers and a silk ribbon belt. The photograph has been so inspiring that it was the basis for a 2010 Steven Meisel photoshoot featuring model Amber Valletta (Wintour) and is featured in the Costume Institute’s exhibition, “Camp: Notes on Fashion” (Bowles, 2019).
Jayne’s signature style is also seen in a photograph of her wearing a white Middle Eastern-inspired Balenciaga coat while posing in front of a Georges de la Tour painting entitled “The Penitent Magdalen” (Vanamee, 2019). Both in this photograph and the Beaton piece, Jayne is wearing clothing that blends fashion trends with cultural influences. She would continue this theme in her wardrobe years later, with for example, a 2000 ensemble made with a colorful ikat print and simple green trousers. As with her taste in jewelry, she chose pieces that initiated conversation and thought.
To learn more about Jayne Wrightsman and her contribution to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit the Charles and Jayne Wrightsman and The Metropolitan Museum of Art page.
Baetjer, Katharine. “Jayne Wrightsman (1919–2019).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 23 April 2019, https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2019/jayne-wrightsman-in-memoriam.
Bowles, Hamish. “Hamish Bowles Remembers Jayne Wrightsman, Esteemed Arts Connoisseur and Legendary Hostess.” Vogue. 24 April 2019, https://www.vogue.com/article/jayne-wrightsman-tribute-hamish-bowles.
“Magnificent Jewels from the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman.” Sotheby’s. 05 December 2012, http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2012/magnificent-jewels-from-the-collection-of-mrs-charles-wrightsman-n08925.html.
Talley, Andre Leon. “Talking Fashion: Couture.” Vogue Oct 01 1989: 480. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2019 .
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Vanamee, Norman. “Jayne Wrightsman’s Jewelry Collection Was the Stuff of Legend.” Town & Country. 25 April 2019, https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/jewelry-and-watches/a27259640/jayne-wrightsman-jewelry-collection/.
Wintour, Anna. “Editor’s Letter: Letter from the Editor: All the Right Roles.” Vogue May 01 2010: 78,78, 84, 86. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2019 .