Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Washington Social Diary

Rodney Nichols inspects a panorama of Delhi at Asia Society's opening reception for Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857.
by Stephanie Green

Last week I went to the Big Apple for the Asia Society's opening reception for the new exhibition: Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857.

In addition to catching up with New York friends, I roamed around the impressive space perusing the 18th and 19th century objects and paintings while William Dalrymple, the exhibition's eminent curator and well-known scholar, talked about the cultural and historical significance of Delhi and the pivotal players during this time of political upheaval in India.

I was especially struck by an exquisite Staffordshire tureen and an 1801 portrait of William Fraser, a teenage Scottish aristocrat who travelled to India never to return home. Some of his descendants, like Olivia Fraser, Dalrymple's wife, made the voyage from across the pond to join us for the opening reception.
Descendants of William Fraser (in this 1801 portrait) flank their ancestor.
Staffordshire tureen circa 1820, with panoramic view of the Red Fort in Delhi. Portrait of Kala, William Fraser's orderly in household uniform of Napoleonic inspiration.
Watercolor of Bahadur Shah II enthroned with Mirza Fakhruddin. This is one if the last imperial portraits in the Mughal tradition.
Watercolor of the Taj Mahal.
Sir John Thomson takes a closer look at Asia Society exhibition painting.
After gazing at this virtual passport to India, I headed downstairs to the wine and cheese reception where I spotted the randy author Salman Rushdie and my fellow Washingtonian, anthropologist Gail Percy, daughter of the late Sen. Charles Percy of Illinois, who boasts her own Indian connection: she's the eyes and ears for Indian designer Sonam Dubai.

She, like many of the other guests, kept the theme of the exhibition in mind with their sartorial choices.
Exhibition curator William Dalrymple with his wife Olivia Fraser.
The Rubin Museum's Cynthia Guyer with Gail Percy.
Indian and Asian inspired dress was all around. Salman Rushdie.
British diplomat Sir John Thomson with Asia Society president Dr. Vishakha Desai.
I was delighted to see so many Mandarin collars, saris, and Indian inspired jewelry and accessories in dazzling colors and styles.

I hope there is an "Across the World" column from yours truly reporting from Delhi in the near future.
Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Menezes stand in front of map of India.
"It is very glorious for a woman to gain an honorable place among the greatest masters. Yes, but it is very dangerous," said Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin, comtesse de Genlis, in 1784.

This prophetic quote graces the wall at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as part of the Museum's new exhibition Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and other French National Collections, which opened last night with a cocktail reception featuring the high-powered women from the Board of Trustees who know a thing or two about being a "master" in a man's world.

"Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, or I should say, in our case , sorority, " joked Susan Fisher Sterling, the executive director of the museum in her opening remarks before the well-heeled crowd comprised mostly of affluent women with a glass of white wine in one hand, and a Dior handbag in the other.
View from the 2nd floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Prelude to a Concert by Marguerite Gérard. Portrait of the Marquise de la Fayetteville by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.
Later in the evening I spotted Sterling in a tight huddle with one of Washington's few female ambassadors, Ritva Koukku-Ronde of Finland.

In fact the "girl power" theme seemed to prevail, but the equally ambitious husbands didn't seem to mind playing second fiddle.

"They're used to it," cracked Nancy Nelson Stevenson, the Works of Art Chair, as her husband followed her around while she glad-handed and posed for photographs throughout the evening.
Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde with National Museum of Women in the Arts Executive Director Susan Fisher Sterling.
Richard May with Hunton and Williams, arts patron Kathleen Springhorn, Joanne Stringer with Northern Trust, and Juliana May with Jones Lang Lasalle.
Museum and arts patron Nancy Stevenson with her husband.
French Cultural Attaché Roland Celette chats with guests.
Mark Potkewitz and Quin Woodward Pu.
Philanthropist Kathleen Springhorn, one of the first women to work on Wall Street, now divides her time between New York and Palm Beach homes and juggles a number of charitable causes like The Hermitage Museum Foundation.

She chatted up soon to be Museum board member, Joanne Stringer, a managing director with Northern Trust, which just opened a Washington office last October and is eagerly building a presence in the arts and philanthropy community here.

Winton Holladay's favorite painting, reminding her of a Louise Vigee Le Brun.
Northern Trust along with companies like Sofitel Hotels, AirFrance, and the Embassy of France are among the exhibition's largest sponsors.

The Embassy's cultural attaché Roland Celette was on hand to welcome the French paintings to Washington at the reception and gave welcoming remarks on behalf of the French Ambassador Francois Delattre.

Stringer explained that in addition to the networking opportunities provided by Northern Trust's involvement with the Museum, her company can also expose the rarely seen perspective of women artists by bringing this exhibit to Washington.

She is especially concerned about studies indicating the low representation of women artists at cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.

"I can count on one hand the number of women artists I studied," lamented Winton Holladay, an art history major and the daughter-in-law of Wilhelmina Holladay, the co-founder of the museum.

Holladay pointed out her favorite painting of the exhibit, a portrait of a young woman artist holding her palette staring at the viewer with a welcoming expression, adding that it reminded her of Louise Vigee Le Brun, a favorite of Marie Antoinette, and a pioneer woman painter.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with former Congresswoman Jane Harman at the opening of Cosi Fan Tutte at the Kennedy Center.
Women are like that, or Cosi Fan Tutte, the popular comedic opera by Mozart opened at the Kennedy Center Saturday night performed by the Washington National Opera.

Before the performance I saw the Kennedy Center's John Dow and Michael Solomon, and Jan Cousteau, the grande dame of ocean exploration whose children Philippe, Jr. and Alexandra are continuing the Cousteau legacy of conservation.

Wrapped in tres chic chinchilla former congresswoman Jane Harman of California was seated next to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Jan Cousteau with Tom and Gabrielle Gerth.
A girl's night out, perhaps?

I couldn't help but giggle when I overheard Harman introduce the Justice to a friend.
"You know Ruth, don't you?"

After the three-hour opera, which is a highly modernized take on the Mozart classic, I ran into Jane and Calvin Cafritz, who filled me in on the upcoming Opera Ball, perhaps one of the most glittering events on the social calendar.
Opera patrons Calvin and Jane Cafritz.
This year, the Ball will be hosted by the Embassy of United Arab Emirates for the first time.

Adrienne Arsht, a philanthropic dynamo, known for her prodigious contributions to artistic organizations nationwide, will be this year's Opera Ball chair.

Stay tuned.
Opera patron Don Brown with friends.
Photos by Stephanie Green.
Follow Stephanie on twitter at stephlgreen.