Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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The Renovation of the James Monroe Reception Room

By: The Office of Fine Arts and  |  May 23, 2022

The James Monroe State Reception Room is part of a suite of rooms designed by the architect Walter M. Macomber in 1983 to represent the Federal style that would have been familiar to James Monroe. Monroe, a Virginian, served his country all his life, first during the Revolutionary War under General George Washington’s command and then in Congress, as diplomat and minister to France and Great Britain, as Secretary of State during James Madison’s administration, and finally as President himself, from 1817 to 1825.

This State Room reflects Monroe’s contributions and his era. His portrait, painted from life by Thomas Sully, hangs above an early nineteenth-century fireplace mantel. The room sees heavy use by the Secretary of State for both formal and informal events, and by 2015, it had become worn and in need of repairs. That year, the Fund for the Endowment of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms began underwriting a project for its renovation. The room was freshly painted, and new lighting was installed to enhance the room’s unique architectural details.

The legendary French textile firm of Tassinari & Chatel was commissioned to produce historically appropriate fabrics for new draperies. Tassinari & Chatel, in business for more than two centuries, has an archive of several hundred thousand fabric documents, in a great multitude of styles, as well as the looms and Jacquard cards that can be used for historic reproductions. The firm has produced silks and trimmings for most of the great palaces of Europe, and for the White House.

For the Monroe Room, a blue and silver lampas silk was selected, to be woven in a design known as “Les Quatre Parties Du Monde” that represents the four continents — Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The design was first produced in Lyons in 1784 for the French Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Grand Cabinet at Rambouillet. In recent years the pattern has been rewoven for the French presidential residences — for the curtains in the Gallery of Mirrors at the Grand Trianon and for the King’s Cabinet at the Palace of Compiegne as well as for gilt wood furniture in the Elysees Palace.

The new draperies, now installed, with valances and tassels, enhance the beauty of the Monroe Room’s double windows with Palladian crescents that frame the recessed fireplace. Their reflective blue and silver threads resonate with all the blues in the Monroe Room—the blue faux marble baseboards, the cameo fireplace mantel, the upholstery of the chairs and settees, and the blue figured Persian rug. The effect lends a sense of serenity to the goodwill and diplomatic exchange for which the Monroe Room was intended.