In 1881, Arabella Worsham, then-mistress of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, hired George A. Schastey & Co. to decorate her townhouse at 4 West Fifty-Fourth Street in New York City. The resulting artistic interiors would have been considered the height of cosmopolitan style in the early 1880s and were emblematic of Worsham’s quest to fashion her identity as a wealthy, prominent woman of taste. When Worsham married Huntington in 1884, she sold the house, fully furnished, to John D. and Laura Spelman Rockefeller, who made few subsequent changes to the decorations. Following Mr. Rockefeller’s death in 1937, the house was demolished, yet some furnishings, large-scale architectural elements, and three interiors were preserved, and the rooms were donated to local museums by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
This pendant fixture hung over the vanity and wash basin in Worsham’s elaborately decorated dressing room, one of the preserved interiors now installed in The American Wing (Gallery 742). This fixture and the others that illuminated the space were part of a decorative program designed by Schastey that encompassed every aspect of the room, including the architectural woodwork, stenciled wall-treatment, painted ceiling and frieze, textiles, and other furnishings. Each fixture features unusual panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl floral motifs, echoing the room’s overall decor. When originally installed, they were lit by gas. The flickering glow of the gas flame through the opalescent glass shades subtly played on the room’s large mirrors, the highly polished wood surfaces, mother-of-pearl inlay, and the gold-and-silver-stenciled walls. The lighting fixtures were later electrified under the Rockefeller family’s ownership.