- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — Two centuries-old armchairs once owned by Thomas Jefferson are back in Monticello again, after stops in Paris and the White House.

The neoclassical, curved-back armchairs were two of about 44 that Jefferson bought while he was serving as the American ambassador to France.

The statesman and third U.S. president bought the chairs to furnish the town house he rented in the 1780s in Paris.

The chairs were among 86 crates of French furnishings that came back to Monticello with Jefferson, staying at the house until his death.

Jefferson died in debt, and most of his possessions, including the two chairs, were sold by his daughter in a public auction at Monticello in 1827.

In 1907, the chairs were discovered, in bad shape, in the loft of a stable at a Charlottesville-area mansion.

They were then bought by a Baltimore family that kept the chairs until they were purchased by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962.

She used the chairs first at the White House and then at her Fifth Avenue apartment in New York.

The chairs were sold by Sotheby’s at an auction of some of her things in 1996. They were purchased for Monticello by Patricia Kluge, the former wife of billionaire media mogul John Kluge.

Mrs. Kluge, who paid $134,500 for the chairs, agreed to keep them for 10 years.

There was another caveat in the agreement between her and Monticello: Nobody could sit in them.

“It’s one of the issues of preservation,” said Susan Stein, the curator of Monticello.

Mrs. Kluge gave the chairs to Monticello a few weeks ago. They are in storage, awaiting reupholstering, and then they probably will be placed in Monticello’s parlor.

The chairs were restored in the late 1990s by an expert at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

While the chairs were well-made, they were not the best that money could buy. They were made of beech and were once tinted with rose-colored varnish to imitate mahogany.

“I don’t think he bought the most expensive furniture available,” Miss Stein said of Jefferson. “But he wanted to represent himself in a dignified way.”

About 60 percent to 65 percent of the furnishings and objects at Monticello were originally Jefferson’s, and curators are intent on increasing that percentage.

“We’re constantly looking and following up on every tip and lead, no matter how crazy it seems,” said Elizabeth Chew, the associate curator at Monticello. “It’s always exciting to bring something that belonged to Jefferson back to Monticello.”

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