LENOX — The Mount has obtained a fascinating assortment of personal items collected by the late French scholar and Edith Wharton biographer Claudine Lesage, now on display at the Lenox home designed and built by Wharton in 1902.
After Lesage’s death in 2013, her husband, Jean Claude Lesage, began sending items gathered during their many years of research, including postcards, photos, vintage guidebooks, and other ephemera relating to Wharton’s life in France. Some of these items are clothes believed to have belonged to Wharton: a beautiful silk dress, an embroidered jacket, and several beaded purses. Personal items of Wharton’s are very rare, and we are excited to share them with our visitors. These textiles, china, silver, and a velvet-lined jewelry box are some of the items on display, personalizing Wharton’s years in France.
A highlight of Wharton’s life in France were the gardens she created; the normally very private Wharton even invited the general public to view them. The exhibit displays photos of her gardens and details her relationships with other famous gardeners, and her own staff, without whom neither her gardens nor her writings would have been possible.
Multiple elements are used throughout the exhibit to create an immersive experience, including an enlarged vintage image of the Mediterranean city of Hyères (site of Ste.-Claire, one of Wharton’s homes) that fills an entire wall; a flat-screen slideshow of old postcards; and interactive displays of books and other ephemera. Additionally, the exhibit features a short film of Jean-Claude Lesage discussing his late wife’s work and showing scenes of present-day Hyères.
Claudine Lesage, who wrote several books in French on Wharton, died before she could publish her last manuscript: a work on Wharton’s life in France intended for an American audience. The Mount’s executive director, Susan Wissler, edited and published that work (Edith Wharton in France) in 2018.
“We are grateful for our long-standing partnership with Claudine and Jean-Claude, which has allowed us to further contextualize Edith Wharton’s life after The Mount,” said Wissler. “We are delighted to now share this knowledge more widely through a compelling new exhibit.”
The Mount is open seven days a week, from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets are available on its website: edithwharton.org.
This exhibit is made possible by the Mitchell and Elaine Yanow Charitable Trust and by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.