As a destination, Rough Point, where Doris Duke spent her summers from childhood through adulthood, is among the choicest properties in Newport. The estate is the jewel in the crown of Newport Gallery Night, with thematic outdoor events planned to relate to the late heiress’ interests.
Visiting Rough Point, one has the treat of seeing layers of connoisseurship, including Duke’s father’s collections, which include beautifully maintained, exquisite European tapestries and portrait paintings of Italian Renaissance, Flemish and English Masters. She later added to her father’s portrait collection with purchases she made at auction, notably a double portrait by Anthony van Dyck, two paintings by Joshua Reynolds and a portrait by Renoir.
Artscope’s Suzanne Volmer cornered Bruce MacLeish, director of collections at the Newport Restoration Foundation, who oversees the collections at Rough Point, to talk about Duke’s multi-cultural collecting, Rough Point’s permanent collections and the special exhibit called “Passport to the World: Doris Duke the International Traveler.”
At what time in her life did Doris Duke begin to collect art?
BML:: Certainly by the time she was on (her) honeymoon (traveling around the world) with James Cromwell in 1935. In 1938, both of them made a trip to Persia (now Iran) for the purpose of buying. She was totally smitten with the art and architecture of India and while there they commissioned the architectural elements that became the basis of her bedroom wing at Shangri La (her residence in Hawaii devoted to Islamic art). When they got to Hawaii she just fell in love with the place. I think that’s why she decided to build a house there. Meanwhile, in her mind was the backdrop of all the Islamic art she’d seen — artworks from North Africa all the way to Asia.
“Passport to the World: Doris Duke the International Traveler” is this year’s special exhibition. Doris enjoyed freedoms that led her to think globally and collect multi-culturally. She was likely the first modern woman of independent means to own in 1987 a Boeing 737-300 aircraft; she arrived at Rough Point by seaplane and later by helicopter. Of all the many places on her itinerary where did she most enjoy to travel?
It’s difficult to say for certain. She became very familiar from a young age with England and France, but I think later in her life she traveled to Persia, as it was then called, India and Thailand. She liked India a great deal.