It is summer in Washington. You know what that means. Heat reverberates off the street, the air feels like water, and the slightest bit of exertion brings huge drops of sweat. All of the obvious museums lining the Mall are packed. There is neither air nor space to be had in the Smithsonian buildings, swamped as they are with tourists. And as patriotic as you may be, you have been to the National Archives; the documents it houses, although metaphorically alive, have not changed since your last visit. What should you do?
Introducing our summer at the museums series, a weekly guide to museums you might not have discovered. The Exhibitionist’s first stop: the Hillwood Estate in Northwest Washington.
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
Marjorie Merriweather Post was not your typical heiress. She was a formidable businesswoman who worked on the General Foods board of directors for 20 years. She was also an avid collector of French and Russian art and a lifelong philanthropist whose last gift to the public was her home. Hillwood, which Post bought in 1955, was always intended to be a museum as well as a mansion. The estate houses more than 16,000 pieces of art.
From Russia, with love In the Icon Room, about 400 precious objects are on display. Smack in the center are two of Post’s 80 Faberge eggs. These imperial Easter eggs were gifts from Nicholas II to his mother; Post received the Catherine the Great egg from her own daughter.
Scavenger hunt Post went to the Soviet Union in 1937. For 18 months, she rummaged through Russian shops, salvaging items of the imperial family’s that had been confiscated during the revolution and might otherwise have been lost forever.
The secret garden The grounds surrounding Hillwood are magnificent, but what’s really remarkable is how they flow into one another. As you step through ivy-covered archways and follow winding paths in the woods, you feel as though you are discovering something hidden from the world, a place no one knows about but you. Visit the Japanese-style garden for a private nook surrounded by flowers and small waterfalls.
On your lunch break During the week, the cafe provides express dining and an impressive sit-down lunch. Afternoon tea is served on Sundays. Free picnic blankets are available for those who want to enjoy the grounds while having a bite. Order the borscht to get the complete Russian-influenced experience.
4155 Linnean Ave. NW. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and select evenings and Sundays. Free with suggested donations. Call 202.686.5807 or visit www.hillwoodmuseum.org.