Rebecca Tilles
(MA 2007) is associate curator of eighteenth-century French & Western European fine and decorative arts at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in Washington, D.C., where her exhibition, Perfume & Seduction, will be on view from February 16 through June 9, 2019. Previously, she worked as a curatorial research fellow in decorative arts and sculpture in the Art of Europe Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she assisted with the exhibitions Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815 (2007) and Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection (2009), in addition to the installation of ten new European decorative arts galleries between 2010-2014. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, UK, and recently submitted her dissertation entitled “George and Florence Blumenthal: A Collecting Partnership in the Gilded Age, 1858-1941,” which she plans to defend this year. Rebecca recently answered a few questions about her studies at Bard Graduate Center and her career.

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?
When I decided to pursue a graduate degree in the decorative arts, I knew I wanted to be in a major metropolitan city, like New York, that offered access to museums, galleries, and cultural institutions. I was attracted to Bard’s resources, diverse array of courses, and the option to continue on with a PhD, the only program in the country to offer such an option. I believed that the program’s comprehensive education left the door open for a variety of different professional specialties, whether in a museum, academic, or commercial field. I also liked that the BGC Gallery and impressive exhibition program offered the possibility for additional professional museum experience during the program.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it? Can you describe highlights?
I have always had a passion for eighteenth-century European decorative arts, primarily French furniture and ceramics, therefore I pursued many object-based courses in that genre with Jeffrey Collins and Andrew Morrall, while broadening my knowledge of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through courses on the history of museums with Deborah Krohn and Stefanie Walker and the on the history of world’s fairs with Amy Ogata. My thesis focused on Queen Marie Antoinette’s wedding cabinet, which allowed me to pursue original research in the National Archives in Paris. I have two highlights from my time at Bard—first, my internship at the musée d’Orsay, during the summer of 2005, where I assisted with the exhibition Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant Garde (2006); second, our class trip to Sweden and Finland, which opened my eyes to Scandinavian architecture and design, an everlasting passion to this day.

Describe your position at Hillwood Estate and how you came to it. What sort of projects are you working on?
At Hillwood, I am responsible for eighteenth-century French decorative arts and paintings, as well as all eighteenth-centutry Western European objects, including English furniture and ceramics. It is a large portfolio, but immensely diverse and satisfying as it allows me to get to know many different areas of the collection and research objects that have been somewhat overlooked in the past. Hillwood’s founder, Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), was a tremendous collector who enjoyed a passion for many different types of objects and materials. It has been incredibly rewarding to apply my interest in and knowledge of collecting history in the context of Post’s network of dealers, designers, and residences. I also work on provenance research for the collection and serve as a member of the publication and fellowship committees.

I am currently about to open the exhibition Perfume & Seduction, which features approximately 150 objects related to the history of perfume bottles and accessories from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. In addition to objects from Hillwood’s collection, the exhibition will also showcase a selection of eighteenth-century objects from the private collection of Givaudan, the Swiss manufacturer of fragrances, flavors, and cosmetic ingredients, presented for the first time in the United States. I am also organizing an exhibition entitled Travel Luxe (2021) that will focus on Post’s private train car, yacht, and plane that she used to travel to her homes in the Adirondacks and Palm Beach, as well as for overseas tours. In addition, I am co-authoring a small publication on the Russian ceramicist, Vladimir Kanevsky, and the exquisite porcelain flowers that will be commissioned especially for Hillwood and displayed from September 2019 through April 2020. In conjunction with exhibition work, my responsibilities include preparing lectures on the permanent collection and pursuing new acquisitions. I was especially fortunate to have been part of an important paintings acquisition as soon as I arrived at Hillwood. The museum acquired a painting (formerly in Post’s collection) at auction in Paris last year and brought it back home where it is now on permanent display. These are the moments that make this career especially rewarding!

How has your experience at Bard Graduate Center helped you in your career?
I strongly believe that BGC helped me achieve where I am in my career today. While I entered the master’s program with a prior foundation in French decorative arts from my undergraduate work, and previous museum and auction house experience in both America and in France, it provided the necessary foundation for strong academic and research and writing skills, as well as current theory and literature on decorative arts and design. BGC is an internationally recognized program with a strong network of alumni and board of trustees, which has been an advantageous asset when working on international projects or traveling abroad.