Betsy Patterson and Jerome Bonaparte

"Sheep" by Matilda Lotz circa 1880

Lotz House Images - Front Parlor - photo by Joanna Stephens
Lotz House Front Parlor
photo: Joanna Stephens
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Lotz House Images - John James Audobon Stuffed Birds

John James Audobon Stuffed Birds
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Lotz House Images - Old Paris Porcelain Collection
Old Paris Porcelain Collection
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Old Paris Veilleuses


“This collection of antiques is by far the finest private collection of American Victorian Furniture in the Southeast.” - Wendell Garrett, editor at large at The Magazine Antiques The Lotz House features numerous examples of fine art. Here are a few highlights of key pieces:

Painting of Betsy Patterson and Jerome Bonaparte

This romantic painting of Jerome Bonaparte (the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Betsy Patterson (the belle of Baltimore) resides within a pierced baroque original gold leaf frame. It is an oil painting on a wooden board. Jerome and Betsy married in Baltimore and traveled in a carriage on their honeymoon to the “great falls” and since their extended visit there, Niagara Falls, New York has been known as “The Romantic Honeymoon Capital.” This pair, though deeply in love with one another, had a tragically difficult life as Napoleon refused to recognize their marriage, demanded the return of Jerome to France, and gave orders that should Betsy step onto French soil she was to be shot immediately. They did have one son and Betsy spent a sad life traveling to distant capitals desperately trying to obtain legal rights and recognition of her marriage. This painting was discovered and purchased by the Thompson family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s.

Matilda Lotz Original Oil Painting of Three Sheep

It was in the autumn of 1870 that the Lotz family arrived in San Jose, California where they settled. There Matilda received her first true art lessons from her older brother Paul and other artists employed locally by Wrights Photography Gallery. In 1874, she began a six-year course of study under Virgil Williams at the school of design in San Francisco.

While attending that school she won several gold medals and graduated with highest honors. Matilda was also a pupil of William Keith and was able in the 1880’s to further her art study in Paris, France under Felix Barrias and the famous animal painter Van Marcke. While in Paris she received an honorable mention for her work exhibited at the Paris Salon and was awarded two gold medals by the Paris Academy of Painting (the first woman ever to be honored by the Academy).

She traveled extensively in Europe and Egypt, as a single un-chaperoned woman, something which for the times a woman simply did not do. Despite her work load, she was frequently commissioned to paint portraits of royal families throughout Europe. Matilda found time to return to visit her family in California. While at home she was commissioned to paint the portrait of George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst.

Matilda’s painting of George Hearst hangs today in The Hearst Castle. Matilda was also retained to paint the portrait of former California Governor Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University. That portrait remains on display at Stanford University.

After leading a unique and noteworthy artistic life, she died in Tata, Hungary on Feb. 21, 1923. On view at the Lotz House is an early California oil painting done on board. It depicts a trio of sheep under a blue sky while enjoying green grass. It was painted and signed by Matilda Lotz in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s when she returned to California.

Today, Matilda Lotz is recognized as one of California’s premiere early female artists and her work is highly prized and sought after.

Decorative and Fine Arts

While on the guided tour of the Lotz House, you will learn about the history of many of the antiques and furnishings. You’ll see some of the most exquisite examples of John Henry Belter and Prudent Mallard furniture from the 1820’s – 1860’s. An extraordinary collection of Old Paris Porcelain pieces include an historic peach and cream colored formal set of dishes from which three United States presidents used at The Bedford Springs Hotel in Bedford, Pennsylvania. While you may be familiar with Audubon paintings and prints, you may not be aware that John James Audubon actually painted from birds he captured and mounted to examine them in their more natural form. You will see Audubon’s stuffed birds placed under their original glass dome. The Lotz House is currently not aware of any other surviving examples of his incredible taxidermy work.

John Henry Belter

While traveling through the Lotz House, the visitor will view numerous outstanding examples of John Henry Belter furniture. Like Mr. Lotz, Mr. Belter was a German immigrant who came to American soil. He settled in New York City and eventually opened a small and struggling factory. Authorities in mid-nineteenth century furniture believe that Belter furniture is the ultimate in construction, scale, beauty and function. So much so, that many lesser artists in wood copied this ultimate cabinetmaker and to this time, one hundred and fifty years later, a collector must be careful when considering a purchase as many pieces of antique furniture today are “attributed to Belter.” John Henry Belter perfected the ancient process of laminating layer upon layer of wood. The wooden laying would allow one layer of wood to be placed upon the next with the grain of the wood in opposite directions. Interspersed between the wooden layers, he would place silk fabric. Some of the antique furniture is said to have as many as thirty-six layers of wood and silk, and some as few as six. Following the process of layering, gluing and drying, the sheets of wood were carefully steamed and quickly formed into rounded barrel shapes, thus giving Belter chairs the marvelous circular curving form. Only then would the master cabinetmaker artfully carve the “lace in wood” that magnificently and abundantly is displayed to guests at the Lotz House.

John James Audubon

On display are John James Audubon’s stuffed birds placed under their original glass dome. Until John James Audubon’s paintings of The Birds of America, artists throughout civilization had painted birds stiff and in unnatural form. Audubon struggled for many years as he was determined to paint the beautiful birds in their natural habitat. He, with his avid curiosity, had tied silver threads to the legs of young Phoebes at his farm in Pennsylvania, and confirmed their return the following spring, thus the first bird banding in the United States. Later, determined to paint the birds naturally, he used the same fragile silver threads in an attempt to arrange the dead birds as he had witnessed them in life. When these failed to allow him the proper positioning, he mastered the art of taxidermy through self-study. We take for granted today the birds being painted in their natural setting, but in Audubon’s time it was scandalous and revolutionary in the art world. He was ridiculed at and mocked and called neither a naturalist nor an artist. Only he and his wife, Lucy, believed that “my genius should prevail.” Very few of the mounted birds were gathered and placed under glass for safekeeping by his beloved Lucy. One major reason that more were not saved was the fact that it was expensive to try to preserve the birds and the Audubon family struggled financially their entire lives. Later, when Audubon was in Britain in his mighty struggle to find an engraver and publisher for his art, Audubon was so strapped for funds and so worried about Lucy back in Louisiana, he would economize by writing her letters vertically and then turn the paper and continue to write horizontally. During their lifetime Lucy Bakewell Audubon would write “I have a rival in every bird!” …a fair assessment of her life with the wandering naturalist and artist. Even twelve years after Audubon’s death, when short of funds, she sold the more than 400 bird originals to the New York Historical Society for $4,000. She resumed teaching at the age of 70 and died at 86. She was the lone survivor of the John James Audubon family having buried her two daughters, two sons and her beloved husband. This rare specimen of Audubon birds placed under the glass dome was discovered in Natchez, Mississippi and purchased by the Thompson family in the 1960’s from Mrs. L. A. White at her home named the Wigwam.

Old Paris Porcelain Collection

As you tour the Lotz House, every room will display an exceptional amount of unique pieces of Old Paris Porcelain designed for a wide variety of use. The vases are paramount. These are viewed today as elaborate pieces of art, yet when they were fashioned in the early 1800’s, they were made to be used. Within the context of plantation life, small boys between seven and twelve years of age had the job of keeping enough wood for the cooking fires year round and the warming fires in the winter. Their counter workers of young girls the same age had the job of seeding and weeding the “picking garden” and later keeping the Old Paris vases banked with fresh blossoms. It had to be a daunting task to daily freshen the water and flowers, especially when dealing with the extremely large vases.

Bedford Springs Hotel Formal Dining Dishes

The Lotz House dining room table is set with an historic set of Old Paris Porcelain Dishes. The formal set was at one time the property of John Cessna. Cessna was the youngest Speaker of House ever elected in Congress. He was 31 years old at the time. Originally a Democrat from Pennsylvania, he switched parties because of the Civil War, becoming a Republican in 1863. Cessna purchased the dishes from the Historic Bedford Springs Hotel in Bedford, Pennsylvania. In the early and mid 1800’s, the Hotel was known as the Summer White House, as so many U.S. Presidents routinely frequented the resort. President James Buchanan spent 40 summers at the resort. The U.S. Presidents that used this set of dishes were William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Buchanan.

Old Paris Veilleuses

The Old Paris Veilleuses were carefully placed on bedside stands. These were designed with small cups to contain burning oil or candles to be lit at bedtime. These small flames were placed within porcelain chimneys which were topped with a small water pot boasting a tight lid. Their duel and clever function provided a night light during the darkness. Then upon awakening, there was sufficient hot water for a cup of refreshing beverage.