The Deering family, originally of South Paris, Maine, built what became one of the largest corporations in the United States, the International Harvester Company. William Deering and his sons, Charles and James, incorporated their original company in 1883 in Illinois but its reach was ultimately global in the industrialization of agriculture.
The Deering brothers became known for their gilded age lifestyle of world travel and opulent homes, but also for their philanthropic support of schools and hospitals, within the Chicago area, abroad, and in Miami where they made their winter homes. Charles’ children would continue that legacy with important gifts to The Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University.
Charles Deering in his lifetime directed extensive work on the genealogy of the Deering family, held in the archives of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. His wife Marion’s family is also extensively documented by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Deering Estate once housed one of the most extensive and valuable art and antique collections in South Florida. Several historic inventories document the content of the houses between 1916 and shortly after Charles Deering’s death in 1927. The vast collection included paintings by Goya, Murillo, El Greco, Zuluaga, Sorolla, Padilla, Tiepolo, Degas, Boldini, Winslow, Whistler, Gainsborough, Fortuny, Zorn, Sargent and Casas. Also included was one of the largest, most valuable collections of carpets and tapestries from Spain and the Orient in the United States at that time.
In 1924, Charles arranged for his two daughters, Marion Deering McCormick and Barbara Deering Danielson, to inherit his art collection. Upon his death in 1927, the bulk of this collection was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago over the course of several decades, a continuation of Charles Deering’s legacy of contributions to the museum in his lifetime.
Since the purchase of the Estate in 1985, the Deering Family through the Deering Estate Foundation has made a number of gifts of many valuable antiques and artworks. Of particular interest are 3 large-scale Moderniste Ramon Casas paintings, found within the Stone House, Marion Deering’s silver and glassware, and a pair of reproduction Pompeyan jardinieres fea- tured in the Richmond Cottage as well as a valuable book collection.
Deering Estate Re-Furnishing Plan:
Through a philanthropic partnership with the Deering Estate Foundation’s 100 Ladies, historical research is being conducted with staff from the Deering Estate, Vizcaya Museum, and Museums at Sitges to trace and re-acquire batches of Charles’ dispersed collection.
This ambitious and exciting long-term project has already helped expand the Estate’s collection of Spanish religious iconography, decorative ironwork, and artisan furnishings.
Within just two years (2014-2015), the Estate acquired over 350 historic objects, including a delicately hand-lettered proclamation presented to Charles Deering in 1919 for his philanthropy in the town of Sitges, a collection of 13 polychrome bultos figures from the 18th century depicting disciples of Jesus Christ, and an original Spanish walnut and cast-iron trestle table with scrollwork feet and matching end table.
Objects are regularly being accessioned and added to the homes, so each visit should reveal a new discovery for visitors. The annual February Features exhibition is an opportunity for the Exhibits and Collections staff to highlight and celebrate unique recent historic acquisitions in the houses.
Today, the Charles Deering Estate and James’ Villa Vizcaya stand as lasting testaments to the family’s mark in South Florida.