When Adam Lambert stepped inside the 1905 farmhouse in Prairieville, he was not prepared for what he would find. In the sprawling home was a collection the likes of which Lambert said he sees rarely, maybe just once in every hundred estates he visits as the proprietor of Crescent City Auction Gallery.
“Every room was filled with paintings, fine china, crystal and silver. There was even a dining table that seats 14 people,” Lambert said. “Pieces date from 1850 to about 1910 and were of the quality that buyers in that era could only have had shipped by train from New York or Cincinnati.”
Listed since 1993 on the National Register of Historic Places, the house Lambert visited was originally named Twin Oaks but is now known by another name: the Robert Penn Warren house.
“I can’t say with certainty that any of the lots in the auction were there in the house when the author lived there in 1941 and 1942,” Lambert said. “But it’s the association with his home that makes this auction something really special.”
The contents of the house will be auctioned off Friday through Sunday at Lambert’s St. Charles Avenue auction house. Also up for auction will be lots associated with early 20th-century New Orleans Mayor Paul Capdevielle, as well as a collection of art works deaccessioned by the Alexandria Museum of Art. In all, there will be more than 1,700 lots to bid on.
“What’s really astonishing about the 300 lots from the Robert Penn Warren house is not just the quality, but the rarity of some pieces, like the contents of the chapel that is on the site,” Lambert said. “One of my favorite pieces is a painting of the house itself in the 1970s by Robert Rucker, a well-known regional artist.”
Although Warren’s time in the house was brief, it came at a crucial point in his career as a writer.
Warren moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge in 1934, when he accepted a position as an assistant professor of English at LSU. The eight years that he lived in Louisiana were contemporaneous with the assassination of Sen. Huey P. Long, ending his domination of state politics, and the ensuing “Louisiana Scandals” that revealed pervasive corruption among Long’s henchmen and successors.
A Guggenheim Fellowship took Warren to Italy in 1939, though he remained on the LSU faculty; while there, he wrote the verse play “Proud Flesh,” a precursor of “All the King’s Men,” the novel based on Long’s career that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1946.
It was toward the end of his tenure at LSU that Warren purchased what was then known as Twin Oaks plantation. He made a down payment of $675 and took out a note for the balance, intending to live there indefinitely. But when LSU refused to match an offer made to Warren to teach at the University of Minnesota, he took it as a rejection and left Louisiana.
Lewis Simpson’s biography of Warren, “The Fable of a Southern Writer,” includes this comment that Warren made about his time at LSU and his experience as co-founder of a literary journal, The Southern Review: “We were to scatter. I, for good and sufficient reason, to leave my grove of live oaks, bayou and windmill in Prairieville, which I had looked forward to enjoying for keeps. I fled to Yankee Land.”
Paul Capdevielle never attained national prominence as Warren did, but he served as mayor of New Orleans during an especially dynamic period from 1900 to 1904. His term saw the introduction of a modern drainage and sewage system, a costly streetcar strike, the Robert Charles race riots in July 1900, the establishment of the Public Belt Railroad and the accelerated development of City Park.
So devoted to the park was Capdevielle that he served as president of the City Park Improvement Association for 20 years until his death in 1922.
“The lots in the auction associated with Mayor Capdevielle came to us from his descendants who live in Texas. They understood that there would be a bigger audience for them here than there would be there,” Lambert said.
A first-generation American, Capdevielle was born in New Orleans in 1842 and remained fiercely proud of his French heritage. He was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1902.
For information about the auction, preview dates and online bidding, go to crescentcityauction gallery.com.