Society / Featured Parties

A Royal Arrival and an Unexpected British Palace Makes This MFAH Grand Gala an Extra Stunning Affair: Inside Houston’s $2 Million Night

BY // 10.09.18
photography Wilson Parish, Jacob Power

In a first for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Gala ball, the chair, the museum director and a patron arrived via an open, horse-drawn carriage. It was a short trot from chairwoman Franci Neely‘s South Boulevard home to the museum where she along with Gary Tinterow and Phoebe Tudor were welcomed by the sound of herald trumpets.

The regal arrival was prelude to “The Courtly Ball” that paid homage to the current Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits from Holbein to Warhol exhibition.

Trumpet sounds also followed guests along the red carpet that ultimately led to Cullinan Hall, which had been marvelously transformed into a veddy British palace. Walls were draped floor to ceiling in aristocratic red and royal blue, dozens of crystal chandeliers sparkled overhead and banks of roses added a blush of fragrance to the scene — all combining to create a royal ambience. The decor, by The Events Company and Richard Flowers, included dinner tables dressed in royal blue cloths and accented with gold-rimmed glassware.

Adding a kinetic energy to the mise en scène were framed projections along the walls of royal portraiture from the exhibition. One minute, guests would be admiring the portly visage of Hans Holbein, another brought the handsome portrait of Princes William and Harry into view while yet another featured a young Queen Elizabeth and that was just the tip of royals looking down on the proceedings. And films of British royal weddings streamed on a screen above the entry.

While all were captivated by the rotating portraits, several guests remarked on the turnout, some 270, compared to years past when as many as 600 packed the museum. As times have changed, the guest number has diminished while proceeds have climbed. On this night, the $2 million goal was easily met.

As the black-tie entourage made its way to the dinner tables, Richard Brown conducted a string ensemble that performed classical tunes throughout the meal. City Kitchen gave a nod to the British theme as well, serving twice baked stilton souffle, an entree of pan-roasted breast of pheasant with a Madeira crispy rissole of pheasant leg, and a spectacular British trifle for dessert.

The evening concluded with the dance floor rocking to the sounds of the Jordan Khan Orchestra. At this point, the tiaras and trains favored by many presented a dance floor challenge, keeping the tiaras in place and attempting dance moves with a yard or two of fabric trailing behind. None handled it better than the gala chair. Neely dressed in a billowing Oscar de la Renta couture gown with a voluminous train glided with grace across the dance floor.

Blue bloods: Nancy and Rich Kinder, Cornelia and Meredith Long, Lynn Wyatt, Shahla and Hushang Ansary, Andrea and Bill White, Susan and Fayez Sarofim, Jeanie Kilroy Wilson and Wally Wilson, Mona and Andrew Sarofim, Diane Lokey Farb, Laurie and Reed Morian, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Sarah and Bill Morgan, Bobbie Nau, Anne and Charles Duncan, Anne and Albert Chao, and Cherie Flores with her daughters, Alanna and Meredith.

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