November 6, 2013

Oxford ‘stoned’.

Spent all my time with a crammer
And then only managed a gamma,
But the girl over there,
With the flaming red hair,
Got an alpha plus easily – damn her!
– Anon, c. 1900

I love walking Oxford admiring the architecture, pretty details of the houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and the gardens.

                         Hand-carved limestone plaque, circa 1850.

Although famous for its lime-stone-built colleges and churches, Oxford in the 19th century became a city of brick. Vast brick-built houses – some Gothic, some "Queen Anne" – fill the grander streets of North Oxford. Smaller brick terraces line the streets off the roads in East Oxford. And out beyond the station is a further group of small streets near the river in the area known as Osney. Some of these are built of brick in more than one color, and here the builder has addressed the issue of what to do with the blank wall at the end of a terrace in a refreshing way.

Osney house 'embroidered' in brick.

Osney old power station

North Oxford inspires in me special affection, call it 'Betjeman Nostalgia', that generation of great Anglo-Catholics and academics which is rapidly slipping away. Some modern souls condemn North Oxford as hideous and Gothic.  

Popular belief has it that the suburb was built for the dons, who acquired in 1877 the right to marry, and live outside their colleges.

There is an atmosphere of calm in the centuries-old church of St Mary's Bloxham.  Outside are heavily weathered gravestones marking the passing of generations.

Ripon College at Oxford. The College is outside the City at Cuddesdon with wonderful views over rolling Oxfordshire countryside. The Bishop Edward King Chapel was designed by Niall McLaughlin and is next to a huge copper beech which is about three hundred years old. From the outside it looks a little like a drum or an upturned boat. Inside it is beautifully light with the sunlight creating wonderful effects on the stone and furniture made from ash.


September 16, 2013

Sans Souci

Coleridge had to rely on an opium dream for a glimpse of Xanadu, the "stately pleasure-dome" of Kubla Khan. But the Xanadu of the Western world, Sans Souci, is a well preserved reality. More alluring even than Versailles, it exists just half an hour from the center of Berlin-about as far a ride as Versailles is from Paris-in the city of Potsdam.

Sans Souci was the brainchild of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great-the philosopher-king, the warrior-king, and probably the most versatile ruler in history. He gave the name Sans Souci, “without care,” to the residence begun in 1745 by his architect, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, a master of rococo. The name eventually came to describe a full square mile of parks, palaces, and stunning curiosities created by Frederick II and augmented in the mid-nineteenth century by another aesthetic Hohenzollern, King Frederick William IV.

During much of the last century, the world wars and the Cold War had kept Potsdam off the tour Americans usually made of the Continent, and although the East German government boasted two million visitors a year, you could still score points at a sophisticated dinner in Paris or London by saying you've been to Sans Souci. "Anything on Sans Souci?" two Parisian librarians were once asked. Both thought Sans Souci was an author. "Son prenom, monsieur?"

Like Louis XIV, who preferred to live at Versailles, Frederick II chose Potsdam over the capital as his residence. The similarity, though, ends there. The Palais de Versailles is a monument to the power of the Bourbon Sun King, who shrewdly built a huge seat to consolidate his reign. He saw to it that any ambitious French noble would have to dwell in his entourage and await his favors. Sans Souci is first of all a tribute to the sensibility of a monarch who loved the arts, wrote essays on philosophy, and exchanged puns with his friend Voltaire when he wasn't leading Europe's most efficient army. If Versailles was like a big hotel swarming with nobles, Sans Souci was a retreat for Frederick, who would come with ten or so world class minds. Here, the luminaries of the Enlightenment supped at the Round Table at midnight, discussed the universe, and listened to flute music that the king himself had composed.

Frederick II was the only Hohenzollern to have been called "the Great," but no one could have predicted such glory considering just his early years. Reared by a French governess and a French tutor, he disliked speaking his native German and loathed the prospect of assuming the throne. He quarreled with his crude, militarist father, and in 1730, at the age of eighteen, he actually ran away from home with an army lieutenant. Caught trying to escape Prussia, Frederick was imprisoned and forced to witness the beheading of his companion. The experience was sobering. Frederick knuckled down; he assumed responsibilities and began studying warfare and statecraft along with art and philosophy. In the years to come he would build an army more than twice as large as his father's and lead it brilliantly to battle with the Austrians, the French, and the Russians.

In 1733 Frederick married Elizabeth Christine, daughter of the duke of Brunswick-Bevern, but she didn't play an important role in his life, nor it appears did any other woman. In 1740 he inherited the throne of Prussia. Within a few months he invaded Austria. Five years later, having gained Silesia, he made peace with the Austrian empress, Maria Theresa. For the next decade, Frederick devoted himself to the exquisite life at Sans Souci.

The focal point of Sans Souci is the rotunda, where the Round Table met to discuss the dizzily changing times over fine food and wine. From 1750 to 1753 Voltaire was present at every meal since he was a permanent guest in the palace. Among the other guests were Italian writer Francesco Algarotti and French astronomer Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis.

In his memoirs Voltaire recalls the bachelor suppers in the rotunda, where the backdrop was an erotic painting of nymphs, satyrs, and cupids: "If anyone had suddenly come in, seen this picture, and heard us, he would have believed that the Seven Wise Men of Greece were convening in a brothel. Nowhere in the world were the superstitions of mankind so freely discussed, and nowhere with such ridicule and disdain. God was made an exception, but of all the illusions mankind created in His name, none was spared."

Frederick kept his builders busy at Sans Souci. For the pleasure of his eye as he looked out the windows of the rotunda, the king had false ruins of antiquity constructed on a hill. He built Neptune's Grotto, a decorative pavilion, and because China was believed to be an earthly paradise, he built two pagoda-type buildings, the extravagant Chinese Tea house and the Dragon House.

He built an orangery with lavishly paneled guest rooms. 

For For his art collection, he created the first palatial building devoted entirely to paintings.

The days of the Round Table were short-lived. The king became absorbed in the most trying experience of his life: the Seven Years' War. Frederick suffered numerous defeats, while the Russians, French, and Austrians ravaged his territories of Prussia, Brandenburg, and Silesia. The death of Czarina Elizabeth of Russia in 1762, however, was providential for the King of Prussia. Her successor, Peter III, an admirer of Frederick and a weak ruler, sued for peace, and even placed 18,000 Russian soldiers at Frederick's disposal. The Austrians and French felt bound to make peace as well. Although Prussia had been badly bled of resources, Frederick celebrated his good fortune by erecting the last great monument at Sans Souci, its first symbol of power: the New Palace. 

August 10, 2013

Remote Possibilities

The island of Pantelleria is within winking distance of Arabian Africa and was, before it was discovered by tourism, magical.

We are held for a few hours on our way to the island because of inclement weather.  What else is new in 2013?  Suddenly the sky turns blue, the light gold, and we are on our way. 

“Is it like Sicily?”

“Of course!”

Wonderful and deserted, abandoned and beautiful, navel of the canal of Sicily, Pantelleria shows the signs of its troubled birth through the black lava flows that descend to the sea, covered by the waves of the Mediterranean. The centrality of its position, 36 miles from North Africa and 65 from the Sicilian coast, has greatly influenced the complexities and radical changes of Pantelleria’s long history since it was first settled in late prehistoric times. The character and the spirit of the various peoples and cultures dominating the island throughout the centuries have been absorbed and have become the socio-cultural web that is Pantescan culture.

I have sat in front of the computer and pored over web pages imagining this island.  The name has a miniaturist allure, a dream that is exotic but manageable and entirely gratifying, a fantastic charm on the bracelet of life, and it is these that draw me most.   Often there is a misfit element to these places, crumbling colonial backwaters whose day has passed.  If they convey the feeling that the clock has stopped a hundred years ago I can get very excited.  Often it is the name, the very configuration of letters that suggests the ideal, forgotten stopping place.  Often they are in warm climates and on the coast, or islands with quaint capitals.

Pantelleria is one of those names, one of those places…
“But from the ’60s to now, small and large changes in culture, economy and technology have slowly transformed this incredible landscape of Pantelleria. The arrival and use of the car opened and consolidated old paths in a thousand ways; electricity arrived in every village, leaving behind the required power lines; and the ferry arrived, with new artifacts and materials. All had the result of changing the architectural landscape.

There are two elements that have caused a transformation more than anything else: first, the progressive neglect of agriculture, which reduced crops that protected the terraces the effect is the covering of the stonewalls, which without any maintenance, will slowly collapse. Second, the arrival of water from the desalinator, allowed the planting, especially near the dammusi, of ornamental gardens. Although they create a pleasant environment to live in, they hide the buildings, pointing out their presence only by the large plants that surround them. With these phenomena, even if they are small, the landscape changes slowly.What remains, however, of the rural world, which has permeated every stone in this land, is not just a physical presence in the shadow of our new gardens, but especially our unpretentious way of living on the island. To preserve it and pass it on is our duty, in the name of beauty.

Gabriella Giuntoli, Architect and Urban Planner, Pantelleria, Italy

July 15, 2013

Salubrious Solitudes.

One of London’s most exclusive address is a haven for incurable oddities. “Go down Piccadilly and turn right before the Royal Academy. You can’t miss it.  Ask the porters for… .  Oh, and please, please, bring a decent bottle of wine”.  I’m on my way to meet a client.

‘Lucky you’ was the standard response of those whom I told of my assignment. And anyone who knows this handsome chunk of real estate — said to be the oldest apartment block in London — will understand just how lucky. It is not only the W1 postcode, nor the fact that Fortnum & Mason is your local grocer. It is more to do with the feeling, summed up by one long-term resident, that "to live here is to live in history".

OK, you may tense on hearing the Fortnum’s clock distantly chiming an ersatz version of The Eton Boating Song, but apart from that, you are firmly back in the 19th century. Those who wish to genuinely plunge into this rarefied world — and the place really has changed little over the past 200 years — will need plump wallets and a good deal of patience.

All the apartments (sets) are on leases.  In 1804 it was decided by the trustees that "in order to exclude improper inhabitants" there was to be no "Profession, Trade or Business". It’s a little easier to get in now. Some old-timers say the place has lost a lot of its dotty English character; that due to the escalating rents, it is becoming the preserve of bankers. However, from the cast of characters I witnessed it’s the haunt of bachelors, or of married men who try to lead bachelors’ lives — the dread of suspicious wives, the retreat of superannuated fops, the hospital for incurable oddities, a cluster of solitudes for social hermits.

I fear some of the more monastic and strait-laced types will not thank me for saying this, but a rakish aura still hangs over it like the smell of cordite around a cannon (Lord Byron famously smuggled in his lover Lady Caroline Lamb in dressed as a page boy to beat the no-women rule).

Take Alan Clark, the late Tory MP and diarist. The porters loved "Clarky" and still talk about the old boy fondly. It was in B5, a set he described as "the straitened quarters of an Edwardian bachelor on his uppers", that he seduced two girls young enough to be his daughters, having performed an identical service for their mother in an earlier era. You may recall this tryst resulted in her husband, Judge Harkess, roaming around London looking for Clark with a horsewhip.  On another occasion, after flooding a fellow tenant’s cellar, Clark asked contritely if there was anything he could do. "Yes," came the splenetic reply, "go and lie down in Piccadilly and wait for a double-decker bus."

Incurable oddities; “The Place” is made for them.

July 5, 2013

Like Freckles or a high IQ…

…you either have it or you don’t.

If you analyze it, it makes no sense. If you imitate it, it does not look quite right.  If you disguise or undermine it, it just keeps bobbing back.  Style – that uncanny ability to make something out of nothing or everything - is as stubborn and unavoidable as the people who have it.

Style is as simple as the shape of a lapel or as complicated as the length of a glove in relation to the width of a sleeve and the size of a hand.  It can also be as unexplainable as the gleam of a certain wall color in candlelight.  Style is the swing of a hem; the perkiness of a fresh flower pinned to a belt; or a pair of shoes so well cut and kept that one cannot tell who designed them or when.  Style is maddeningly obtrusive, snobbishly minimal, ruthlessly luxurious, or touchingly plain.  There are no rules.  If you got it, you have got it-only death or a definitive move, say to a nudist camp, can cause you to lose it.

To be fair, style is more about a sense of culture, tradition, confidence, and daring than following fashion trends.  Money can, of course, aid and abet style, but it certainly cannot create it. If you think you can acquire instant style be exhausting platinum credit cards, you probably also believe that grocery shopping at Fauchon makes one a terrific cook.  Wrong.  The price of style has more to do with personality than purchase.  Admirably put-together persons, or spaces, possess an instinctive sense of time and place.  They rarely allow obstacles such as “correct” to get in the way of looking great. 

In general, the copy syndrome does not hold much mineral water here. People with style never look like anyone but themselves, and their living spaces reflect that as well.  

I had an acquaintance who could make something smashing out of a few yards of Astroturf and a tube of superclue.

The rest of us...

...simply have to "make due".

June 4, 2013

a study in styles II

  Like his friend Carlos de Beistegui, Emilio Terry could be accused of living in the past, but he was a much more vital fossil than the Louis XIV -like Beistegui. Incidentally, the gardens at Groussay remind one as much of Terry as of Beistegui, because it was the former, Ledoux's last disciple, steeped in Palladian ideas, who designed the colonnades of the chateau, the bridge and the shell at the base of the pyramid. His advice had also been sought in connection with the Palazzo Labia. Although the two men were so alike in origin, were close friends and had many common interests, they were very different in character. M. de Beistegui loathed anything unexpected, whereas the whole of Emilio Terry's life was marked by his extraordinary absentmindedness.  M. de Beistegui read very little and was only at ease in high society; Emilio Terry, although also very much a socialite, was friendly with writers, such as Julien Green and Jean Cocteau, painters like Berard and Tchelitchew and musicians such as Sauguet and Poulenc.

  He had the joviality of a character in one of Chardin's paintings, with sharp eyes glinting through thick spectacles and the paunch of a man who liked good living (he kept one of the best tables in Paris). He was never without a sketchbook and pencil so as to be able to jot down any idea that came into his head. He would jump from one subject to another, was always ready for a joke and was sometimes sardonic, or at any rate devoid of illusions and consequently ready to forgive anything except errors in taste. Whereas M. de Beistegui, when faced with some decorative horrors, was content to show the silent disapproval of a hidalgo, Emilio Terry would indulge in lively critical comment as soon as he emerged from some pretentious residence. Years later he would go over some detail that had amused him, but he was often incapable of remembering what he had done an hour before. In the middle of a dinner party, he would sometimes lean over towards his neighbor and say: "Pray remind me in whose house we happen to be."

  Although Emilio Terry was fond of the bizarre, he remained classical in his work since, unlike his friend, who was an extraordinary decorator devoted to the production of ephemeral effects, Terry was an excellent architect who demanded the best materials. He looked towards the past because he thought that domestic architecture at the end of the 18th century had achieved a degree of perfection that could not be surpassed. His art depended on a balance between the forms suggested by his imagination and the rules he had taken over from Ledoux, the most modem of the old architects.

  The art critic, Andre Fermigie, who has written excellently about Emilio Terry, declares: "We are reminded of Palladio when we look at the light and elegant front elevations, the straight-forward geometry of the design, the way doors and windows break the walls, the definite pattern of rooftops, the perfect harmony between ornament and architectural volumes, the emphasis on angles, and the sharpness of outline which is so clearly visible in the light. But the complexity of M. Terry's plans, the whimsical element in certain of his buildings, the boldness with which he varies the levels and inserts curved colonnades into a system of cubic volumes with an imaginativeness which is very modem in its sensitivity, all this goes to show that he does not confuse neoclassicism with academicism."

  His taste, though very classical, had been influenced to some extent by Surrealism; one is always marked by the age in which one lives. It is possible to see a parallel between Emilio Terry's subtle designs and Mariano Andreu's very strange drawings, which are rather forgotten at the moment but which cannot fail to come back into favor again because of their perfection. Terry was not unaware of the experiments of the Bauhaus, and even admitted to having been charmed as a young man by the wavy lines of art nouveau, but the moralizing severity of the architecture which developed after 1920-that of Le Corbusier, for instance-he found as boring as Cubist painting. He admitted that it had qualities, but confessed that it was not for him. The 1925 Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts had been a charming entertainment but nothing more. M. de Beistegui, too, had been unable to see anything in this decorative art except a couturier's whimsicality, an amusing idea worthy of Poiret's parties, which he had attended as a young man of twenty-five.

  Being familiar with luxury, Terry knew how to give harmonious form to the wishes of his rich friends and although in his preliminary sketches he showed himself willing to follow baroque or Gothic inspirations, when it came to the actual buildings he never forgot Pope's lines:

…“Something there is more needful than expense,
And something previous ev'n to taste—'tis sense.”…

  It was undoubtedly with M. de Beistegui that he enjoyed collaborating most. One had grandiose conceptions, the other discernment, and both had the most exact knowledge of styles as well as the flair which is needed to eliminate both phonies and false notes. This did not prevent them having quarrels or displaying a certain bitterness, when it was a question of deciding who was really responsible for a particular building. They cannot be criticized for having refined ideas that were current two hundred years ago, because the style of living they preserved was undoubtedly more familiar to them than the style that Gropius or Saarinen were catering for with their modem buildings. In any case, why should we expect someone who was brought up at Chenonceaux, which at that time belonged to his parents, to live in our age if he distinctly preferred his own?

  One of the bitter regrets of Terry's life was that the obstinacy of owners who were prepared to allow a masterpiece to fall into wrack and ruin because it could not be made profitable prevented him from rescuing the extraordinary and abandoned Retz estate on the outskirts of Paris, with its spiral house which rises up like a fluted column, its temple and Chinese pagoda, and its park, worthy of Hubert Robert. Terry was in tears when speaking about this doomed estate. He was unlike M. de Beistegui in that the architectural follies he mused about over his drawing board were not intended for him. He was content to make sure that two residences which came to him through his family connections were each made perfect of its kind.  After his sister's marriage to Boni de Castellane's brother, Emilio Terry took over the last flat that Boni had occupied in a Louis Seize house in the Place du Palais Bourbon. 

  He also took charge of the Chateau de Rochecotte in Touraine, which had been inherited by the Castellanes from their great-grandmother, the Duchesse de Dino, the beloved niece of Talleyrand whose famous memoirs tell of life in the courts of the 19th century, where she had considerable political influence.

  Although Boni de Castellane's way of living had had a great influence on Terry, the traditions of the old courts and the style of the Castellane family fixed and confirmed his taste, so that he remained faithful to the simplest Louis Seize furnishings, which were perfectly appropriate in his charming flat. He eventually came to prefer the very late Louis Seize style illustrated by Jacob's first pieces of furniture, a style which would have been quite suitable for the most luxurious establishment. He called such neoclassical decoration, which had not yet acquired an Empire heaviness, the "Louis Dix-Sept style." He was fond of mahogany furniture with accurately working parts, huge rolltop desks, winged armchairs, porphyry and crystal obelisks, sphinxes, cups carved out of hard stone, and architectural designs. When he could not find furniture corresponding to the perfection of his ideal, he would design the pieces himself. They were always simple, well-balanced and decorated with geometrical inlays; in short, it was architect's, rather than upholsterer's furniture.

  Whereas M. de Beistegui, with his passion for building, can be likened to William Beckford, that extravagantly poetic Englishman of the early 19th century, M. Terry was in the tradition of Hope of Deepdene, who designed admirable neoclassical furniture at the time of the Regency, after visiting Egypt and Pompeii. Some of the best interior designers have formed their taste on such neo-classical models but then have tended to spoil it by adding frills. However, while keeping to this apparent severity, like Beistegui, Terry became conscious, towards 1930, of the boringness of too chaste a setting with the bare surfaces and white tones verging on beige or grey which were then in fashion. He was one of the first people to bring back the Louis-Philippe style.

  He had papier-mache furniture with mother-of-pearl incrustations, sequences of opaline effects, floral pictures, Gothic clocks and tapestry-covered poufs. He even gave a Second Empire ball, which seemed a bold thing to do at a time when Chanel reigned supreme. In some aspects of his temperament and in his eccentricities he was rather like the musician, Lord Berners, who had such a great influence on London social life before World War II.

  While the flat in the Place du Palais Bourbon remained Louis Seize with a few bizarre touches, such as a very dark blue dining room, the chateau belonging to the Castellanes allowed Terry's imagination to reconstitute all kinds of nineteenth-century settings without breaking with tradition and by using furniture that had been there since the erection of the house around 1820. It is a long building surrounded by terraces and was once full of souvenirs of Talleyrand; it had been fitted out during the Second Empire with fine eighteenth-century furniture, wall-hangings of red damask with gold bobbles, royal portraits in a huge but very well-proportioned dining room and Winterhalters in the drawing rooms.

  The bedrooms retained their dressing tables with porcelain fittings, and the bathrooms were mahogany-panelled and had brass bathtubs in the manner of Groussay. It was the kind of old-fashioned comfort that gives cachet to a house. One bedroom was done out in Troubadour Gothic style, another in a mixture of Louis Quinze and Louis Philippe, while yet another was more or less Turkish. The walls were hung with Genoese voile and printed Persian cottons. The tapestry-covered cushions, with designs ranging from scenes from Manfred to the family pug, seemed to have been stitched by generations of penitent great ladies, impoverished cousins and paid companions.

  Whereas, at Groussay, the guests were admitted to a sort of international congress of elegance, at Rochecotte one had the feeling of having arrived immediately after the first half of the 19th century. Only a day or two before, the rooms might have been occupied by Chancellor Mole, the Marechal de Castellane, Balzac, Academicians and witty but now forgotten prelates, whose visits must have lasted for seasons rather than weekends (a fair idea of the kind of room can be obtained from the Second Empire museum at Compiegne and, in America, from the Goulds' remarkably well-preserved country house on the banks of the Hudson; there are also accurate reconstitutions in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris).

  M. de Beistegui labored only for himself, although from time to time he might give advice to friends who had become infected with Beisteguitis, that harmless megalomania which was particularly prevalent in the Fifties. Emilio Terry worked for others. It was he, for instance, who installed the marvels accumulated by Mr. Niarchos in an attractive but inconvenient house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. He designed a library for Comtesse Jean de Polignac, and built elegant and comfortable villas for those people who still think it possible to combine living on the Cote d'Azur with the manners of polite society. Terry also composed excellent theatrical sets, although unfortunately too few: in 1933, a draped architectural background for a ballet based on Beethoven's waltzes and, in 1938, a pavilion in a park for Edouard Bourdet's Les Temps Diffieiles. His maquettes and plans, as well as furniture made to his designs, were shown in an exhibition at the Musee d'Art Moderne in 1947. The quality of Emilio Terry's architecture makes it the more regrettable that a mind such as his should have been completely turned towards the past and incapable of producing anything not a variation on themes provided by Ledoux or Palladio.

  M. de Beistegui's decorative schemes were doomed to disruption and will only survive as a remarkable memory. Emilio Terry's buildings remain as exquisite evidence of a life restricted by the prejudices of a particular environment, but one which was, of course, far more delightful than the life of any modern architect could have been. To tell the truth, Terry had a profound dislike of the realities of architecture and he depended on a collaborator with an admirable understanding of his thought to turn his plans into habitable dwellings. When work began on his library, which was to be in plane wood veined with amaranth, he was seized with a veritable panic and made no less than 150 drawings. Only the tactfulness of his collaborator, M. Desbrosses, made it possible to achieve an effective compromise between Terry's plans, the impatience of his clients and the demands of the builders.

  Shortly before his death, an album was published in his honor. The ingeniousness of his plans, the skillful drawing and imaginativeness of design are all a delight, so that the reader finds himself thinking: "Ah, if only I were rich ... " as he looks at fountains, obelisks and gazebos. This fondness for going back and reliving the past rather than recreating it in pastiche is more often found in England than elsewhere, but, alas the follies of Horace Walpole and William Beckford have long since disappeared.

  One would be delighted to discover that, in America perhaps, some millionaire is busy recreating the splendors of Newport at the time of the Vanderbilts. But this does not seem to be the case; there was only one exception: Mr. Henry Plumer McIlhenny, that most exquisite of great collectors, while remaining in the 20th century, had endeavored to reproduce the atmosphere of Victorian Ireland in his castle at Glenveagh. The mingling of high society and history of art in the house parties held there would no doubt have made both the elderly Henry James and the young Bernard Berenson feel quite at home.

  The great enemy of these survivors from the past is the tax man, who makes the concealment of capital inevitable. How could anyone recreate Versailles in Lausanne or on a yacht? The Venetian palazzi are gradually losing their tenants, because it is impossible to live without falling foul of the International Exchange Control. People whose only fatherland is their bank vault can no longer erect follies in stone.

“SOTHEBY’S LONDON will offer for sale … drawings and books from the library of celebrated designer and architect Emilio Terry from Château de Rochecotte…”

Mario Tavella, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe commented: 
“… EmilioTerry was at the heart of avant-garde circles in 1920s Paris and many of the books in his library reflect his intimate relationship with key figures such as Henri Matisse and Salvador Dali. More than that, his passionate interest in architecture is manifest in the host of important architectural books that he owned, as well as in his own fabulous and often fantastical drawing.”

CHRISTIE'S is pleased to announce the sale of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Guest’s Collection, which will be offered in the 500 years: Decorative Arts Europe sale on 22 April in Paris. The decoration of the Guest’s estate, overlooking the Parc Monceau, was created by the famous interior designer Emilio Terry in the mid 1960’s. Highlights include two works designed by Emilio Terry...

Simon de Monicault, Head of the Furniture Department, points out: “Terry was one of the major figures of the 20th century interior design. Complete ensembles such as this one are very rare on the market.” He adds “The apartment of the Ambassador and Mrs. Raymond Guest, untouched since it was put together, holds an incontestable importance in Emilio Terry’s work, and will no doubt attract interest from connoisseurs around the world.”

   As we think of them, we may as well resign ourselves, like the old men who were once received by Boni de Castellane or the Duke of Westminster, to saying: "Those were the days."

May 21, 2013

a study in styles I

  Carlos de Beistegui, at once a hidalgo and an Old Etonian, expressed his pride of race by his perfect yet distant manners and his exact knowledge of the rules of precedence, and kept it in good trim through his liking for the company of royalty and pretty women. Perhaps he tried to emulate Louis XIV by always choosing his favourites from the best society; at any rate, they surrounded him until the end of his life with a patient and elegant court, which moved with him from his house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain to the Chateau de Groussay outside Paris and his palazzo in Venice, in each of which places he gave brilliant and perfectly organized receptions that people did not attend simply to have fun. If he went to stay with friends in the stately homes of Scotland and Ireland, or in Austrian or Roman palaces, or travelled in Brazil or Egypt, he was always accompanied by a large retinue of lady friends, maids, doctors and secretaries. During his last years, after he had suffered a stroke, he could behave rather despotically, but at least he refrained from burdening himself with a Mme. de Maintenon.
Cecil Beaton wrote in his diary:  "Beistegui is utterly ruthless. Such qualities as sympathy, pity or even gratitude are sadly lacking. He has become the most self-engrossed and pleasure-seeking person I have met."

  Don Carlos was not without a certain insolent sense of humor. Once, when he was a guest in the house of a lady whose taste was not equal to her wealth, he went from room to room looking at everything, but failing to utter any of the compliments eagerly awaited by the hostess. Finally, touching the braided edge of a curtain with his forefinger, he remarked: “That ... is very nice” and, being well-bred, he bestowed on the curtain all the praise he had been unable to lavish on the furniture.

  He may have been a megalomaniac but, like the great English eccentrics and certain eighteenth-century German princes who were able to surround themselves with a setting corresponding to their imagination, he showed simplicity in his splendor. Each new residence became the scene of different social rites, in which nothing was left to chance. Each kept him busy for a number of years and allowed him to keep boredom at bay. When a particular place had reached a point at which nothing more could be added without destroying the harmonious balance of the whole, it ceased to please and another had to be found to receive the careful treatment that would make it worthy of its master.

  The first of these much talked-about residences was one which he occupied in the Thirties on the top two
floors of a building near the top of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. He had asked Le Corbusier to design the internal structure around a metal spiral staircase. With its enormous windows and flat surfaces, it was absolutely modern in its day. But M. de Beistegui quickly wearied of square-shaped furniture, beige colouring and empty surfaces and so, into a setting which had been purified to the point of tedium, he introduced the most eccentric productions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

  Let me quote from Cecil Beaton's The Glass of Fashion, in which the English photographer describes the effect produced upon him by this apartment a few years before the war: "His rooftop apartment in the Champs-Elysees was a dazzling hodgepodge of Napoleon Trois, Le Corbusier modernism, mechanism and Surrealism. Not since Louis of Bavaria had there been so many candelabra in one room; Catherine of Russia never had so many gold boxes on one table. Certainly never before had anyone seen the like of Beistegui's terrace. After mounting a white spiral staircase, the visitor pressed an electric button that caused a glass wall to roll back. Thus was revealed a terrace that overlooked the traffic and lights of the Champs Elysees. It was furnished with Louis Quinze furniture that had been painted white and placed on a grass carpet open to the sky. In this fantastic apartment, mirrors, in all their narcissistic forms, were used for decoration; On the top of the long dining table, for festoons of stylized drapery shrouding windows or doorways. A giant statue of a Negress with shoots of ostrich feathers on her turbaned head stood like a Saxe figurine between a phalanx of crystal girandoles. A baroque rocking horse, harnessed with precious jewels, pranced among obelisks of porphyry."

  When one looks back now at the illustrations in the 1930 Vogue, one is staggered by the arrangement of the baroque elements on smooth surfaces next to the huge windows and by the metal staircase winding round a twisted crystal column.

  It was at this period that M. de Beistegui appeared as Charles Swann at the "1900 Ball" given by Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge. The "Cagliostro Ball" given by the Marchesa Casati was also significant of the return to the baroque, since society was looking for a kind of brilliance not to be found in a chaste decorative style. And Don Carlos was the first person to dare to go in for bravura effects in decoration.

  The fact that he turned his back on the avant-garde after being one of the first persons in high society to encourage it (together with the Vicomte de Noailles who had a villa built at Hyeres by Mallet-Stevens) surprised those people who were at last making up their minds to support it. His answer was: "I like what is unique. Modern furniture can only be mass-produced; all the items in a modern decorative scheme are thought of in terms of their collective utilization; I am therefore reverting to old-style decoration and to craftsmen who can make me precisely what I want, and for me alone."

  His other Parisian residence was a house in the Louis Quinze style on the Esplanade des Invalides. In the Faubourg Saint-Germain, M. de Beistegui created a setting worthy of a ducal household. It had an imposing
antechamber; there were portraits of members of an illustrious family, gilded bronzes, royal busts on Boulle stands, twelve polychrome marble Caesars, heraldic tapestries and Savonnerie carpets. The warm colours of the damask and velvet wall-coverings were further emphasized by a dark green sofa. If Visconti had been commissioned to make a film of one of Balzac's novels about the aristocracy-La Duchesse de Langeais, for instance-he would not have made a better choice of even the smallest details, since all of them were perfect, as they would be in the case of an elegantly dressed woman.

  The great period of this house coincided with Dior's first collections because Dior too, after a lapse of so many years, had rediscovered a feeling for splendor.

  Impressive brocaded gowns, evening capes and sequined bodices were the fashion at M. de Beistegui's court, where he was undoubtedly king and the queens were Mrs. Fellowes, Lady Diana Cooper and a number of South American ladies. The outstanding figure was Daisy Fellowes, who was as hard and brilliant as a diamond, and was always shown Dior's collections forty-eight hours before anyone else.

  This court reached its apotheosis in the famous Venetian ball of the summer of 1951. Cocteau and Beaton, Dali and Dior, royalty and couturiers (it had not yet become the fashion to invite hairdressers) showed
themselves to be worthy of the prepared setting. M. de Beistegui had recently bought and refurbished a palazzo, adorned with Tiepolo's frescoes based on the Cleopatra story. Lady Diana Cooper was Cleopatra, Baron de Cabrol Antony and Mrs. Fellowes America as seen by Tiepolo. Only Beistegui could have undertaken to restore this residence, to the splendor that the painting warranted, and the task occupied him for about twelve years.

  Excerpt from 'Wait For me!' Memoires of the youngest Mitford Sister, Deborah Devonshire:
"The extravaganza gave rise to green-eyed jealousy over invitations and was the talk of London, Paris and New York for months . . .

The ball was an unforgettable theatrical performance with entrees of men and women in exquisite costumes. M. de Beistegui, in a vast wig of cascading golden curls and a lavishly embroidered brocade coat . . .

Daisy Fellowes regularly voted the best dressed woman in France and America, portrayed the Queen of Africa from the Tiepolo frescoes in Würzburg.  She wore a dress trimmed with leopard print, the first time we had seen such a thing (still fashionable today, sixty years on), and was attended by four young men painted the color of mahogany.  So many women threatened to be Cleopatra that the host decided to settle it himself and named Diana Cooper for the roll."

  He bought huge pieces of furniture, cabinets, consoles supported by figure of Hercules that had been made for Roman palaces, vast canvases that had adorned English castles, the kind of epic vases that emperors used to send each other, sequences of tapestries that had, rustled on the walls of French chateaus and candelabra that must have illuminate, the Congress of Vienna. The doges, admirals, marshals, cardinals, lords and grand duchesses who figure in the portraits would have felt perfectly at home, in the Palazzo Labia, if they had stepped down from their armoried frames. It was a very European residence, a superb assembly of furniture.

  Yet this historic setting was not at all like a museum. It included everything from Baroque to Empire, since M. de Beistegui's great principle was that styles should be mixed, because he considered faultless reconstitutions lacking in warmth. As it happened, the Venetian armchairs, as gilded as a high altar, were a perfect match for the English portraits the big pink and blue Chinese vases stood out against the dark greenery of the tapestries and the Empire bronzes were exactly right on the ebony cabinets. It was a setting created by someone who was an artist rather than a historian.

  Quite often, before he had found the ideal object, M. de Beistegui would make do with second-rate ones, the mass and color which corresponded to his intentions; he was no despiser of copies.  His carpets were woven for him in Madrid, according to Savonnerie designs. He liked comfortable, tapestry-upholstered chairs in the most formal rooms, and their color always determined the overall tone of the picture that the finished room was meant to present. He had also bought, and had repaired, quantities of antique curtains, tablecloths and door-curtains embroidered with coats of arms, all of which gave added verisimilitude.

  He had a number of very good pictures but their quality was more or less accidental, since they were there because they happened to fit in. His preference was for inventing huge trompe-l’oel effects with the help of antique elements, like the homage to the Venetian admirals in the entrance hall of the Palazzo. He liked false vistas, which prolonged the pattern of a drawing room with gardens and pavilions, and mirrors which diversified dimensions. Often, the decoration of a salon would be dictated by a sequence of tapestries. The famous Story of Scipio series, after Giulio Romano, demanded Italian armchairs in embossed, plum colored velvet, while Aubusson tapestries in the Chinese style required a green background and leather armchairs. The flowered curtains surmounted by gilded wood pelmets, a very appropriate setting for a series of Chinese vases, made the doorways look rather like theatre curtains opening out to reveal some marvelous stage set.

  The living quarters were just as delightful as the reception rooms were sumptuous; there were little apartments under the eaves opening onto balconies with azulejos and furnished either in the Venetian manner with painted furniture or in the colonial style with brass and mahogany. The bedrooms were decorated with engravings, primitive paintings and tapestry carpets. Each of them could provide a starting-point for some imaginary existence, so carefully was everything chosen, even down to the smallest item. There was not the slightest flaw in the daydreams that Don Carlos offered his guests. They could find their way down to the canals by secret staircases and go in search of the Venice of tempi passati. It would have been exciting, but hardly surprising, to hear Lord Byron or D'Annunzio being announced as guests at dinner: "Writers! Charlie had better look out." The opposite of the Palazzo Labia is Peggy Guggenheim's residence, the Palazzo Non Finito.

  The Palazzo Labia was soon the Palazzo Troppo Finito. When the last bathroom of the last bedroom had been completed, when the walI-lights had at last been found for the smallest sitting room, when there was not
a single corner in the immense mansion which had yet to be organized, or a single wall whose harmony would not have been destroyed by one more picture, M. de Beistegui gave up going to Venice. He offered the furnished Palazzo on generous terms to the town of Venice; but the municipality, an unworthy successor of the Most Serene Republic, being wholly concerned with turning the town into an industrial center, refused to accept the Palazzo Labia on the grounds that it would be expensive to pay for caretakers and that there were already enough museums in Venice. And so the marvelous setting was broken up, and the restored but empty shell was left to be occupied by the Italian broadcasting organization.

  Today, there is only one place in Europe which can give some idea of what M. de Beistegui achieved in the Palazzo Labbia; it is the Schloss Fasanerie, near Fulda, in Germany, where H.R.H. the Landgrave of Hesse has assembled treasures from all the residences belonging to his family. It shows the same feeling for historical truth, combined with infallible taste in the arrangement of objects and the matching of colors, but in this case they are all masterpieces, not elements of trompe. Other inklings can be gleaned from places where the setting has not been restored but preserved, as at Pommersfelden, near Bamberg, in Germany, the house of Count Schoenborn, the Palazzo Colonna, several English country houses, and Apsley House in London, which has been admirably arranged by the Duke of Wellington, another outstanding interior designer.

  Just before the outbreak of war, M. de Beistegui bought, at Monfort l'Amaury, to the South of Paris, a château built after the Restoration by the Duchesse de Tourzel, who had been the governess in charge of the royal children before the Revolution. In spite of the difficulties, M. de Beistegui succeeded in the next four years in creating one of the most elegant houses in Europe. During the German occupation, those who were invited to Groussay found themselves in another world. A coach would be waiting for them at the station; they would find a copious tea in a well-heated drawing room; a bath would be ready in their bathroom. And the talk would be of furniture and gardens (the kitchen garden supplied the needs of the chateau and the guests). The architecture was simple, the park very fine and the windows looked out onto woods. This time, Don Carlos, who always respected the spirit of a given place, created a family chateau packed with imitation souvenirs. There were miniatures, and even photographs grouped together under greenery as at Sandringham, corridors lined with engravings of forgotten characters, drawing rooms decorated with Restoration portraits and tables covered with albums.

  At the beginning, the chateau was meant as a country residence corresponding to the house in Paris, but when the work in Venice came to an end and the less extravagant pieces of furniture from the Palazzo Labia arrived in France, M. de Beistegui concentrated his attention on Groussay and turned the family château, more accurately the park, into the last eighteenth-century ensemble and a worthy rival to Schwetzingen, Twickenham or Pavlovsk. Whereas Arturo Lopez was making his Trianon in Neuilly into a storehouse of eighteenth-century styles, with an occasional more exotic note better suited to La Perichole than to Mme. de Pompadour, M. de Beistegui was turning Groussay into a shrine of good breeding, marked by that style which owes more to taste than to the quality of the objects concerned and which, even when the objects are of a very high quality, does not emphasize them, just as politeness would have led the host to make the guests the temporary equals of La Pompadour herself.

  In some houses the setting is designed to show off some unique picture or pieces of furniture but, in M. de Beistegui's residences, on the contrary, the setting was intended as a means of enhancing the uniqueness of the owner. This was also true of the Vicomte de Noaille's residences, but it was not the case with Arturo Lopez's house or with certain Rothschild residences. In Venice one had the impression that the furniture had been inherited directly from princes of the Holy Roman Empire or from English dukes, but at Groussay it was as if the descendants of Mme. de Tourzel, an aristocrat connected with all the families of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, had assembled a mass of objects polished by generations of faithful retainers.

  The bedrooms had a Second Empire atmosphere, simplified through English influence. It was easy to imagine that they were about to be occupied by the gentlemen in James Tissot's famous picture, Le Balcon du Cercle de la Rue Royale, who were for the young Proust the acme of elegance. And in the reception rooms, one had the feeling that Mme. de Pourtales, the Gallifets or the Metternichs, or even the Prince of Wales, might arrive at any moment. At Groussay, it was decided what was "in" and what was "out."

  Life there was not simply weekending but the existence appropriate to a stately home, the sort of existence that has supplied novelists from Lados to Henry James with so much material. The guests would call on each other in their different apartments. There were rooms appropriate to any circumstances that might occur. If there were more than twelve guests at a meal, it was served in a very large dining room. There was also a sort of oval, mahogany-furnished English dining room, or rather breakfast room, where the round table could seat no more than six; and, when faithful friends came to visit the invalid monarch on weekdays, four people would dine in the gallery above the entrance hall, each at a small individual table.

  Gradually, as M. de Beistegui spent more time in the country, his fancy led him to recreate more curious atmospheres. He extended the chateau by means of wings which were designed by M. Terry. The west wing contained a theater capable of seating 200 spectators; it was one of the owner's most remarkable achievements, but unfortunately was very rarely used. Follies sprang up in the park. There was a Dutch inspired dining room with delft tiles in that blend of green and blue that he was particularly fond of. A visit to the Duke of Wellington's house at Stratfield Saye prompted him to create a "print room."

  After a trip to Sweden he built a tent-shaped pavilion, a replica of the one at the Castle of Haga near Stockholm, in blue and white striped zinc lined with delft-style tiles and with Chinese-like vases made of painted sheet metal guarding the entrance.

  These constructions were so many imaginative settings in which to lead a life that was thought of as a perpetual round of festivities, and they were not unlike the extravagant decors erected by the Menus Plaisirs-the people in charge of arranging balls and entertainments at Versailles. From Ireland he got the idea of obelisks and triumphal arches, similar to those which adorn Connolly Park near Dublin, but his arches were never built. 

  He was also impressed by the pavilions reflected in the rhododendron-bordered lake at Stourhead.
He built a Chinese pagoda on a small stream rather Victorian Chinese, as it happened, with china elephants. 
There was a pyramid, a Palladian bridge and a column with a staircase winding up it.  

M. de Laborde who, during Louis XVI's reign, built so many follies in his park at Mereville, would have felt quite at home at Groussay; so would Lord Burlington, who introduced Palladian architecture into England, and still more so the Prince de Ligne, whose book, Coup d'Ceil sur Bel-Ceil, was one of the bibles of the chateau.

  The work was done by teams, under the often tyrannical direction of Don Carlos. Emilio Terry would submit sketches, Serebriakoff made careful models and watercolor drawings to show the effect that each construction would produce on the landscape, and gardeners and sculptors were called upon to give advice. With the years M. de Beistegui grew increasingly impatient and demanded that his builders, cabinetmakers and gardeners should work at an ever quicker rate. He would have liked to have a maze, rostral columns and a temple of love.

  Up to the day of his death he drove himself about in a strange vehicle, a Fiat 500, which had no doors and was painted to look like wood. He supervised the work in progress like Louis XIV at Marly, imagining a vista, or deflecting the course of a stream, as if each new project would prolong his life. Someone who knew him well believes that his frantic urge to build was a reaction against a tendency to self-destruction resulting from the stroke he had suffered in 1960. He asked that the Palazzo and the house in Paris should be dismantled and, at Groussay, he destroyed certain features even in rooms that were entirely successful.

  His death put an end to building.  The Château passed to his brother, and then his nephew, who sold it in
1999, realizing $26.5 million for the contents alone, many of which had come from the Palazzo Labia in Venice. In 2012, it was sold again and the owner is Rubis International managed by Bekhzod Akhmedov.  The entire Château and park has been classified as a "Historic Monument" since 1993.    

  It should be frankly admitted that a luxurious mansion may be every bit as valuable as a cultural centre. M. de Beistegui was sourly, but accurately enough, reproached by some people for having spent a great deal of money without patronizing a single contemporary artist, since his attempt to recreate the past caused him deliberately to turn his back on the present. The answer is easy: the owner of Groussay, like all aristocrats, was conscious of being a fossilized remnant of the past, a representative of a race whose last survivors live in the precarious shelter of a few German or Italian palaces, and such an anachronistic being needed to recreate his natural environment artificially in order to continue to exist. In this environment, anything that might remind him of our world would seem like a deadly germ. Also, although he did not give employment to artists, he provided a livelihood for many artisans, upholsterers, stucco-moulders and cabinetmakers, who could only satisfy him by rediscovering the ancient processes of craftsmanship.