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."