Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Travellers: Chandelier and Portrait from Rose Cumming

Rose Cumming in her antiques shop, 1964,
by Jeanloup Sieff for Harper's Bazaar.
As Devoted Readers remember, The Travellers series of posts shows how a particular piece of furniture or work of art is presented in two (or more) very different settings.  This time, The Devoted Classicist presents two particularly stylish items from legendary 20th century design icon Rose Cumming and how they are used in interior design today.

The Directoire period chandelier as it appears today
in Toby Worthington's dining room.
The first photo of the post appeared in the July, 1964, issue of Harper's Bazaar in conjunction with a theme of New York City's hosting the World's Fair.  Rose Cumming "stands amid the splendors of her antique shop", then at 499 Park Avenue.  She is wearing one of her trademark Chinese Mandarin robes, her hair dyed lavender, said to intend to upstage her rival Elsie de Wolfe who had dyed her hair blue.  In the background can be seen the Directoire period chandelier that is also shown in the second image.  Distinctive aquamarine crystals adorn the crown and there are also small cobalt blue glass beads along the ringed tiers.  The chandelier had never been wired and remains candle-powered today.

A photograph of Rose Cumming
Circa 1930, by Edward Steichen.
Conde Nast Archives.
The portrait seen behind Rose Cumming in the photo above is of Elizabeth Holkes Western by the English painter Thomas Hudson, 1701-1779.  It was bought from the New York commercial art gallery, Scott & Fowles, in 1926. 

Rose Cumming's portrait of Mrs. Western.
The New York Historical Society.
In the photo above, a better view of Mrs. Western's portrait is revealed.  Labelled only as a Drawing Room, it is thought to be Rose Cumming's own residence.

Mrs. Western at home in Toby Worthington's Living Room.
Hudson had helped set a standard for fashionable portraiture in London.  This portrait follows his characteristic elegant pose of the subject, swathed in luxurious fabrics, giving the impression of quality and wealth.  After 235 or so years, the portrait still provides a stylish contribution to the decor of a room today.

Rose Cumming's 'Banana Leaf' fabric.
The pink and charcoal colorway is the original.
The design was developed with sister Dorothy dipping leaves in pigment.
Photo by Rose Cumming Fabric and Wallcoverings
for Architectural Digest.
Rose Cumming's antiques shop was much admired by the design community and trendsetters of the day.  But the name is more known today for the fabric of her own design which was sold from her shop.  Her floral chintzes were particularly notable for their distinctive colorways, giving a fresh, contemporary twist to traditional design.  But she also designed modern fabrics that are being revived by Dessin Fournir, which now owns the rights for production and distribution.

The cover of the new book ROSE CUMMING
by Jeffrey Simpson with Foreward by Sarah Cumming Cecil.
Published by Rizzoli,
Release date September 4, 2012.
Interest in Rose Cumming is building as the release date grows near for a new book, Rose Cumming.  Written by Jeffrey Simpson with a Foreward by grandniece Sarah Cumming Cecil, it is the first book devoted entirely to the legendary design figure.  The book is available at a discount here.

Photo of Rose Cumming by Wilbur Pippin.
 Private Collection.
A chapter is devoted to Rose Cumming in The Great Lady Decorators: The Women Who Defined Interior Design by Adam Lewis with a Foreward by the great lady decorator of today, Bunny Williams.  It is available at discount here.

Previous posts in The Travellers series feature a chimneypiece, a folding screen, a sunburst clock, and a nude portrait.  Those reading a subscribed version of this post are reminded to view the full site for features such as SEARCH THIS BLOG and COMMENTS.


  1. I must say that I find the portrait of Mrs. Western truly bewitching. The luxurious fabric along with her pose is lovely and enchanting and I truly doubt that any surrounding could detract from it.
    I have not seen other blog posts with such a fascinating take on the surroundings of one particular item through time and I could not be more fascinated by the idea.
    I shall have to dig through old family photos to show off my own "Travellers"!

    1. Kerry, it's an interesting learning experience, isn't it? Quality goods endure and all those lessons in collecting what you love. And for those interested in provenance, what better proof than 'in-situ' photos? Thank you for your comments.

  2. I remember Mr Worthington commenting on his own painstaking endeavours to hang pictures correctly, (when I was fiddling to get two of mine exactly right), and now I see his endeavours to perfection in the photo with the two pairs of bird prints. Perfection.

    1. Columnist, I join you in appreciation. Mr. Worthington is indeed a great talent, in addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the decorative arts.

  3. What a fantastic post, love everything about this.

    1. JWC, thank you for commenting. There is much, much more to the Rose Cumming story, and her influences on interior design, so I know you will enjoy seeing the new book.

  4. It's truly fascinating to consider how objects live on long after their original owners are gone, and indeed are reincaranted again and again in new interiors.

    So fabulous that the chandelier has never been wired for electricity. There is nothing quite like dining under candlelight.

    1. APB, candlelight is a perfect compliment to an elegant meal. I have learned from my own experience, however, that some 'dripless' candles are more dripless than others. Thanks for commenting.

  5. After I've been away for a few days, this is just the kind of post I like to come home to: layered with history--I'm always a sucker for a good backstory--and larded with Big-Deal names & excellent photos of beautiful pieces. And having all the various threads come together in a friend's handsome rooms makes it all even cooler. Things have a way of finding their own way home.

    APB's comment reminded me of one of my favorite John Updike poems, "The Furniture". I didn't have a copy of it close at hand, so I did a Google search for the first line, and found the whole thing quoted--by me, under my former nom de web---in a 2008 post over at The Down East Dilettante. What can I say? Similar causes produce similar effects. Anyway, in the spirit of recyling, here it is again.

    The Furniture
    by John Updike

    To things we are ghosts, soft shapes
    in their blindness that push and pull,
    a warm touch tugging on a stuck drawer,
    a face glancing by in a mirror
    like a pebble skipped across a passive pond.

    They hear rumors of us, things, in their own rumble,
    and notice they are not where they were in the last century,
    and feel, perhaps, themselves lifted by tides
    of desire, of coveting; a certain moisture
    mildews their surfaces, and they guess that we have passed.

    They decay, of course, but so slowly; a vase
    or mug survives a thousand uses. Our successive
    ownerships slip from them, our fury
    flickers at their reverie’s dimmest edge.
    Their numb solidity sleeps through our screams.

    Daguerrotypes Victorian travellers
    produced of tombs and temples still intact
    contain, sometimes, a camel driver, or beggar: a brown
    man in a galabia who moved his head, his life
    a blur, a dark smear on the unchanging stone.

    1. Jupiter must be in aligment with Mars. How else could this explain one of the most special moments in Blog History. Magaverde comments on a post featuring Toby Worthington, and includes references to both The Down East Dilettante and Devoted Reader APB. Thank you, SG, for making my day.

  6. Hello John:
    What a delicious post this is! So intriguing to track down the very items available in RC's store into the dining and drawing rooms of Toby Worthington. This is surely evidence, if any were needed, that great examples of the decorative arts transcend everything and endure.

    We have to say that we were slightly disappointed in 'The Great Lady Decorators'. Not for the content, although one can always think of notable omissions, as the writing was entertaining and the subject matter engaging, but, rather, in the quality of reproduction of some of the plates. This did let the book down in our view.

    Thank you so much for the comment which you left on our blog, through which we have found you and to which we have made reply. We have signed ourselves as Followers in order that we shall keep in touch.

    1. Thank you, Jane and Lance. It is a common problem with books dealing with the history of interior design that the quality of vintage photographs is often not very good. I have not seen the new ROSE CUMMING book that is scheduled for release next week, but I hope every possible technical remedy was employed to make the images as crisp and clear as feasible. I appreciate your becoming a Follower of my blog, as well.

  7. Lovely post on some fascinating objects and their equally fascinating owners. As you know little has been published about Rose Cumming until now and the most detailed account of her style I've seen is from Mark Hampton's book Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century. It's a wonderfully personal essay (which I'm certain you've read) with Mr. Hampton even recalling going to her house and helping her clean it.

    1. Roy, thank you for commenting. This was before my time, but the great lady was apparently very generous with her time and shared her knowledge of exotic antiques, etc., with young designers, especially the males. Albert Hadley had said that, in later years, guests were invited to her candlelit home after dark in an effort to conceal the dust. But I am sure it seemed to sparkle, none-the-less, in its way.

    2. Yes! Exactly what Mark Hampton said. The first time he and Albert were asked to the house (to see some porcelain for a client) it was for 8:30 PM!

  8. There's not much I can add that hasn't already been said, except that I think Mr. Worthington's home is simply smashing!

    1. Yes, his home, you might say, is the Peak of Chic! Thank you for commenting.

  9. Wonderful, how fortunate to have Mr. Worthington share these treasures. I too am a fan of Miss Rose-as well. The book is terrific. I wrote about it today-and direct readers to this grand post. I am glad Mr. W. is steward to a number of Rose's treasures. pgt

    1. Yes, Gaye, the treasures are in safe and appreciative hands with Mr. Worthington. You have a couple of great related posts (see Blog Roll in the sidebar), and I appreciate the mention. Many thanks.

  10. Good Morning John,

    I found your beautiful blog through Gaye at Little Augury.
    Rose Cummings and this beautiful book have captured my interest and I shall be seeking it at my local bookstore.
    The chandelier featured is spectacular.
    As your new follower, I am looking forward to reading some of your past posts

  11. Thank you, Helen. I am happy to welcome you to my blog. And I look forward to going back through your blog and reading about the past adventures of you and your painting friends as well. Your interest in painting historic architecture is admirable.

  12. It may interest your readers to know that there were a pair of matching chandeliers
    at Rose Cumming's on the day that I first mustered up the courage to cross
    the threshold of her shop. They were covered in cobwebs and had very likely
    hung there for nearly a decade. Soon after the chosen chandelier was installed here,
    Ronnie Grimaldi came for afternoon tea, and casually mentioned that he'd just
    sold the mate to Gloria Vanderbilt for the elevator foyer of her East End Avenue
    apartment. Subsequently, Eileen Cumming Cecil told me that there had originally
    been three chandeliers and that they came out of a grand ballroom in Madrid;
    though the whereabouts of the third item were lost in the mists of time.

    1. Maybe that third chandelier's whereabouts will be discovered as a result of this post! Gloria Vanderbilt must have quite the attractive elevator foyer to hold this chandelier; she IS known for her stylish decor, of course. And I am glad you mentioned Ron Grimaldi, the face associated with the Rose Cumming line during my time, and the person who tirelessly worked to keep those fabrics available to interior designers. Thanks for adding this interesting footnote, Toby.

  13. So wonderful to see these objects so full of provenance installed in their current locations. I'm sure they are the highlight of his collection and are perfect compliments to such gorgeous rooms even without such an interesting background! So glad too that the chandelier hasn't been converted to electric, it leaves it so romantic. I hope it's used often!

    1. And speaking of interesting background, I really like that stripe-on-stripe wallpaper as well. Thank you for your comments, Stefan.

  14. I like the paper a lot though I serious doubt it's a banana leaf, at least it's unlike any banana leaf I've ever seen. On the other hand it looks just like a Colocasia esculenta leaf, more commonly known as elephant ears aka taro to Hawaiins who make poi out of it's tubers

    1. I know what you mean, Scott. I was attributing it to the many variations of the plant, so different from what we buy in the grocery stores in the U.S. (The sister was living in Jamaica at the time). But maybe they just thought it was a more identifiable name. Perhaps someone knows the definitive answer on more details of the origins of this fabric and will leave a comment. Your thoughts are appreciated.

    2. It's not a banana leaf. I'm aware that there's an enormous variety of banana fruit -all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes but the leaf shape is the same: linear, parallel margin elongate. Decorators are notorious for not caring about that sort of thing misidentifying cycads as palms and euphorbia as cactus. My interest is more than the casual observer and while I only had a few college level courses in plant identification and terminology I know enough to know where to look when I don't know something.

  15. And on a different vein, some of you would be interested to know that Mr. Worthington, aside from having impeccable taste, is also a gourmet cook.

    I don't think the portrait of Mrs. Western could have found a better home than where it hangs right now. The bird prints, the cabinet, the colors...everything is perfection. The chandelier, to die for.

    Toby, did you have the portrait cleaned and restored? It looks sensational!

    Another great post

    1. Thanks, Lindaraxa. This was a special post for me as I was able feature two wonderful design personalities that I feel I know but have never met!

      One gourmet cook certainly recognizes another, so I know that yours is a great endorsement for Mr. Worthington's culinary talent.

      The painting - and frame - look to be in very good condition, I agree.


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