Thursday, September 27, 2012

More of the Artistry of Rex Whistler

Rex Whistler's limewood urn at the end of the Gallery
of 12 North Audley Street, London.
Photo published in Country Life 1962.
Devoted Readers will recall a previous series of posts on The Menagerie, a remarkable folly whose Saloon featured four urns copied from a limewood model Rex Whistler created for the London home of Samuel Cortauld at 12 North Audley Street.  A exceptional rear Gallery, possibly based on designs by Edward Lovett Pearce, featured an end niche for which Whistler designed an urn that was carved from limewood, as seen in the first photo, when the house was occupied by Chistabel, Lady Aberconway.

A building section of 12 North Audley Street, London.
Image from British History archives.
White Allom decorated a bedroom on an upper floor (the next-to-top level) in the "Chinese" style around 1932 with Whistler painting a panel over the fireplace to blend with the wallpaper, but highlighting Picasso's "L'Enfant Au Pideon" dating from about 1901.  Considering it was a secondary room, it must have been a truly remarkable space.

The fireplace in the Chinese Bedroom
12 North Audley Street
with the panel over the mantle painted by Rex Whistler.
Photo from London Metro Archives.
The panel over the mantle painted by Rex Whistler c 1932
in the Chinese Bedroom, 12 N Audley Street, London.
Photo from Victoria & Albert Museum.
Picasso's painting "L'Enfant Au Pigeon".
The talent of Rex Whistler extended into a number of areas.  Whistler's sketch for a bookplate for Duff Cooper was printed from an engraving by Robert Osmond in 1931.

The bookplate for Duff Cooper
designed by Rex Whistler.
Image from The Duff Cooper Prize.
The bookplate is now used as the logo for The Duff Cooper Prize, an annual award for the best in non-fiction writing given each year since 1956.

Rex Whistler's design for the set of the ballet
"The Rake's Progress" 1942
The stage set and costumes for the 1935 Royal Opera House production of the ballet "The Rake's Progress" were designed by Rex Whistler.  Inspired by a series of paintings by social satirist William Hogarth, the colors evoke murky 18th century London in presenting a young man's fall from grace after being corrupted by wealth;  the sets and costume designs are still used when the ballet is staged. Whistler also designed the sets for a 1942 production for Sadler's Wells ballet, as seen in the image above.

Rex Whistler's design for a Neptune carpet,
a circa 1935 oil sketch.
Image from the Edward James Foundation.
One of The Devoted Classicist's most memorable of many wonderful experiences as an Attingham student was spending a week living at West Dean, the Edwardian country estate of art patron Edward James.  After dinner in the modern David Mlinaric-decorated dining hall in the converted service court, a lecture followed in the original Dining Room of the house, now used as a conference room.  Although listening, my eyes often studied the fantastic rug woven to a design by Rex Whistler about 1935, pictured above.

A toile fabric printed in a design by Rex Whistler.
Image from Clovelly Silk Company.
Textile design was another field that benefitted from Rex Whistler's talent.  His design for a toile de jouy printed cotton is still produced by the Clovelly Silk Company.

Despite the great talent shown in Rex Whistler's murals and other artistic expressions more associated with architecture and  decorative arts, many know him from his pictures of two faces in a single image that are different when viewed inverted.

Reversible faces from OHO.
Rex's brother Laurence Whistler added witty comments and published the books OHO and AHA that can can be read from different directions in 1946.

Rex Whistler's "Tivoli From The Road" 1929.
Rex Whistler produced landscape paintings and portraits of high quality, it's just that his decorative work is of more interest to this writer.

A Sitting Room at 39 Preston Park, Brighton,
decorated by Rex Whistler.
At age 35, Rex Whistler was too old to join the army, but he persuaded the Welsh Guards to take him in.  This room in Brighton that served as an officer's Sitting Room was painted by Whistler to enliven the space while he waited to be shipped out.  The overmantle silhouette of King George IV painted on paper was preserved and is now in the collection of The Royal Pavillion in Brighton.

Rex Whistler self portrait, 1940.
On the balcony of 27 York Terrace, London.
Council of the National Army Museum.
This self portrait, on a balcony overlooking Regent's Park, London, was painted the day his uniform arrived.  Although Whistler could have served in an artistic function in England, he felt that men his age should fight.  Rex was a tank commander, part of the Guards Armoured Division that crossed to Normandy following the D-Day Invasions.  He was killed on his first day of action.

Rex Whistler in a photo by Howard Coster, 1936.
According to Jenny Spencer-Smith of the National Army Museum, 'The Times' received more letters about his death in action than any other person during World War II.
A Memorial Exhibition of Rex Whistler's works was held in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, from October 12 to December 18, 1960, and in Brighton, January 7 to 28, 1961.  A catalogue of 31 pages was authored by brother Laurence Whistler.

Laurence Whistler also wrote a book about his brother titled THE LAUGHTER AND THE URN, THE LIFE OF REX WHISTLER that was published in 1985.  The cover features a detail of his murals for Plas Newydd, with the artist holding a broom.

But the book soon to be published that Whistler fans are anticipating is IN SEARCH OF REX WHISTLER: HIS LIFE AND HIS WORK by Mirabel and Hugh Cecil.  The cover features a detail of the mural for Port Lympne, featured in the previous post.  A selection of books about Rex Whistler and his work may be ordered here.

A third post in this series will present people and objects associated with Rex Whistler.  If this is being read from the archives rather from a current post of The Devoted Classicist, be sure to read "Rex Whistler Murals" here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rex Whistler Murals

Rex Whistler Self Portrait, 1933
Photo: Tate museum
One of the great, if not greatest, decorative painters of the 20th century was Reginald John 'Rex' Whistler, 1905 to 1944.  Perhaps better described as a muralist in the context of this post of The Devoted Classicist, he also painted portraits and landscapes, illustrated books, and designed theatre sets.

Rex Whistler in his Fitzroy Street Studio, 1932.
Howard Coster, photographer.
Photo:  Private Collection, Rex Whistler Estate.
Born in Eltham, Kent, he showed a talent for art at an early age.  After a short, unsuccessful term of study at the Royal Academy, he moved on to the Slade School of Art, often considered the United Kingdom's premier Art and Design educational institution.  There, he met Stephen Tennant, the British aristocrat who was one of the inspirations for Lord Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.  Through this friendship and his being part of 'The Bright Young Things' social group, commissions began to come his way.
Rex Whistler's design for the Tate Gallery restaurant.
Pen and ink on paper.  Private collection.
Michael Parkin Gallery.  The Bridgeman Art Library.
At age 23, Rex Whistler finished his first big commission, "The Expedition in Persuit of Rare Meats" for the basement cafe at the Tate Gallery.  Financed by a GBP 500 donation by art and antiques dealer Joseph Doveen to encourage similar commissions to other young artists, the scheme was a big success at its 1927 unveiling.

Portrait of Edith Olivier by Rex Whistler.
Novelist Edith Oliver collaborated on the subject of the mural, recounting the expedition of a group of seven people who set out in search of exotic meats.  After trekking through exotic lands, the travellers return to the 'Duchy of Epicurania', transforming the diet of the people who had previously eaten only dry biscuits.  The mural survived the 1928 flooding of the River Thames thanks to the combination of oil paint mixed with wax and turpentine.
Contemporary Views of The Rex Whistler Restaurant
The Tate Museum, London.
The space is now known as The Rex Whistler Restaurant;  it is closed for refurbishment until 2013, however.

One particularly successful commission for a fully painted room was given by Sir Phillip Sassoon for his mansion Port Lympne near Hythe, Kent.  Originally named Belcaire, the Edwardian, South African Dutch Colonial style house by architects Baker and Wilmott was renamed in honor of Portus Lemanis, the area's Roman name.  Sir Phillip was one of the great aesthetes of the early 20th century, a member of the family known as the "Rothschilds of the East", according to The DiCamillo Companion.

The Dining Room at Port Lympne
as it appeared in a 1933 issue of Country Life magazine.
The Port Lympne project was unique in that the ceiling was shaped to conform to the design of a tent and decorated as part of the mural project.  Poles and the paired tassels are real, but the other decoration on the walls and ceiling is painted.  The original use of the room is believed to be for dining.

Rex Whistler's design drawing for the Dining Room at Port Lympne.
Image from Ian Beck Wordpress.
The room remains and was restored in recent years by experts from the Tate Museum.  The mansion and grounds are now rented for events and conferences.  The surrounding property is a preserve for endagered species of animals and is known as the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.

Lady Mountbatten's Boudoir at Brook House.
Painted walls and ceiling by Rex Whistler.
Photo by A.E. Henson, Country Life, August 24, 1939, issue.
Brook House, a remarkable block of luxurious apartments on Park Lane in Mayfair was erected between 1933 and 1935 on the site formerly occupied by a mansion that had been inherited by Countess Edwina Mountbatten.  The top two floors contained the penthouse flat of Edwina and her husband Louis, the 1st Earl of Mounbatten, decorated by Mrs. Joshua Cosden of New York (whose husband, the Tulsa Oil King had lost his fortune in The Depression, necessitating her entrance into a career) in collaboration with Victor Proetz.

Another view of Lady Mountbatten's boudoir at Brook House.
Photo by A.E. Henson, Country Life, August 24, 1939, issue.
Lady Mountbatten's boudoir walls featured panels painted on canvas in silver and grisaille, depicting scenes of family homes and various personal interests.  Her initials were also incorporated into both the ceiling medallion and the radiator grille, further personalizing the room.  Although the building was bombed during World War II, the wall canvasses had already been removed in 1939.

The floor to ceiling mural on the long wall
of the Dining Room at Plas Newydd by Rex Whistler.
National Trust Images.
The murals at Plas Newydd near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Isle of Anglesey, Wales, are considered Rex Whistler's masterpiece.  Commissioned in 1936 by the Marquess of Anglesey for his country seat, the house originated in the 14th century and was altered by James Wyatt in the 18th century.  The 7th Marquess of Anlesey still retains rooms there, but it has been owned by the National Trust since 1976.

The walls and ceiling of the Dining Room
of Plas Newydd painted by Rex Whistler.
National Trust Images.
The large Dining Room at Plas Newydd has a fireplace on each end wall and windows on one long wall looking out to the Menai Straits and the mountains of Snowdonia.  The view is often obscured by weather, however, so the blank fourth wall was the ideal candidate for a mural with a harbor scene where it was always the perfect day.  The scene is floor to ceiling, 58 feet long.

A detail of Rex Whistler's mural at Plas Newydd.
National Trust Images.
A panel at one of the ends of the room.
National Trust Images.
The end walls of the Dining Room are painted in trompe-l'oeil as well.

A detail of one of the end panels,
with the artist including himself in the scene.
National Trust Images.
The artist included a representation of himself, with a broom rather than a paint brush.  Another representation is a young boy stealing an apple;  it was the son of the Marquess, now the current Marquess of Anglesey.
A detail of the painted ceiling at Plas Newydd.
National Trust Images.
Even the ceiling received a trompe-l'oeil treatment by Whistler.  As a framing accent, the cornice of the room is gold-leafed.
Rex Whistler and Lady Caroline Paget
with the Dining Room mural in progess.
Photo by John Wickens, National Trust Images.
Rex Whistler's mural at Plas Newydd is painted on canvas.  Some of the work was done in his London studio, and some in situ.  Some have written that Rex was the lover of the Marquess' daughter, Lady Caroline Paget who was 23 at the time.  (They had known each other before the commission).  Others say that Whistler's love for her was not returned and was symbolized in the mural with a pair of swallows taking flight and rose petals on the ground.  The collection of Plas Newydd includes a nude portrait of Lady Caroline by Whistler as well as his letters to her.
The Drawing Room at Mottisfont Abbey.
National Trust Images.
Mottisfont Abbey is a rural estate near Romsey, Hampshire, with grounds alongside the River Test, a notable chalk stream, and with walled gardens housing the National Collection of old fashioned roses.  Now owned by the National Trust, the last private owner was society hostess Maud Russell who bought the property with her husband Gilbert in 1934.  A wealthy patron of the arts, Mrs. Russell commissioned several artists to embellish the mansion which had incorporated parts of an Augustinian priory dating fromt he 13th century.  A connection with Evelyn Waugh's set of 'bright young things' led to her meeting Whistler.  In 1938, Rex Whistler transformed the original Entrance Hall into a grand Drawing Room with trompe-l'oeil painting inspired by the Gothic architecture of the demolished priory.  
A detail showing a trompe-l'oeil niche.
Mottisfont Abbey.
Photo by David Giles, April 24, 1994, issue of Country Life.
The mural was personalized by Whistler to illustrate Maud Russell's interests, as shown with this view of a niche containing books and a lute along with an ermine-draped urn.  The puffs of smoke refer to her distaste of bonfires. 

A detail of the upper walls of the Drawing Room.
Mottisfont Abbey.
Photo by David Giles, April 24, 1994, issue of Country Life.
Rex Whistler's final mural of this type, he added this note in small print:  "I was painting this ermine curtain when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyrants, Sunday, September 3rd. RW"   Small objects were left, as seen on the cornice of the room in the image above, to suggest that the artist would return.

More of the artistry of Rex Whistler will be presented a future post of The Devoted Classicist.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Brooke Astor on Mount Desert Island

Brooke Astor at Cove End, Mount Desert Island, Maine.
She is thought to be about 93 at the time of this photo.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
With many photos of Brooke Astor's Park Avenue apartment and her weekend home, Holly Hill, in the news for the upcoming auction at Sotheby's on September 24 and 25, 2012, it was thought some images of her beloved summer residence would find some interest.  The Devoted Classicist has visited Mount Desert Island, Maine, only in the summer, but it is an absolutely delightful place. 

Brooke and Vincent Astor bought the house and its contents in the village of Northeast Harbor in 1953.  Looking out to Gilpatrick Cove, they named the property Cove End.

A view of Gilpatrick Cove from the terrace.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
When the Astors first married, they had planned spending their summers yachting abroad, but changed their minds after the first year.  With other residences being more grand, the Astors were appreciative of the cozy informality of the summer retreat with several acres for gardens, and space to entertain friends.

The water side of Cove End, 1996.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
Sister Parish, who had decorated their weekend house in Westchester County (and a life-long summer resident of another Maine island, Isleboro), was called in to make it comfortable.  With the help of her business partner Albert Hadley, Cove End was 'freshened' over the years, but changed little before Mrs. Parish's death in 1994.

A tallcase clock in an alcove of the Entrance Hall
at Cove End, as it appeared in the July, 1996, issue of
Architectural Digest magazine.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink.
Nancy Pierrepont, a friend whose late husband Brooke had known since childhood, continued to freshen a few rooms until an updating was undertaken in the mid-1990s under the direction of Mark Hampton.  A former Parish-Hadley employee for a short time (before working for David Hicks and McMillen before he opened his own firm in 1975), Mark kept the general Sister Parish approach rather than transform it into his own more regimented style.

The Living Room at Cove End as decorated by Mark Hampton.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
The Living Room was a few steps lower than the Entrance Hall, giving it a higher ceiling.  This photo shows the results of the Mark Hampton scheme.

The Library at Cove End as it appeared in 1996,
after the refreshening of the Sister Parish scheme.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
In the Library, the same chintz chosen by Sister Parish in 1980 was reused in a freshening by Nancy Pierrepont.  The fabric was specially printed to order from Scalamandre rather than change the scheme.

The Master Bedroom at Cove End as it appeared in 1996,
after the refreshening by Nancy Pierrepont.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
The Master Bedroom also retained the Sister Parish decorative schemes, using a Brunschwig & Fils fabric for curtains, upholstery and bedhangings.

The new swimming pool garden at Cove End,
as it appeared in 1996.
Photo by Brian Vanden Brink for Architectural Digest.
A new Secret Garden utilizing native plants was added by landscape architect Morgan Wheelock to conceal the new swimming pool.  Mrs. Astor regularly used the pool for exercise until her advanced age prohibited it.

Mark Hampton died in 1998 at the age of 58, but Brooke Astor lived until 2007, surviving until the age of 105.  Her later years were not without problems, however, too complicated to go into detail here.  In 2003, Cove End was signed over to her son Anthony Marshall after he acquired power of attorney over his mother's assets;  he then signed it over to his third wife Charlene, whom he had met when she was married to a local Episcopal pastor.  A 2006 court order required ownership of Cove End to return to Tony Marshall.  Mrs. Marshall was not charged with any wrong doing and still owns some properties surrounding Cove End today.

The Brian Vanden Brink photographs appeared in the July, 1996, issue of Architectural Digest magazine;  a favored rate subscription is available here.

In one last try before publication of this essay to find if Nancy Pierrepont was still alive (a reader left a comment that she passed in 2004), it was found that several years ago The Downeast Dilettante had posted some great vintage photos and floor plans of Cove End on his blog, one of my favorites.  It may be viewed here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

That's So Rory

An Indian carving and an Afghani chair provide a
"very Rory" memorable detail
for Mr. Cameron's house in Menerbes.
Photo:  Serge Carrie for AD.
Roderick Cameron, who died at age 71 in 1985, known as Rory to family and friends, was one of the twentieth century's great tastemakers whose influence on design is still felt today.  Related to my Parish-Hadley co-worker Libby Cameron, I was fortunate to have met him in the mid-80s when Mr. Cameron came to the office to see where Libby worked and to meet Albert Hadley.  Rory Cameron was a figure in International Society, a writer, and, later, a professional interior designer.  His expertise in design was developed in his Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat villa, La Fiorentina, that was featured in a series of previous posts of The Devoted Classicist.  When the house was sold to Mary Wells and Harding Lawrence and redecorated by Billy Baldwin, Cameron moved into the smaller Le Petite Clos adjacent and fine-tuned his decorating skills. Later, he moved to Ireland for a brief time before returning to France in 1977 with a house in Menerbes, Provence.  More links are found at the end of this post.

Rory Cameron in Marguerite Littman's London apartment.
Photo by Derry Moore for AD.
In a 1985 interview with Marguerite Littman that appeared in Architectural Digest magazine, the writer presented the concept of something being "very Rory Cameron" in terms of the item itself or the way is was used.

Crushed petals in an Imari bowl scent the air
adjacent to a Chinese porcelain vase adapted as a lamp,
a Japanese fish, and lumps of opal in a Mughal lapis saucer.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Rory Cameron observed, "When the house is being photographed, I have always wanted the people concerned to concentrate on details -- arrangements on tables, as well as the design of the rooms themselves.  For me it's the details, the ways people arrange things, that give the real atmosphere.  This is seldom emphasized.  Horst seems to be the only photographer who understands this, and the supreme examples are the photographs he took of Chateau Mouton -- one in particular where you see Baron Philippe de Rothschild's foot in a tapestry evening slipper on a nineteenth-century carpet with an over-life-size figure of Napoleon III.  It sticks in one's mind, and tells the whole story".

Cartier ashtrays of agate, amethyst, and turquoise.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Mr. Cameron was a proponent of what he credited David Hicks as calling a 'tablescape', a collection of objects displayed on a table.  They might be diverse, but each having a quality of their own.

A horn and ivory box harbors a "collection of magic":
velvet from the maharani of Mewar's state barge,
Nile mud from the Temple of Philae,
and an aphrodisiac paste from a Cairo souk.
The five wash drawings of India are by Thomas Daniell.
An ornithological watercolor is behind an anonymous marble bust.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Upholstery and curtains in his house were linen, cotton damask and printed cottons instead of cut-velvet and silk brocade.  "I like color-on-color and small patterns.  I don't like strident colors.  Exception:  my bed, which is an Indian-designed material," he said.  "I painted the drawing room the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf".  Mr. Cameron explained the coordination of the walls with the furniture, "I like the baseboards to be dark and probably marbelized.  I think in America there is a tendency to use too bright colors.  On the whole, I am against dark wood and have what amounts to a passion for lacquer.  Coffee tables are very important.  What should they be?  Anything but what they are.  I like round tables, too, covered with cloth -- they warm up a room.  I have a weakness for Egyptian and Chinese things, a horror of bars and cocktail cabinets.  Why not just simply have a drinks table and collect old decanters with silver labels and a mixture of Venetian Venini glasses?  I hate wall-to-wall carpeting and prefer needlework rugs, or a kind of matting woven from raffia and strands of white cotton".

Picasso plates for luncheon use.
Photo by Serge Carrie for AD.
Mr. Cameron also believed that a house should have scents;  he had baskets of lavender, and the aroma of Floris and Guerlain.  As for china, "At night I personally always use white. . . I like plain silver.  I hate colored candles and tall flowers in the middle of a dining room table.  You can't see who you are talking to.  Personally, I never put any flowers on a table, tall or not.  I have a horror of arranged bouquets.  I like clumping my flowers in the same way that I like clumped, cushioned effects in the garden. . . I economize with orchids.  Why do orchids have the reputation for being an extravagance, like caviar?  They actually last far longer than most other plants you can buy".
Baron Rothschild's foot graces the cover of HORST: INTERIORS.
Rory Cameron appreciated the photographer's eye for details.
The Blue Remembered Hills blog has published a number of essays about Rory Cameron, Le Petite Clos, his house in Ireland and his Paris apartment, and his house in Menerbes;  just click on the links to read them and see the photos.  Roderick Cameron's book THE GOLDEN RIVIERA is out of print, but a vintage copy may be found here.  The Horst photo of Baron Rothschild's foot appears on the cover of the book HORST: INTERIORS;  it is also out of print, but a vintage copy may be found here.   (If a price is given, it may be ordered despite a note to the contrary;  the message just means that it is not available for free delivery).  A favored rate subscription to Architectural Digest magazine may be found here.