Thursday, May 28, 2009


Some of the most refined creatures to roam the earth seem to have discerning noses. Several come to mind who compose some of the world's finest perfumes. There's Serge Lutens (Shiesedo - Serge Lutens), Christian Astuguevielle (Comme des Garcons), Jacques Polge (Chanel) .... We've already had a peak into Astuguevielle's apartment which is beautiful but a little more like a gallery from my point of view. Serge Lutens is said to be very secretive. I've never seen views of his interiors in Marrakesh or elsewhere and doubt I ever will, but his stylism for Shiseido and his own boutique in the Palais Royal is proof enough for me of his impeccable taste. Don't give me Paris Match, Gala, or Hola! ... I'm not interested in social lives of people I admire, but give me a glimpse of their inner sanctum and I feel sure I know them better.

Jacques Polge, fragrance director at Chanel these last 30 years, lives well among books, art,
rare objects, and distinctive color harmonies. There is a lot in his home, but it doesn't seem weighed down, nor does it seem to be a stage set.

A corner for perusing his many books and art catalogues. The fauteuil rocaille reminds him of one painted by Matisse in 1946. Lamp by Serge Roche, table by Pierre Le Tan.

Table and chairs en raffia signed by Audoux-Minet

This alcove has become a very special place with theatrical lighting and 50s seating by Vietti upholstered and bound in tomato red fabric.

Do the Great Noses perfume their homes ? I would imagine they do, with the smells of good homes - wax, a log in the fireplace from time to time, old leather, fresh linens, flowers...

photos Jean-Marie del Moral from Atmosphères

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Look up in Bruges

Bruges is a many faceted jewel of a city

Monday, May 25, 2009


Ceramic artist Roos van de Velde framed a passage from one room to another in her home/workshop with branches inlaid in the plaster walls. The flowers are made of porcelain and are an example of her own work. (photo Bernard Boccara)

Fabien Rochoux, formerly a florist, continues the tradition of rocailleur in his sculptural work that imitates nature. Using early 19th century techniques of modeling cement around metallic armatures, his designs will improve with time. A twist of ivy crawling up the side and a sprinkling of moss will only add to their appeal. (photos Sylvain Thomas)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Popping through paintings

Why do we buy paintings? There are many reasons to like a painting. Of course, we might collect a particular artist we love and there are also those who use art as an investment, but I am more interested in our reaction face to face with a work of art. There is pure aesthetic response -the colors and shapes are pleasing to the eye. Maybe the style and tone seem to be just the thing for a particular room in the house. Sometimes a work of art reminds us of another work of art, so we feel we already understand it. Or we recognize what is depicted and it creates a bond with that place. Have you ever found a portrait that looked like someone you knew? In my childhood home were a pair of portraits, the elegant woman looked like my mother and the man with glaring eyes like my great (and grumpy) uncle. They became honorary ancestors. There are those who like to people their walls with portraits they find pleasant-looking, thinking they are easy to live with and make good company, while others are horrified at the idea of letting strangers into their home!

I'm usually very spontaneous about paintings and like many different styles for all sorts of reasons. I think the reflections and ... rationalisations come later! As an art history student I liked to look up artists in the Bénézit. In recent years, I've found that I love to research whatever I can about the artist or subject through the Internet. There is so much to be learned and to bounce off.

This broken-down fairytale tower isolated in a lush green forest appealed to me immediately. In style, it seems to be part of a detailed background landscape in a northern Renaissance painting, but it's a painting in its own right. It isn't a mysterious, majestic ruin such as those by Caspar David Friedrich or classical study by Hubert Robert, though the subject tickles our romantic imagination. I do know the effect would not be the same if the tower weren't
splitting apart.

Taste for ruins runs back at least to the 18th century when real classical vestiges were contemplated as sculptural vanities. First coming from England and Germany, this spreading fashion called for newly constructed ruins to meet the demands for soul-searching promenades in the park. Some of these crumbling edifices can still be appreciated in Paris in the Parc Monceau or the Buttes-Chaumont. Was my painting a souvenir of this fashion? I know it was painted before 1893, but I have never yet made out the artist's signature. Since I know who it belonged to and where he lived, M. Léon Berlière, musicien-chef d'orchestre à Etampes, I was able to discover that the tower had really existed and that it still stands today. A visit was in order.

The tower is still a landmark in the town of Etampes, located about one hour away from Paris.

The spring greenery is higher around the tower these days than in my painting. The small building below the tower seems more modern as well. Was that the painter taking artistic liberties ? In any case, the painting is better with the more primitive looking structure.

The tower was not built to follow the whims of 18th or 19th century fashion but was once the keep of an 11th century fortified castle.

Its surroundings are now park grounds where families come for picnics. It hasn't crumbled down since my painting was done. In fact, it has been restored, but as a ruin. It is a reminder of the strengths and weaknesses of the past, the ambitions of men come before us to be read in each of its remaining stones.

Here is a good view of the split tower unobscured by foliage.
photo Ville d'Etampes

"The effect of these compositions, good or bad, is to leave you in a state of sweet melancholy. We fix our gaze on the debris of a triumphal arch, a portal, a pyramid, a temple, a palace, and we come back to ourselves. We anticipate the ravages of time, and our imagination scatters to the ground even the edifices in which we live. Just then, solitude and silence rules around us. We alone remain of a whole generation that is no more; and that is the first line of the poetry of ruins."
L'effet de ces compositions, bonnes ou mauvaises, c'est de vous laisser dans une douce mélancolie. Nous attachons nos regards sur les débris d'un arc de triomphe, d'un portique, d'une pyramide, d'un temple, d'un palais, et nous revenons sur nous-mêmes. Nous anticipons sur les ravages du temps, et notre imagination disperse sur la terre les édifices mêmes que nous habitons. A l'instant, la solitude et le silence règnent autour de nous. Nous restons seuls de toute une génération qui n'est plus ; et voilà la première ligne de la poétique des ruines.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sign Language

Kuba cloths are some of the most moving fabrics I have ever come across. Their appeal is immediate, but even deeper appreciation comes with closer contact and contemplation. We respond to these decorative fabrics easily because they are decorative but, like much primitive art, they strike a chord down deep in us; something about them seems strangely familiar.

The designs I like best are irregular and have movement in them. It is as if their patterns take on a life of their own and start crawling around, metamorphosing themselves as they make their way across the fabric.

These cloths made of palm raffia were worn for important ceremonies. These highly valued cloth squares could be folded up easily and used as money. Sewn together to 4 meter lengths they made up skirts. Their generic name is ntshak = woman's skirt. The secrets of weaving raffia are said to have been revealed to the Kuba people of Zaire (Congo) by their king around 1600. Though he was the son of a slave, King Shyaam a-Mbul is said to have used magical powers to appropriate the throne. His travels had exposed him to raffia weaving and appliqué embroidery techniques. He was an artist-king who created new textile designs and encouraged artistic development in many fields - sculpture, iron work, architecture, tailoring.

The king's active participation in artistic life was something of a tradition among the Kuba people. An anecdote recorded by Christian missionaries in 1920 tells of their receiving a new motorcycle that they proudly showed to the King Kot Mabiintsh. The king wasn't impressed by western inventions, but was fascinated by the tire tracks left in the sand and ordered his artisans to copy the designs.

There are three kinds of Kuba cloths:
*damasks whose designs are made through the weave itself
*dyed fabrics (sometimes using reserve techniques)
*embroideries including velvets and appliqués

I felt I really started to understand Kuba cloths once I started to take them apart a bit to translate them into my own designs. Sometimes they form a vision of the cosmos, sometimes they are playful and bend themselves into visual jokes. Unravelling, reweaving. Above are two examples of velvet kuba cloths.

Their graphic impact influenced many of the artists who changed our way of experiencing art at the beginning of the 20th century - Picasso, Klee, and Matisse, who collected numerous examples and hung them on his walls. The sculptor, Aristide Maillol felt that African art contained more ideas in it than even Greek art.

Klee Project 1938

Chillida Gezna I 1969

Photos Massimo Listri from the catalogue Le royaume du signes Musée Dapper

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sit for a Portrait

The imposing back of this armchair will set the sitter off from his surroundings. The wide backrest reaches up high and provides a sort of halo that defines a special place. Perfect for a portrait sitter. Although the materials say casual, I think you must be conscious of the distinction that radiates from this structure and have to live up to sitting here ! No slouching, please. But isn't it pretty! It is from the Crinoline collection designed by Patricia Urquiola at b&bitalia (many other pieces to be seen on this very chic site) and is made of polyester and aluminum. Its ancestor is the Peacock or Empress armchair traditionally made of cane that was first created toward the end of the 19th century. I learned these terms the other day while reading Style Court, where we are reminded that Morticia Addams sat in just this sort of chair! I can confirm that this is true, since part of the American education of my children consists in watching the DVD collection of the series. I hasten to add that this is only part of their exposure to American culture.

The model above is perhaps not as imposing, but the asymmetry of the enormous kashmir
boteh motif adds interest here. The result is striking.
He was talented; he was erudite; he was chic. This is a portrait of Philippe Jullian, the illustrator, historian, biographer, and author. Homme du monde. Most known for the Dictionaire du snobisme and Les styles, his caricatures are sometimes cutting but always insightful, guiding us to the truth about a certain time, a certain society through its interiors. The first years of his journal 1940-50 are to be explored in the recently published volume by Grasset. Like Osbert Lancaster writer of Homes, Sweet Homes, whom he cites as his inspiration for his livre culte, Les styles, his sketches and texts enlighten us with his very personal vision of the Middle Ages up to the goût du jour of 1961, date of publication. A man like this does not sit in just any chair for his portrait.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Here comes the sun

I was sure the sun would come back out. I'd love to have this tree swing or "fauteuil suspendu" from the collection 1900 at Fermob. It's available in 24 colors! What a good way to wake up a classic design. Any of the ghostly models in the former post could be imagined with such splashing color.

This is the company that was chosen to produce exact replicas of the famous green chairs found in the Jardin de Luxembourg. They marketed a slightly modified version for the general public in 2004 which quicky became a bestseller.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac has a new collection with the same company.
Their site is really worth a visit!

Still, the charm of these chairs can't be denied. Hervé Baume makes them according to traditional wrought iron methods and comes out with some of the highest quality furniture of this kind.

It's always nice to have unobtrusive company in the garden. I spotted this greenery feline at Paradis Express. Delphine tends to seek out the unusual for her site, but she covers all aspects of gardens and outdoor spaces great and small. I think my landscape friends would enjoy a visit.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meubles en Fer

So it's raining. We can still dream of the play of light and shadow filtering through the trees and enjoying new blooms while being comfortably settled into furniture that suits our little corner of Paradise. After all, it might be sunny tomorrow and well, we can imagine what we want in daydreams. These pictures come from an article in Plaisir de France from 1935 that speaks of "the importance of furniture in the decor of our gardens," or says it would have given that title to the article if it hadn't seemed too pedantic! In fact, metal outdoor furniture goes back to
Francois I in France when the influence of Italy for gardens and the mediteranian way of life was strong.

The oldest piece in the Edouard Montgommery collection: a Louis XIII folding armchair with woven hemp elements. Though this piece is rigid looking, in keeping with the rectilinear shapes of the time -- the natural possibilities of metal work often lead to elongated curves as in the small table above.

With Le Notre under Louis XIV, gardens à la francaise become a high art form and metal furniture styles are further developed. Germany, Poland, and Russia also start a vogue for garden fashion, but it is principally in the south of France that this craft industry develops. It continues today with companies like Hervé Baume.




This bench and chair from 1880 belonged to a Mme Tréfusis. Together they make the perfect setting for a family group photograph with the men in straw canotiers and tennis skirted women.