Sunday, January 31, 2010

Izis, forgotten photographer

The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is exhibiting 250 works of  Izraël Biderman, known as Izis, until the 29th of March.  As part of the humanist movement in photography in the 50s, he was well-known enough to be part of the group show Five French Photographers in  New York's MoMA, along with Brassaï, Doisneau, Ronis and Cartier-Bresson.

His subjects are similar to the other photographer's images of  Paris with its bridges plunging into mist, lover's embraces, faces in the crowd. A compilation of his photographs, Paris des rêves, was immensely successful when it was published in 1950. In it, forty-five writers, among them Louise de Vilmorin, Jean Cocteau and André Breton composed poems to go with the photos. He was the only photographer that Marc Chagall would work with and his poetic vision permitted him to work in tandem wth Jacques Prévert and Colette as well.

Izis was also well-known as a staff photographer at  Paris- Match for 20 years.
Strange that this body of work has been mostly forgotten until now. It may be because Izis died in 1980 just before an interest for the after war years was revived?

If the tragic loss of most of his family during World War II left him to bear guilt with a sometimes tormented artistic vision . . .   

there is a lasting tenderness in his images of Paris.

for  photo gallery , visit the Mairie de Paris

Source: Izis, photographe du spleen  Le Monde

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Screen Stars

Forest by Zoe Ouvrier

Just as a mask conceals the identity of its wearer while revealing something important about him at the same time, his true preferences, inner nature, or real aspirations, so a screen may accomplish all this for your home.
Here are some contemporary stars.

 Esse by Vittorio Livi for Fiam

My interest in screens is just as keen as when I wrote to you about them the first times pondering their use in our homes in Screenery and Screen Story .

photo Bruno Jarret pour Maison Francaise
embroidered by Lesage especially for the magazine's numéro spécial  "Paris"

Traditional work today

Jardin Extraordinaire

by Sylvie du Paty de Clam of Versailles

Mats Thésélius for Kallemo Sweden acid-patinated aluminum

The screen as persona. I've often noticed that some of the most timid people dare the most outlandish styles of dress and some of the most self assured keep to the purest forms... well enough of that. This is far from being a rule and so I don't want to draw any conclusions.  But surely we can interpret personality from interiors settings. I think a screen is a little like a sun sign - so important - but not to be interpreted alone !!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

dreams and realities in decoration

When I found my own four-poster bed from the Burgundy region, I researched the details and the general
subject - naturally! I discovered that, according to Peter Thornton, Carpaccio's 1490 painting the Dream of St Ursula is perhaps the first representation of a posted bed . There isn't much resemblance between my bed and St Ursula's, but both do have blazons on the headboard. Hers is her own shield. I've never uncovered the associations on mine.

Sometimes life imitates art. Why should interior decoration be any different? Carpaccio's magically peaceful painting that sends me into raptures. It has a lightness and quirkiness to it that is very Venitian, but an interest in interior detail and light along with the suspended time quality found in Flemish painting. This image is among my favorites stocked in my imaginary museum of ideal interiors.  The bed is so very graceful without its curtains; lightness and charm abound here, so that we end up with a very modern ornamental aesthetic. No wonder this scene inspired several interpretations by early 20 th century interior decorators.

The child princess has placed her crown at the foot of her bed, but golden braids encircle her head as a substitute. One would never imagine that St Ursula, neatly tucked into her bed and pensive even in her sleep, is dreaming of her choice between marriage and martyrdom. The room's pure and peaceful atmosphere may be said to be a kind of portrait. Ruskin wrote, "Carpaccio has taken the pains to explain to us, as far as he can, the kind of life she leads, by completely painting her little bedroom in the light of dawn, so that you can see everything in it." His text in Fors Ciavigea goes on to describe the room in minute detail.

Ruskin's praise of the Carpaccio painting did not go unheard and several real life versions came to be.  Edwin Lutyens used certain elements found in the composition (see post by The Blue Remembered Hills), but the room that most interestingly reproduces the painting is by Geoffrey Scott. Scott was part of Bernard Berenson's circle in Florence, a Renaissance scholar known for his book, The Architecture of Humanism. He was also a great friend of Edith Wharton. The room was created for his friend William Haslam's Florence home in 1914, the bed of which is today found in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This illustration from 1917 Vogue shows yet another version created by Scott for the Vanderbilt home in which proportions were enlarged to suit the client's dwelling. Yes, it is more theatrical, but then maybe it too is the portrait of its owner.

see Wikipedia for Geoffrey Scott

Friday, January 8, 2010

chez la Comtesse Greffulhe

The season advances. Once again snow has smoothed out the wrinkles in our landscape and given a more gentle edge to once crisply outlined  trees and buildings. Snow is a beautiful sight, dépaysant, because it transforms our world for a certain time. This is a cold winter for Paris but not as cold as in 1942 when temperatures went down to -14°C (6.8°F).

What can be found for the Home-that-has-Everything in the winter of 1942?

The cold reality is that grand residences were impossible to heat because of restrictions during WWII and though one might be wealthy with the most splendid of apartments, the chilling weather spared no one. In fact, it was a definite disadvantage to have such large, luxurious rooms to heat. Necessity being the mother of invention, René Prou turned his back on le luxe and designed this warming cabin to permit heat and light for visits, reading, homework, meals - basic living. Thrift and good sense dictated even the lopping off of extraneous corners of the cabin, making heating more economical. The diagram does show the incorporation of a telephone and a transistor so not to be cut off from the world.

Among René Prou's many stylish art deco designs for furiture and interiors were dining cars for the Orient Express. This example is far cry from the strict utilitarian wheel-less cabin above. (The Orient Express, as of December 2009, is no more! Taking time for luxury to this extent is out of pace with today's world.)

Here is the Comtesse Greffulhe graciously demonstrating the convenince of her cabin in 1942. She ventures out into her hotel particulier in the 8-10 rue d'Astorg judiciously wrapped in fur and warm hat as if she were already in open air. Her enormous home was made by uniting several buildings and was known by Parisians of the day as "the Vatican" !
In posing for a magazine, she seems to take philosophically her camp-out in the salon of one of her glorious homes and stresses the ingenious side of the invention.

photographs by Nadar

I have no evidence that the Comtesse ever succombed to other designs by René Prou. All reports seem to speak only of 18 th and 19 th century furnishings in the Greffulhe collections which were mostly her husband's enterprise. Much of their collection was auctioned in 2000, including a remarkable carved goldleaf chair signed Jacob which had belonged to Marie-Antoinette. The chair went for four times its estimated price and found its way back to the collections of the chateau de Versailles.
portrait Walter Musée Galliera

Élisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay
of Belgian father and French mother Marie de Montesquiou Fezensac,
 was one of the most charming, intelligent, and beautiful women of her day.
Her many talents include painting, photography which she learned with Paul Nadar, and perhaps above all - music. Par the intermediary of her cousin Robert de Montesquiou, she was introduced to Gustave Moreau and Antonio de La Gandara and would help to popularize the art of Gabriel Fauré and Whistler. She also supported the pioneering scientific work of Pierre and Marie Curie.

portrait by Helleu

She is said never to have been pleased by her portraits and never to have given away her photograph to her many admirers. Robert de Montesquiou, perhaps her greatest admirer, resorted to secreting away a sketch of her chin by La Gandara from the artist's studio, and used to contemplate it untiringly from his bathtub.
The comtesse is also said to be the principal inspiration for Proust's Duchesse de Guermantes.

portrait by de Laszlo

Madame la vicomtesse Greffulhe sera chez elle les jeudis

With these words, the Comtesse de Greffulhe engraved her cards to receive the intellectual, artistic, and political elite in one of the most select salons of the Belle Epoque.

Proust speaks of Mme de Guermantes and the institution of the salon and we easily imagine
Elisabeth de Greffuhle:
"For instance at the Princesse de Parme’s parties there were a number of people whom her Royal Highness invited because she had known them as children, or because they were related to some duchess, or attached to the person of some Sovereign, they themselves being quite possibly ugly, boring or stupid; ... but Mme de Guermantes, who had politely acknowledged their bows for ten years at the Princesse de Parme’s, had never once allowed them to cross her threshold, considering that the same rule applies to a salon in a social sense as in a material sense of the word--- that is, to have furnishings one doesn't care for, but are left as so much filling and reminders of wealth, is enough to make it hideous. Such a salon is like a book in which the author could not refrain from the use of language to flaunt his knowledge, brillance, fluency. 
As with a book, so with a house, the quality of a "salon", thought Mme de Geurmantes -- and rightly --is based on a corner-stone of sacrifice."
Le Côté de Guermantes

A drawing of Chimay, the family chateau in Belgium by the hand of Elizabeth -
one of her many dwellings as a child.
The comtesse is associated with many imposing homes that would have been a challenge to heat!

Villa La Case, Dieppe, constucted in the Anglo-Normand style.was acquired in 1887 
by her father-in-law as a gift to the couple.

Château de Bois-Boudran to the east of Paris (Seine-et-Marne).
To the Comtesse's regret, the hunting season brought the couple here from September to January.

Curiosity: The splendid Regency boiseries of the salon that surrounded the scintillating atmosphere for many worldly and artistic gatherings were dismantled from Bois-Boudran in 1954 (two years after the death of the Comtesse Greffulhe) and found their way to Houston, Texas.

These panels are now part of the grand salon of the hotel La Colombe d'Or.

"Built in 1923, the Fondren Mansion is a distinguished Texas historical landmark. As home to the World's Smallest Luxury Hotel, La Colombe d'Or epitomizes Southern French hospitality, elegance, and warmth."

rue d'Astorg apophtegme
Journal des arts
Balade littéraire avec Proust à Paris terre des ecrivains
La Comtesse Greffulhe by Anne de Cossé Brissac
Le coté des Guermantes
Images de France

Friday, January 1, 2010


The following engravings are by a dear friend who found her inspiration for many years in Paris. Having learned the  arcanes of the printmaking arts at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-arts, Sherry Clive is an accomplished artist whose work  is conserved in the Bibliothèque nationale. She now lives and works in the mountains of Georgia.

The time has come once again for closing the year and taking stock.
In some ways, our new year is like a displaced person in the still heart of winter white.
Why doesn't it burst out with new growth in Spring as in near-eastern cultures ?
But who can manage true introspection in the Spring! And isn't that what it takes to start the new year right?

The word recueillement says it well = gathering in, collecting oneself for contemplation.
All those quaint customs of resolutions have their reason for existing if done after deep reflection.
So, it's time to take an inventory,
to make an estimates, appraisals of our resources or of ourselves.

It is through the shapes we have built that we set our sites on the future.
Because that is what is necessary to begin anew - a rolling over, a shaking up what we've been through to shake off the unnecessary (I have a lot of that)  then to brood tranquilly
and gather forces for what's ahead.

Poised, yet open,
in position for a new year -
which doesn't preclude transformations and adaptations
of the determined plan.

Ready, aim ...

See more of Sherry Clive's work on her site here.